On my way to work this morning I saw dead in the road what was either the largest fox in the world…or a coyote.
I was aware that coyotes DO live in Pennsylvania. I have had friends who owned farms and who complained of losing chickens and lambs to them. I had heard stories that they lived in suburban areas, among us…usually unseen.
I had even heard a story of a coyote (a big one, 50-60 lbs) seen in a neighboring township. I decided to look a little closer at the issue.
In Pennsylvania, eastern coyotes have become more common than black bears, bobcats and otters over the past 30 years. How these animals live, where they came from, and what we should do about them are topics that are popping up more and more in conversations among Pennsylvanians every day.
Once an animal automatically associated with the West, coyotes now live in every state east of the Mississippi River. In 2005, hunters and trappers harvested more than 20,000 coyotes across Pennsylvania, according to agency Game-Take and Fur-Taker Survey results. They can be found almost anywhere: from the suburban sprawl surrounding Philadelphia to the remote ridges of the Alleghenies. There are few areas remaining in the state where coyotes aren’t found.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has a detailed web page on coyotes:
The line between wolf and coyote continues to blur to this day. Many biologists think today’s Eastern Coyote is probably part wolf. In the mid-1600s, Pennsylvania’s colonial government paid a bounty of 10 to 15 shillings for every wolf killed, Mr. Lau said. “That’s really the only record of wolves” in the Commonwealth, he said. “Those wolves could have been coyotes.”
Jonathan Way, Ph.D., a research scientist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who specializes in Eastern Coyotes, prefers the term “coywolves.” In a paper he published this year in the ecological journal Canadian Field-Naturalist, he summarized previous research explaining the origin of this hybrid species.
Coyotes can also interbreed with dogs and the offspring are known as “coydogs”. These hybrids are genetically weaker (less resistant to disease, lower fertility) than either parent, unlike wolf-dog hybrids, which are genetically stronger. Coydogs are less common than people think. More often than not, a coyote would rather eat a dog than mate with it! Coydogs are rare in the wild and usually the result of intentional cross-breeding efforts.
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Eastern coyotes do howl, but are less vocal than their western counterparts.
The predators have an important ecological role in helping regulate prey populations, he said. With the extirpation of cougars and wolves, the coyote is the second-largest predator the state has left after the black bear.
“The most common-sense thing for the environment would be to have people leave cats inside and welcome the natural predation that coyotes/coywolves provide to make deer and other animal populations healthier,” he said.
These coyotes, sighted in Whitemarsh Township, PA in July 2013 appear to have a skin condition, like mange, which causes their normally thick fur to fall out.
In the past two years, coyotes have been reported in Delaware County, Princeton, NJ, Montgomery County, Cape May County and Pennsauken, NJ.
Tom Hardisky, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife biologist said in a February 2013 interview: “Coyotes take food that’s easiest to get – they want to eat the easiest meal.” “They’ll really go for dead deer, including roadkills.” He said coyotes seek any easy food source, “Including eating cat food off a porch, and they will also eat cats.”
“Coyotes are nocturnal and rarely seen,” said Rob Hossler, project manager for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “If you see a coyote or hear one howling close by, take the same common-sense precautions they would take for any wild animal, like bringing your pets inside.”