By Nancy Richie
Coyotes were introduced in Florida for pursuit by hunting dogs as early as the 1920’s. The coyote’s natural expansion into Florida from then on was inevitable. As coyote numbers increase, concern over their influence on Florida’s indigenous prey species, competing predators, livestock and vegetables has grown. Coyote impact on native wildlife has already been seen in northern Florida where predation on endangered sea turtle eggs is a considerable problem.
Much is still unknown, including whether the coyote will have negative effects on recovery of the Florida panther, or if it will fill the panther’s niche in areas where habitat is not suitable for this endangered species. Coyotes are both carnivores and omnivores and are potential competitors to many indigenous species, like bobcats and foxes. It is not known whether their predation on deer and other species, important to the Florida panther, will have an effect.
Coyotes are larger than foxes and smaller than wolves and are members of the dog family. They vary in color from gray to rusty brown. Vocalizations differ from the expected howl to yips and barks. Their acute senses of smell, hearing and eyesight enable them to hunt and survive. Dens are usually found in abandoned burrows, dense vegetations such as saw palmetto cover and hollow logs. Coyotes, red wolves, and dogs are capable of interbreeding and producing offspring. A female has between 2 and 12 pups. At eight to ten weeks of age, the pups abandon the den and move into new areas where they start a new territory. Their mortality rate is the highest during the first year but the average life span is five to six years old.
So, the answer is YES! There really are coyotes in southwest Florida, but they’re not classified as an invasive species. Coyotes expanded their range since introduction without any human assistance. They simply expanded their range due to their need for habitat and food. Coyotes can thrive in urban environments as they can adapt to eating a wide variety of foods from rodents, rabbits, carrion, livestock, and even vegetation. Watermelon is a favorite! Coyotes are more active at dawn and dusk, but can be seen most anytime. Be particularly careful leaving small pets outdoors after dark or walking your pet at night.
The University of Florida is conducting research on coyotes in South Florida. Information regarding biology such as reproduction and mortality as well as ecology and impacts on cattle operations are being collected. For more information on coyotes, visit your county extension office or visit http://www.wec.ufl.edu/range/coyotes
If you need additional information or have any questions and/or comments, please contact the City of Marco Island at 239-389-5003 (office), 239-825-0579 (mobile) or [email protected] Nancy Richie is a long time Island resident and Marine Biologist.