Even in the largest American cities, a historically maligned beast is thriving, despite scientists’ belief that these mammals intently avoid urban human populations.
This animal’s amazing ability to thrive in metropolitan areas has greatly surprised scientists, says Stanley Gehrt, an assistant professor of environmental and natural resources at Ohio State University. Gehrt is in the sixth year of a multi-year study of coyote behavior in urban Chicago.
Since the study began, Gehrt and his colleagues have found that urban coyote populations are much larger than expected; that they live longer than their rural cousins in these environments; and that they are more active at nighttime than coyotes living in rural areas.
Researchers found that, in Chicago , the annual population growth of Canada geese was reduced to an average of 1 to 2 percent per year, down from the 10 to 20 percent growth rates of a few years ago. Also, while coyotes can clean out several goose nests in one night, they don’t actually eat all of the eggs. Rather, they usually carry the eggs away from the nest and bury them, saving the eggs until later, Gehrt said.
Those urban coyotes that don’t hunt in packs can cover ranges of 50 square miles or more, often in just one night. “The first solitary coyote we tracked covered five adjacent cities in a single night,” Gehrt said.
“A coyote may eat the food that’s left outside for a pet,” Gehrt said. “It’s not uncommon to see a coyote pass through an urban or suburban neighborhood.
“But most coyotes aren’t thrilled about being seen by people,” he continued. “Urban coyotes are more active at night than their rural counterparts, so humans don’t see a lot of their activity. In many cases, coyotes are probably doing us favors that we don’t realize – they eat a lot of rodents and other animals that people don’t want around.”
The next phase of the study is already underway. Gehrt and his colleagues are conducting genetic study of coyotes’ social system. The researchers want to know if members of a pack are closely related – having such information could help to further explain coyote behavior.
Stan Gehrt | EurekAlert!
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