Coyotes have been intertwined in myths, legends, stories, and anecdotes since the beginning of civilization. These mysterious and elusive animals are rarely seen but often heard as they howl and yip to one another. Their secretive nature warps fact from fiction until you can’t be sure what’s true!
In truth, the most common coyote myths are that:
- Coyotes are endangered
- Coyotes are invasive to the United States
- Coyotes form packs like wolves
- Hunting coyotes controls population
- Coyotes are nocturnal
- Coyotes howl at the moon
- Coyotes are carnivores
- Coyote attacks happen all the time
- Coyotes live in dens
Intrigued? Surprised? Read on to learn about 10 common coyote myths and just why they’re myths! We’ll go through the debunking process and break down why each myth is false.
Coyotes Are Endangered
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Coyotes are listed as ‘least concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Before European settlers even came to what would eventually be called the United States, coyotes could be found mainly in the western states. According to an article in the Journal of Zookeys, it wasn’t until about 1900 that coyote populations began expanding.
This was when European settlers came over and, well, started eliminating everything they found scary. Mountain lions, wolves, bears, and bobcats quickly disappeared from their home ranges.
The local extinction of big predators gave coyotes free rein to travel just about everywhere.
And they have!
Coyotes can now be found in Alaska, Central to Southern Canada, all across the United States, and as far south as Panama. In fact, according to North Carolina State University, coyotes are pushing the boundaries of South America now too.
So, rest assured, coyotes are not endangered. Unlike most mammals, their populations are expanding, especially in the eastern United States.
Coyotes Are Invasive To The U.S.
Did coyotes originate in North America, or where they brought in accidentally like zebra mussels and stinkbugs?
Coyotes are native to the western United States, so the question boils down to where you live.
If you live west of the Mississippi River, then coyotes are not invasive. Their historical range includes pretty much everywhere west of the River, except for a few places in California.
To say coyotes are invasive in cities like Denver, Salt Lake City, and Albuquerque is not entirely true. Coyotes lived there for hundreds of years before humans started constructing big cities.
But what about people living in the Eastern United States? Canada? Central America? Well, coyotes are technically invasive to these areas.
As we mentioned before, this was only possible once the big predators like wolves and mountain lions became locally extinct in these areas. It opened up a niche environment for coyotes to easily step into.
Coyotes may not just eat meat from your property. In fact, if you are interested in some other things coyotes can eat, check out this article on 9 Plants that Coyotes Eat!
In addition to the local extinction of big predators, a human settlement can also help coyotes expand by providing shelter and food.
Coyotes Form Packs Just Like Wolves
If you’re lucky enough (or maybe unlucky enough!) to hear coyotes howling at one another, it can often sound like a whole pack, just like wolves.
However, most of the time that’s not the case. Wolf packs are typically larger than coyote packs, numbering around 4-9 individuals, plus the pups of that year. Coyote packs number 3-7 individuals plus pups.
Both coyotes and wolves have a dominant breeding pair known as the alphas, but that’s where the similarities stop. While wolves hunt as a pack, coyotes hunt alone more often than not.
Wolf packs will travel pretty far to find prey, up to 45 miles in the space of 12 hours according to the US Fish & Wildlife Publications. Coyotes prefer to stay within their territory, which usually encompasses 5-6 miles in diameter.
Coyotes and wolves do have some similarities in packs:
- Both have alpha pairs that breed while other pack members help hunt and care for the pups
- Both have similar hunting strategies when pack hunting: either to ambush the animal, tire it out, or lead it into a trap
- Both have a wide range of communication abilities, though coyotes are more vocal than wolves.
You can learn more about why coyotes stay in packs in our article: 5 Reasons Why Coyotes Hunt In Packs And Not Alone
Hunting Coyotes Controls The Population
This myth has been widely accepted in the hunting community, as well as rural areas where farmers contend with coyotes. It doesn’t help that coyotes are deemed as ‘pests’ and can be eliminated without a permit or license in many states.
However, you might be surprised to learn that coyotes are incredibly resistant. Since the United States was first settled, humans have waged war against these wily animals.
According to West Texas A&M University, in 1971 alone, $8 million was spent by the United States government to lower coyote populations. And we all know how that turned out…coyotes are continuing to expand their populations.
So, why doesn’t hunting work?
All it boils down to is that coyotes are incredibly adaptive and resistant. When populations get low, coyotes will allow more than just the alphas to breed.
Additionally, they can control how many pups to a litter. If the prey is scarce, they’ll have fewer pups. If the prey is abundant due to lower populations, they’re likely to have a large litter that year.
Instead, controlling coyotes is better done by allowing them to reach homeostasis with the environment. Eventually, prey populations will be low enough that the coyotes have fewer and fewer pups, bringing their populations under control naturally.
Coyotes Are Nocturnal
Most people’s encounters with coyotes happen at dawn, dusk, or night. Sometimes we’ll see them trotting alongside the road, looking for an easy meal. Other times meandering around our yard looking for scraps.
So, if we see them mostly at night, that must mean they’re nocturnal right? Right? Well, not really…
A study done in 2001 looked at the movement and activity of coyotes living in suburban environments compared to those living in uninhabited areas.
What they found was pretty interesting.
A coyote’s natural circadian rhythm is to be awake during the day, with much of their activity happening at dawn and dusk. Why dawn and dusk? The majority of their prey – deer, mice, squirrels – are most active during these times.
Coyotes that live in suburban and urban environments are a different story. They’re more active at night. The reason? They’re like that introverted neighbor who you never see leave their apartment – they’re avoiding people!
Avoiding people is a priority for urban coyotes. The fewer people see them, the less conflict there is, and therefore the more likely the coyote is to survive.
So, are coyotes nocturnal or not? Urban coyotes are nocturnal, while their wild cousins living in dense forests are diurnal – most active during the day.
If you’re interested in repelling coyotes at night, you can read more about that in our article: Will Lights Keep Coyotes Away?
Coyotes Howl At The Moon
The picture is just too perfect: A coyote sitting on its haunches, head tilted upward, howling at a full moon. Maybe a cactus or two in the background.
This picturesque scene doesn’t happen as often as you think. And the reason coyotes are howling has nothing to do with the cycles of the moon.
According to Penn State University, coyotes howl for two main reasons:
- Calling the pack back together after individual hunting
- Letting coyotes from other family groups know where the territorial boundary is
Coyotes are a very vocal species. They can howl, yip, bark, growl, and whine. Their vast arsenal of communication tools allows them to ‘talk’ to one another in many different ways.
Coyotes Compete With Hunters
Many hunters feel that coyotes are a nuisance, pest, and competitor for white-tailed deer. They believe that if coyote populations are left unchecked, there will be no more deer to hunt.
This sentiment is understandable, after all, some hunters rely on their kills to sustain their family for at least part of the year, if not the full year.
However, this is a misunderstood concept in the hunting community and has led to coyotes being labeled as ‘pests’ and able to be eliminated without needing a tag or permit.
So, do coyotes compete with hunters for deer?
According to a 2015 study, white-tailed deer is a coyote’s most common food in their diet. However, it’s unclear where the coyotes got the deer. Did the deer already perish from a collision or disease? Or did a coyote pack take the deer down?
There’s plenty of evidence to support that coyotes can form packs and take down large prey like deer, elk, and bison, but it’s unclear just how often coyotes do this. Their preferred hunting method is to hunt alone or in pairs for small game like rodents.
The Smithsonian Institute wrote a 2015 article about several different studies on the impact of coyotes on deer populations. What they found was that coyotes may decrease initial deer populations, but whether it is compensatory or additive was still up in the air.
Uh…Say what now?
Compensatory predators kill prey that would have died anyway. For example, a starving or diseased animal. An additive predator kills healthy animals and contributes to population declines.
What the studies found was that coyotes can contribute to the stabilization of deer populations, helping improve vegetation and shrubbery and a healthy environment. While this might mean an initial decline, eventually the population evens out to normal size.
Coyotes Are Carnivores
Coyotes eat other animals, but that doesn’t necessarily put them in the ‘carnivore’ category. It can be a bit confusing, especially because coyotes are in the Order Carnivora, which belongs to the carnivores.
So, are they a carnivore or not?
Coyotes are considered omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals. They can’t be considered strictly carnivore or strictly herbivore, so they are classified right in the middle. (They couldn’t just pick a side, could they?)
Coyotes will eat just about anything. They’ll go from eating squirrels and mice one day to apples and berries the next day. They often change their diet based on the season and food availability, which is one of their most important traits for survival.
Deer are primarily eaten in the winter and spring while fruits, vegetables, and berries are consumed more in the fall. Small prey is hunted year-round.
If you’d like to learn more about the animals that coyotes eat, check out our article: 23 Animals That Coyotes Eat: A Coyote Meal Guide.
Coyote Attacks Happen All the Time
We’ve all heard the horror stories, or maybe seen videos, of coyotes stalking people and pets. This can be alarming and frightening, especially for pet owners and parents.
A 45-year-long study done from 1970-2015 documented a total of 367 conflicts between coyotes and humans. That comes out to roughly 8 conflicts per year in the United States. This number is similar to other sources who suggest about 10 conflicts per year.
Between the years 1970-2015, two fatal coyote attacks were confirmed. One in 1981 and one in 2009.
While that sounds pretty scary, to put it into perspective, brown bears, snakes, sharks, black bears, alligators, cougars, polar bears, and wolves all have a higher fatal attack percentage than coyotes, with brown bears accounting for more than 1 fatal attack per year.
Coyote attacks are pretty rare, much rarer than social media and dramatic TV reports would have you believe.
To give you even more perspective, between 400,000 to 500,000 coyotes are eliminated annually in the United States alone… Annually!
So, while coyotes have had about 360 reported conflicts with humans over 45 years, resulting in two fatal attacks, humans have eliminated around 18 million coyotes over the same period.
Needless to say there are more likely some more unreported statistics, but its still a good baseline for us to go off of.
NOW, this isn’t discussing livestock. Coyotes conflicts with livestock are quite prevalent.
If you need to learn more about repelling coyotes, take a look at our popular article: The Five Scents That Coyotes Hate (and how to use them)
Coyotes Live In Dens
Many people think that coyotes while away the day by sleeping in their dens. This is true, but only for a few months out of the year.
Mating and pup-rearing season are the only times you’ll find coyotes living and sleeping in dens. At any other time of the year, coyotes prefer to sleep on the ground in areas with tall grass or heavy cover.
Mating begins in February and March, and pups are typically born in April. They’re weaned in about a month and start exploring outside the den. After 6 months, the pups will either stay as part of the pack or leave to form new packs.
Coyotes begin denning in March, and while coyotes can dig, they’re pretty lazy about it. They prefer to use other animals’ dens and widen them to fit their needs.
While it’s not well documented when the pups and parents leave the den, it’s thought to be sometime in the summer. From there on out, coyotes sleep and rest on the ground, not in dens.
Take a look at our article, 5 Places Where Coyotes Sleep at Night to learn more about coyote sleeping patterns!
That bone-chilling howl you hear during the hours most are asleep is more likely a coyote than a wolf. These mysterious creatures have been wrapped in myth and legend for centuries.
Originally, the coyote was heavily mentioned in Native American folklore, where the wily coyote was a character. Sometimes he was helpful, sometimes he was a trickster. Figures, right?
But nowadays this mischievous canine is still wrapped up in myths, but many of them are just plain untrue.
To recap, some of the things people believe about coyotes that are false include:
- Coyotes are greatly endangered
- Coyotes are invasive to the US
- Coyotes form packs the same as wolves
- Hunting coyotes control their population
- Coyotes are nocturnal and not diurnal
- Coyotes howl because of the moon
- Coyotes compete with hunters
- Coyotes are only carnivores
- Coyote attacks happen very frequently
- Coyotes live in dens
If you’re interested in learning more about coyotes, check out our article 51 Amazing Coyote Facts (And Things You Didn’t Know).
Although coyotes are persecuted by many as being a danger to pets, farm animals, and lone hikers, conflicts are pretty rare. However, they do happen! If you find that a coyote is prowling your property and you can’t seem to get rid of it, you can always contact a professional for help.
Baker, R. O., & Timm, R. M. (2017, Fall). Coyote attacks on humans, 1970-2015: implications for reducing the risks. Human-Wildlife Interactions, 11(2), 120-132.
Hody, J. W., & Kays, R. (2018). Mapping the expansion of coyotes (Canis latrans) across North and Central America. Zookeys, 759, 81-97. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5974007/
McClennen, N., Wigglesworth, R. R., Anderson, S. H., & Wachob, D. G. (2001, July). The Effect of Suburban and Agricultural Development on the Activity Patterns of Coyotes (Canis Latrans). The American Midland Naturalist, 146(1), 27-36. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3083149
Mech, L. D. (1999). Alpha status, dominance, and division of labor in wolf packs. USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, 353. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1343&context=usgsnpwrc
Swingen, M. B., DePerno, C. S., & Moorman, C. E. (2015). Seasonal Coyote Diet Composition at a Low-Productivity Site. Southeastern Naturalist, 14(2), 397-404.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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