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To many Hoosiers, the mention of coyotes evokes images of cowboys and campfires, the open plains and perhaps a spine-tingling nocturnal chorus by wild “prairie wolves” overlooking the vast western expanse. They would be surprised to discover that coyotes (Canis latrans) are native to Indiana soil. Prior to the settlement of Indiana, coyotes were primarily restricted to original prairie regions to the state. With the clearing of forests for farming, coyotes have consistently expanded their distribution. Today, coyotes are found throughout Indiana.
The coyote closely resembles a German shepherd dog in size and conformation, but it carries its tail below the level of its back instead of curved upward.
The upper body is a grizzled gray or buff, with a reddish brown or gray muzzle. The lower body is white,cream-colored or reddish yellow. Coyotes have bushy tails, long slender snouts, pointed ears and comparatively long legs. Coyotes are rather large members of the dog family. Their weights range from 20 to 50 pounds, and they measure from 40 to 50 inches in length from nose to tail tip.
The average weight in Indiana is about 30 pounds, and males are frequently heavier than females.
Coyotes may pair up for life. They mate in February, and a litter of five to 10 pups, is born in a den during April. The den is often located in a bank or on a hillside, or it may be an enlarged woodchuck or rabbit burrow. Sometimes, rock outcroppings or caves are used, and at times, dens may be constructed on level ground. When the pups are old enough to take solid food, they are fed by both parents. They begin playing at the entrance of their den at 3 to 4 weeks of age, and by 10 weeks of age they may leave the den completely. Both the male and female coyote are involved in the pup’s young lives. They provide them with food and instruct them on how to hunt until the fall months when the youngsters are nearly full grown and ready to begin life on their own.
One reason coyotes have continued to persist into modern times is that they can accept a varied diet. Their main diet is small mammals. Since they are excellent “mousers,” these rodents are very important in the overall food supply. Rabbit is for dinner. Poultry, livestock, wild fruit, songbirds and sometimes game birds can all be found in the coyote larder. Because coyotes sometimes prey upon livestock, they have been looked upon with disfavor by sheep and cattle raisers. In their defense, usually one or two coyotes in an area find livestock a favored source of food. Often times, only the weak or very young animals are taken. Good husbandry on the part of the sheep or cattle raisers can substantially reduce livestock loss to coyote.
Coyotes were considered rare or uncommon in Indiana until the early 1970s. Since then, they have shown their ability to adapt to the Hoosier landscape in increasing numbers and will continue to persist with little human assistance. Hunting and trapping should continue to be actively pursued as a method of population control. When livestock depredations do occur, it should be recognized that problem coyotes should be considered unwelcome members of the native Indiana wildlife community.
Fur buyer reports of coyote pelt purchases show coyotes are present in all sections of the state. Coyote pelts first became noticeable in the fur harvest of 1971 when 30 hides were reported sold. The numbers of pelts annually purchased during the early and mid 1970s doubled and tripled in some years. By 1978, about 2,500 pelts were purchased by Indiana fur buyers. Since then, statewide coyote abundance has continued to increase at a much slower rate as coyotes continue to expand into previously unoccupied habitat.