In Ohio, coyote research sheds new light on ‘tricksters’

Columbus — Coyotes are even smarter than generally believed. In fact, they are “tricksters,” according to Stan Gehrt, a biologist and expert on coyote behavior.

Gehrt presented his findings at the 2018 Wildlife Diversity Conference, held at Ohio State University.

Gehrt’s program was one of two at the conference that centered on the habits of the wily (and abundant) predators.

His research took him to Chicago and Cleveland, as well as a remote province of eastern Canada. Some of what he learned turned up on a NatGeo TV documentary about coyotes in eastern North America.

Prior to European settlement, coyotes were found only in the Southwest. They are now all over North America and the Arctic Circle, Gehrt said.

Over-hunting led to the killing of 800,000 coyotes annually. Despite that, the species flourished and increased in range. Much of their survival can be attributed to their clever and adaptable nature.

Native Americans referred to coyotes as “tricksters” and that moniker remains well deserved, Gehrt said.

He had proof of that statement.

While biologists generally say coyotes are “solitary hunters that generally eat only small animals and vermin,” Gehrt showed videos that dispute that belief.

One video featured two coyotes nipping and teasing a full-grown doe onto the icy surface of a lake where she repeatedly fell. Once the deer was down for good, the coyotes attacked viciously and eventually made dinner of the much larger animal.

In a similar scenario, several coyotes were seen attacking a moose that had become bogged down in a deep snow drift. The coyotes just waited until the moose was too exhausted to fight back before they went for the kill.

Coyotes have also adapted to urban living where they feed mostly on household garbage, as well as rabbits and squirrels.

Gehrt showed video of coyotes trotting along a sidewalk in downtown Chicago with pedestrians and cyclists passing by in complete oblivion. Apparently, the passers-by thought the coyotes were dogs.

He also presented video proof that a female coyote had denned on the top floor of the parking garage at Soldier Field in the Windy City.

One surprising revelation by Gehrt was the cross-breeding of coyotes with other canines – both wild and domestic. East of the Mississippi River, analysis showed virtually all coyotes had some wolf or dog DNA in their systems.

Blood and tissue samples from Cleveland-area coyotes showed significant amounts of dog DNA.

Researcher Jon Cepek also presented a coyote program at the Wildlife Diversity Conference. Cepek studied coyotes living in and around Cleveland and focused on reports of their aggressive behavior toward people and pets.

He discovered most of those reports were unfounded.

In general, coyotes avoid humans and the places humans frequent such as hiking trails and biking paths. Many reports of coyotes attacking domestic cats and dogs were based solely on speculation.

Only one coyote has ever tested positive for rabies. And that was in 2005, Cepek said.

Red fox hide from coyotes. So anyplace red fox den and play is likely a “coyote free” area, he added.

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