Coyotes And Their Domesticated Cousins: Dogs
Although coyotes are occasionally found in the eastern and central U.S., the majority of coyotes live in the mountains and deserts of the Midwest. Their habitat ranges from the grasslands, open fields, and plains, to the desert and high up in the mountains. Coyotes are extremely adaptable to their surroundings, changing their diet, their social structure, and even their breeding habits to suit their habitat.
The Habitats of Coyotes
In the valleys and other low regions, coyotes tend to stick within a 12 mile radius of their den. They hunt night and day, and are excellent hunters. Because of the need for adaptability, they are not picky eaters; they will eat fresh or decayed fish and meat. They will also eat vegetables and fruits if they do not have access to meat. In the desert, a particular type of melon that humans find unpalatable is a favorite of coyotes; the melon is called, of course, coyote melon.
Coyotes living in the higher elevations of the mountains may maintain two separate territories. In the warmer months, they follow their prey to higher ground, but in the winter, they travel to a different territory closer to the base of the mountain where there is less snow and more access to prey.
Coyotes may hunt and live singly or in pairs or larger groups, depending on how plentiful food is in their habitat. Coyotes build dens underground, but they will take over an empty badger hole if one is available. They may also make a den out of gaps between rocky hills or mountains.
Although farmers that have lost livestock to a coyote attack may disagree, many people believe that coyotes are an important part of nature. Because they primarily eat rabbits and rodents, they actually can benefit farmers that are losing their crops to pests. Coyotes also eat insects, which also benefits humans.
Moving Into The City
Because of the rapidly disappearing plains and grasslands that are a coyote’s natural habitat, and the accompanying reduction in number of many of their prey, some coyotes have moved into the outskirts of urban areas where they have access to human garbage. Coyotes have become highly adaptable in terms of being able to hide from humans. Although there may be coyotes around a city, most people will never encounter one. This, of course, is a good thing because coyotes are not domesticated, despite some moving closer to humans.
Sometimes people will discover that a coyote has been around their home and try to feed it. As with any other wild animal, this is never a good idea. It is dangerous for both humans and the coyotes. If a coyote begins to lose its fear of humans, it will be at greater risk of being shot or killed. Because a coyote is a wild animal, humans should not try to become friendly with one. Although it may at times seem almost tame, it is not wise to trust that the coyote will not turn on a human and cause harm.
The Evolution of Wolves into Dogs
Although coyotes have been drawn into areas populated by humans because of their dwindling food supply, coyotes haven’t been domesticated, as have some members of the genus Canis. . Most of us think of dogs as loyal companions, guardians, and, in the case of some breeds, hunters. That wasn’t always the case, however. Thousands of years ago, some species of wolves began an evolutionary process that turned many into the pet dogs we know and love today. Although scientists agree, due to fossil evidence, that the process of domestication of dogs began about 14,000 years ago, there are differing opinions as to how exactly the change came about.
One theory is that the wolves themselves were responsible for the change. As humans were often the better hunters, the wolves found themselves low on food in areas populated by humans. As a result, they began to dig through the trash pits made by humans. Those wolves that were brave enough to get near human living areas but docile enough not to be seen as a threat are the ones that survived. The wolves most non-aggressive towards humans were adopted by humans to help with hunts, which was a mutually beneficial relationship. Fossil evidence shows that the dogs that were hunting companions were well fed and cared for. The docile, well-fed survivors interbred, and the resulting generations of dogs became the loyal companions we have today.
The second theory is that, as is human nature, humans thought wolf pups were cute and adopted them as pets, or at least those that were not aggressive towards humans. The pups that were the friendliest and the best at begging for and finding food survived. As the survivors adapted to life with humans, those that had strong survival skills as well as being non-threatening towards humans lived and interbred with each other. Whichever theory is true, wolves and dogs, even after 14,000 years, have almost identical DNA.