Yellowstone National Park Wildlife

The coyote, or canis latrans as its specie is known, ranges throughout Yellowstone Park. This medium-sized predator frequents the Firehole, Gibbon and Madison rivers in western Yellowstone, and the Lamar and Hayden valleys at its northeastern tip.

Coyote stops to smell and listen as it hunts for Voles, a small mouse-like animal and relative of the mouse. Photo courtesy of Brenda Mitchell Photograpy.

The coyote, which is a member of the dog family, closely resembles its domestic cousin in size and appearance. It is slight in build (standing 24 inches up to the shoulders and often weighing less than 40 pounds), and displays large pointed ears and snout. The coat is often a mixture of gray and tan with a reddish tinge to the legs.

Coyotes often hunt alone, relying on rodents and other small animals as their primary food source. When hunting in packs, coyotes have been known to bring down larger animals that have been sickened or estranged due to age. Coyotes also feed on carrion from winterkill.

Until 1995, the mountain lion was the coyote's main predator. The reintroduction of the wolf into the park in the mid-1990s however, presented unexpected challenges for the small canine, which suddenly found itself faced with a new predator. Coyote mortality rates within Yellowstone increased until hunting ranges were gradually rearranged by the affected packs and coyote kills began to decline.

Where humans have encroached on its habitat, the coyote has learned to adapt and co-exist. The introduction of human food into their diet (through handouts, scavenged scraps and readily accessible garbage sources) has left it susceptible to diseases for which it has no natural defense.

Even though the coyote may exhibit the physical characteristics of a lovable house pet, visitors should remember that it is wild and capable of causing injury. Increased coyote aggression has been linked over the years with increased human proximity. The coyote's status as a wild predator should be respected.

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