Coyotes Now at Home in Eastern U.S.

Robert Winkler
for National Geographic News
August 6, 2002

Once regarded as a symbol of the American West, the coyote has been quietly moving east since the early 20th century. In recent decades, it has colonized such far-flung places as Cape Cod, and in 1999 one was captured in New York City's Central Park.

The sprawling suburbs of the East, which represent a kind of last frontier for the coyote, have been especially hospitable, ecologically speaking. Coyotes do well in habitat where wooded and cleared areas merge, and suburban settings can be rife with prey such as deer and small mammals.

Although it is now ubiquitous in the United States, the coyote, like many larger predators, remains a mystery to many people, and it has been much maligned, usually out of ignorance. Matthew Gompper, assistant professor of mammalogy at the University of Missouri and an ecologist specializing in carnivores, has been studying coyote population biology in the Northeast. Here, he sorts coyote fact from fiction.

NG News: Is it true that coyotes are larger in the East?

Gompper: They are somewhat larger than the coyotes of the Great Plains and the Southwest.

And coyotes of the Northeast are the largest of all?

Coyotes in the Northeast have been stereotyped as huge. They're larger than coyotes elsewhere, but that's typical of a lot of species, such as bears. This is known as a latitudinal cline—as you go north, animals get larger. Once you factor that in, it's not clear that coyotes of the Northeast are exceptionally large. Actually, there are no standout differences among coyote populations across the range of the species.

How large do coyotes get in the Northeast?

A 40-pound (18-kilogram) individual would be very large. In the Adirondacks, where some of the largest coyotes in North America exist, the average male weighs nearly 40 pounds; the average female, 31 pounds (14 kilograms). Elsewhere in the Northeast, average weights range from 31 to 35 pounds (14 to 16 kilograms), and in the Midwest the range is 24 to 31 pounds (11 to 14 kilograms). These aren't big differences. No coyote anywhere comes close to reaching the massive proportions of a gray wolf. The coyote is far smaller than the typical German shepherd.

Why did the coyote's range expand east?

Continued on Next Page >>




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