Coyotes Not Only Wily, They’re Also Faithful

Coyotes are thriving in urban areas. (Picture courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Steve Thompson)


A new study of coyote relationships has found that the only “tail” they chase is probably their own (or the Road Runner’s. Meep! Meep!) A recent study of urban coyotes shows that these canine cousins are loyal to their mates and never stray. Not ever. The surprising bit? This fidelity is helping coyotes to thrive in these new urban environments.

The popular conception of wild coyotes is that they are primarily desert dwellers, found in the American Southwest. But in recent years, they’ve expanded their range. Scientists have found thriving coyote populations in urban centers all across North America, especially around large urban centers.

In the Chicago metropolitan area alone, biologists estimate there may be as many as 1,000 to 2,000 coyotes living there. A team of Ohio State University scientists has been studying the coyotes since 2000. They have found that urban coyotes are outperforming their country brethren. They live longer, and their numbers are larger.

Most canines do practice social monogamy, but when times get flush, they tend to stray. A combination of high population density with an abundance of food often leads partners to seek other mates, or “cheat.”  But the Ohio State scientists are finding no evidence of coyote philandering. These canids are remaining faithful both in good times and bad. And a recent study published in The Journal of Mammalogy shows how their loyalty is paying off.

For the past six years, the Ohio Sate University team has been focused on a thriving clan of 236 coyotes in the Chicago area. Blood samples taken from these coyotes showed no genetic evidence of animals having more than one mate. They observed on pair who stayed together for 10 years. Scientists also found that these coyotes do mate for life and only seek out a new partner when their previous one has died.

“I was surprised we didn’t find any cheating going on,” says study co-author Stan Gehrt. “Even with all the opportunities for the coyotes to philander, they really don’t. In contrast to studies of other presumably monogamous species that were later found to be cheating, such as arctic foxes and mountain bluebirds, we found incredible loyalty to partners in the study population.”

Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist with Ohio State’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, believes that the coyotes’ fidelity is giving them a competitive edge. The abundance of food in urban environments allows the female coyote to produce large litters, while the presence of a faithful mate to help her raise the pups makes their survival more likely.

“If the female were to try to raise those large litters by herself, she wouldn’t be able to do it,” said Gehrt. “But the male spends just as much time helping to raise those pups as the female does.”

Senior author Cecilia Hennessy, now a doctoral student at Purdue University in Indiana, finds this development surprising. “You’ve got territories that abut each other. And coyotes can make long-distance forays. So you’d think, based on previous investigations of dog behavior, that cheating would be likely. But to find nothing, absolutely nothing, no evidence whatsoever of anything that wasn’t monogamy, I was very surprised by that,” she said.

As Gehrt and his team continue to explore the success of urban coyotes, they’ll be looking at more reasons why the wily coyote is so successfully adapting to the urban landscape despite a strong aversion to humans.


Meet the Author
Focusing on content that entertains, astounds, and informs, Amy Briggs is freelance writer and former senior editor with National Geographic Books . The author of National Geographic Angry Birds Space, Briggs worked closely with National Geographic NewsWatch's David Braun on National Geographic Tales of the Weird. Excited by all things trivial, odd, and just unusual, she lives in Virginia with her family.