How L.A. Works: Coyotes

While they still need natural space to raise their young, coyotes are seasoned city dwellers. Here’s how they roam
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Graphic by Comrade

Coyotes have survived in Los Angeles for tens of thousands of years. Among the mammal fossils found in the La Brea Tar Pits, theirs are the third most common. But unlike dire wolves and saber-toothed cats, coyotes have flourished in the face of urban development. While they still need natural space to raise their young, coyotes are seasoned city dwellers. Here’s how they roam.

1. The Tail
Like a domestic dog, a young coyote wags its tail while playing and curls it between its legs to display submission. But it isn’t all fun and games: Play helps coyotes understand social hierarchy, which typically consists of a single alpha pair (often monogamous) and their offspring.

2. The Stomach
Coyotes mainly prey on rodents and rabbits. Fallen fruit makes up the majority of their meals in cities. Fecal samples reveal that our pets (cats and dogs) compose less than 1 percent of their diet.

3. The Brain
Native American folklore depicts coyotes as clever tricksters, and for good reason. Coyotes are highly adaptive: They eat a variety of foods, are active day or night, and can live alone or in a pack.

4. The Howl
The word coyote is an Aztec term that means “barking dog.” Researchers have identified at least 11 types of vocalizations, including the yip-howl, which often reunites a pack.

5. The Fur
The subspecies found in L.A. County is the California Valley coyote. The fur is brightly colored, with a darker streak on the neck and tip of the tail. When the animal is aggressive, which it rarely is with humans, the scruff becomes erect (a process known as piloerection) to appear more menacing.

6. The Paws
While they tend to move into vacant dens made by other creatures such as badgers, coyotes are proficient diggers. They “redecorate” spaces, sometimes carving out additional entrances, to suit their needs.

 

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