Coyote (Canis latrans), its habitat and behavior

Coyotes are animals that contribute to the natural balance, so in this article, you will find out more about them. Canis latrans is a species that has been threatened by the loss of its habitat due to agricultural activities. In the USA, they have been blamed for 70 percent of livestock losses.

Coyote (Canis latrans), its habitat and behavior
Since coyotes are animals that contribute to the natural balance, in this article you can learn more about them. Photos: Universitarios Potosinos

The howl to the moon of a solitary coyote symbolizes North America. This animal breeds and hunts in packs for the survival of its species and is one of the great predators of Mexico, the United States of America, and Canada.

For the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica, the coyote was a symbol of strength, it was known as the 'howling wolf' (coyotl, in Nahuatl), and was also considered a thieving animal with a highly developed sexual appetite. The Tzotzil called it ok'il, which means 'howling wolf'. The present-day Nahua, Chichimec, Triqui, Zapotec, and Papago represent the coyote as a musician who plays various instruments and sings.

In Mexica mythology, Huehuecoyotl means 'old coyote' and is the god of dance and song. He shares many characteristics with the trickster coyote of the North American tribes since in both cultures he is a prankster and cunning. Huehuecoyotl represents for the Mexica the duality between good and evil, the new and the old as well as the mundane and the spiritual.

In Aztec culture, it is a symbol of worldly wisdom, masculine beauty, and pragmatism, although it can change gender. It was also considered to be related to the jaguar, so they had coyote warriors as a symbol of bravery.

Huehuecoyotl, Mexica god of dance (Codex Borgia)

Coyote populations have been increasing for 300 years; the hunting of Mexican wolves by ranchers almost to extinction and the decrease in the populations of other predators such as the puma have favored their growth, as well as human activities such as deforestation of tropical rainforests - where they were not previously widespread - and cattle ranching.

Fragment of plate 64 of the Borgia Codex. Mexica god of dance, Huehuecoyotl.
Fragment of plate 64 of the Borgia Codex. Mexica god of dance, Huehuecoyotl. Image: Wikimedia

Because the coyote also feeds on domestic livestock, it is persecuted by humans to reduce this negative impact. However, it plays an essential ecological role in controlling hares and other rodents that are a significant part of its diet and can compete for forage consumed by livestock. This species has a great ability to adapt to new habitats, consumes a wide variety of foods, and has been able to survive in various regions despite poaching or poaching by ranchers. It is therefore vital to know some of its characteristics, such as its habitat, diet, behavior, and reproduction.

Coyote habitat

Recent studies of coyote records indicate that maybe this species was already present in the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America in the early Pleistocene-Holocene, in Pre-Columbian times, and the early stages of Spanish colonization.

Its distribution extends from Alaska to Costa Rica, as it can adapt to different habitats, however, it prefers open grasslands and scrub areas. In the state of San Luis Potosí, it can be found in habitats such as the grasslands of the highlands, as well as in the forests of the Sierra de Álvarez and scrub areas. It delimits the sites it selects as its territory, marking them with urine and emitting loud howls to alert possible competitors. Its lifestyle is nomadic. Sometimes, depending on the type of habitat, in the summer it moves to the hills and during the winter to the valleys.

For the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica, the coyote was a symbol of strength.
For the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica, the coyote was a symbol of strength.

Feeding and hunting of Canis latrans

Coyotes usually hunt at night and may adjust their techniques according to prey and habitat type. They are carnivores par excellence, their prey is mainly hares, squirrels, and other small rodents, which constitute up to 90 percent of their diet. Like foxes, coyotes tend to stalk their prey and, when close, jump on them.

This animal also hunts deer and deer but does so in small packs of up to six individuals. Similar to wolf behavior, it looks for signs of these animals, stalks them, and then kills them at the site where they are feeding. Their packs are less stable than those of wolves, as coyotes usually bring their young with them or stay close to them, which limits their mobility and grouping.

Another of their characteristics is that they also feed on carrion as well as live animals. In particular, in livestock areas, they may prey on sheep, goats, and young cattle, but they also consume dead animals.


Coyotes normally mate with only one partner during their lifetime, but if this one lives beyond the average, they will look for a new one. During the breeding season in February, the female comes into heat and lasts about 10 days. After breeding, she seeks to isolate herself in a safe place and make her burrow. Depending on the terrain, the pair may dig a burrow or occupy a burrow abandoned by foxes or badgers and enlarge it, hiding it in dense vegetation. The female prepares for the birth of the cubs, while the male will go out in search of food for both the female and the cubs.

They are born after two months of gestation and are cared for seven weeks. After three weeks of hatching, they begin to eat solid food, which is normally regurgitated by the parents. They reach their maximum size at around nine months and sexual maturity at one year, although it is common for them to reproduce until their second year (or second heat).

When food is plentiful, young coyotes stay with their parents and hunt in packs. But they rarely last long together. When they reach maturity and competition for food among the family increases, the young leave the pack. They may travel up to 144 kilometers to establish their territory.

More curious facts about coyotes

The Spanish name coyote comes from the Aztec word coyotl.

It uses about ten different sounds to communicate, in addition to its high-pitched howl.

It is also known in some places as the prairie or brush wolf.

They get to work together with badgers: the coyote with its sense of smell detects the rodents and the badger digs in the burrow until it brings them out and then they share the prey.


Found throughout North America, from Alaska to Costa Rica and east to New Brunswick, Canada.


Coyotes are protected in 12 U.S. states but are hunted wherever they are distributed. As a species, coyotes are at risk of interbreeding with red wolves, gray wolves, and domestic dogs. In addition to the functional role, it has in the different ecosystems where it develops. In Mexico, the coyote is an animal that is hunted a lot by ranchers, due to the casualties it generates in their livestock; however, it is not under any type of protection.


Sexual maturity: 1 year.
Breeding season: from February to March.
Gestation: 58 to 65 days.
The number of young: 2 to 12, usually 6.


Habits: social, nocturnal predator.
Diet: coyotes feed on small mammals, carrion, deer, and lambs.
Life expectancy: usually about four years and more than 22 years in captivity.

Related species

There are eight other species of the genus Canis, including the gray wolf C. lupus, and the domestic dog C. familiaris.

Source: Universitarios Potosinos, Author: César Posadas Leal is Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences in the area of natural resource management from the Potosi Institute for Scientific and Technological Research (Instituto Potosino de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica). He is a research professor at the Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary Science and is working on the coyote and fox diet project.