As the Livestock Agent in Lake County I truly appreciate most animals, but I have to admit Coyotes give me a little pause. They are once familiar to, and completely foreign from, the three domestic dogs I share my home with. Like “Fido”, coyotes are highly intelligent and very social, communicating with their cohorts using a variety of vocalizations including yips, barks, and howls. They are about the same size as my hound, weighing in between 25-35 lbs, but are far lankier as their weight is stretched across a larger frame than my rotund house dog. Coyotes reach mature size at two years of age but females are fertile at only one year of age. Coyotes typically give birth to a single litter of six pups in the spring. This number may increase as populations decrease. In other words, coyotes will re-populate themselves by birthing larger litters in response to decreases in existing populations. For this reason removing non nuisance coyotes is typically not recommended as they will be readily replaced with the next generation.
Relative new comers to Florida, the Coyote (Vanis Iatrans) first arrived in the sunshine state during the 1960’s. These canine cousins are now found in every county in Florida and have become a familiar sight to many living in Lake County. They may be found alone, or in small family groups, and their range can cover up to 10,000 acres. Coyotes are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn, but they may be spotted at any hour of the day. While they get a bad rap, coyotes do play an important role in maintaining balanced ecosystems by controlling rodent and small mammal populations.
When it comes to diet coyotes are opportunistic omnivores. They prefer animal protein (rodents, deer fawn, turkey poults, lizards, insects, and fish) but can consume plant material and make a happy living off of carrion and garbage. Their affinity for trash often leads to conflict with humans, an issue my dogs can certainly empathize with! Coyotes prey on both native and domesticated animals, including dogs and cats kept as pets. Their lack of a discriminating palate, ability to adapt to their surroundings, and opportunistic nature can lead to conflict with humans.
Homeowners can discourage coyotes by keeping pets indoors and not feeding pets outdoors. Never feed a coyote intentionally, not only is this illegal, it can lead to the coyote becoming desensitized to people or associating people with food. Securing trash will also go a long way to not attracting coyotes (and other vermin). Picking up fallen fruit and cleaning up spilled seed around bird feeders will also discourage coyotes from enjoying a meal on your property.
Coyotes are not large animals and rarely pose a direct threat to humans. If you are approached by a coyote you should stand your ground and “haze” the coyote by making loud, scary noises and gestures. Waving your hands while shouting may be enough to frighten the coyote away. You can also fashion your own “coyote shaker” by placing a few coins or washers in an empty can. The shaker can be a very effective means of startling a coyote that has come to close for comfort. Teach your children to recognize coyotes and instruct them to yell and walk slowly towards the house if one approaches (running from a coyote may trigger them to pursue). If a coyote in your neighborhood has become a nuisance they can be reported to Florida Fish and Wildlife by calling 888-404-FWCC. As our community continues to grow and develop we will doubtless have more interactions with coyotes in the future. With the right preparation and precautions it is possible to live in harmony with our natural neighbors, even when those neighbors happen to be coyotes!