- Aren’t coyotes non-native to our area?
The presence of red wolves in the southeast is historically what kept out coyotes. Once we humans wiped out red wolves, it created a void that the coyote easily filled on its own. This has happened gradually over the past 50+ years. Organisms that have the capacity to expand their range across this planet will do so when given the opportunity. We did! Also, fossil evidence from the late Pleistocene (~12,000 years ago) have yielded coyote remains from as far east as Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
- Are the animals we are seeing “coywolves” (i.e., hybrids between a wolf and a coyote)?
These animals are coyotes. Red wolves have been absent from the southeast for nearly 100 years, and their loss (extirpation) is what allowed the coyote to move in. In other words, there are no wolves in our area for coyotes to mate with to produce hybrids.
- How big are the coyotes in our area? They look huge.
The majority of coyotes in our area weigh less than 35 lbs and an individual weighing over 45 lbs would be highly unlikely. Coyotes change the thickness of their coat throughout the seasons by shedding fur just like a dog. A thick winter coat often gives the appearance of a much larger animal. Coyotes are not wolves – they are a separate, smaller species of canid.
- Do coyotes live and hunt in packs?
Some do and some don’t. Coyotes are social animals that strive to live in family groups. A male and female can potentially mate for life and produce a litter of offspring each spring. Most of those offspring will then leave the family group near the end of their first year of life, but some might stick around for a little longer and help raise future siblings. Coyotes who have left (or been forced out of) the family group wander on their own as transients in search of their own territory and mate. Hunting for prey, which usually consists of small mammals like squirrels, rats, and mice, is mostly done alone.
- I heard them howling and it sounded like there were many individuals.
Coyotes bark, howl, and yip to stay in touch with family members and to announce the boundaries of their territory to rival groups. They have an uncanny ability to modulate the frequency and pitch of their vocalizations, which often makes the group sound larger in size than it actually is. However, if a family group is still intact, then you might be hearing them all “singing” together.