When people outside North America imagine the habitat of coyotes, it is possible that they concoct a picture painted by the Road Runner and Wil E. Coyote cartoons. This would lead to an impression that the animal is relegated mainly to the western part of the United States, particularly in the Southwestern deserts. At the time those animated cartoons were created, that was a fairly accurate portrayal of the coyote’s range. Today, however, the coyote is ubiquitous throughout the United States and other North American countries.
Since the 1950s, coyotes have expanded their North American range more than twice as quickly as any other carnivore. This expansion has continued, and coyotes can now be found in every U.S. state except Hawaii. Their range in Canada and Central America has dramatically expanded as well. Even large cities in North America are now home to coyote populations, though urban dwellers are likely to never encounter them. This exponential coyote population growth comes despite several attempts since the mid-1800s to significantly cull coyote populations or wipe them out entirely. It is estimated that over 400,000 coyotes are killed each year in the United States alone, with no noticeable effect except increased coyote range and population.
Killing coyotes does not appear to work very well, because the species’ population is self-regulating. Coyote families will typically occupy a given area together, with a dominant coyote pair reproducing and restricting the reproduction of subordinate coyote pairs. This provides for significant elasticity of coyote reproduction. When, for instance, the dominant coyote pair is killed, subordinate coyotes will instinctively break off from the family pack, find a new range, and begin reproducing in their own pairs. A reduction in the coyote population also creates a counterbalancing effect by which remaining coyotes will have larger litters. On a net basis, killing coyotes will usually increase the total coyote population. Another way the coyote population can be protected is through coyotes’ howls. When a coyote howls, it is effectively taking a census of the surrounding coyote population. If few coyotes respond to a coyote’s howl, the coyote will instinctively produce greater litters.
Coyotes are certainly survivors, and attempts to eliminate them are most assuredly doomed. This intense survival instinct and persistence is perhaps something that the animal’s animated form has captured with perfection.