Last week as my wife and I pulled onto State Road 40 from Breakaway Trails in Ormond Beach at 10 p.m. my wife spotted a large gray animal cutting across our path, prancing out of our headlights into the dark, and immediately, we knew it was a coyote.
But where was its mate? They generally hunt in pairs. Was it a young male, looking to claim its own territory? It was traipsing in the dark–as these nocturnal predators usually do–and was near homes with open yards; and just across the highway is cleared land–just the places coyotes prefer. Yet, to us it seemed out of place.
Just about all I knew about Florida coyotes I learned from Brian Scheik’s lecture in 2007 at a meeting of the Halifax Audubon in Holly Hill when he told us coyotes are not a native species of Florida because they weren’t here in 1492.
The History of Coyotes in Florida
Hunters brought some coyotes to Florida in the 1920’s as prey for hunting dogs, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which would have made them an “exotic species” if they had lived, but coyotes came back on their own in the 1960’s–I guess as snowbirds do–and they’ve made Florida home, so coyotes are called a “naturalized species”; and Scheik (pronounced “Shike”) said they’re now in every major U.S. city, and here in Florida they’re in all 67 counties, but no one knows how many we have here. I know there’s at least one near Breakaway.
I guess, strictly speaking, coyotes are not really newcomers because Florida Fish and Wildlife says that 10,000-year-old coyote fossils have been found in Florida.
What to Expect of Our Coyote Neighbors
Our local gray visitor under cover of night may have been looking for a dinner of opossum or raccoon near Breakaway. It would even relish an armadillo or a small house pet or even a gray fox, according to Scheik; and unlike a bobcat which pounces, a coyote will usually stalk its prey, running it down until the coyote outlasts it.
Scheik said they’ll also eat fruit. In fact, they quickly become accustomed to being near our homes (habituation), enjoying food from garbage cans (food habituation), so this coyote we spotted may be settling in here near our neighborhoods.
Wikipedia says it’s also called the American jackal and that its brain case looks more like a dog’s than a wolf’s. I know that when it pranced in front of us, it certainly resembled a dog, and my memory of that, like a black and white photo, brings to life the meaning of the coyote’s scientific name, Canis latrans–“barking dog.”
Scheik said they’ll get up to 40 pounds, and wikipedia says they stand almost two feet to the shoulders and stretch to 4 feet from nose to tail and live about 10 years in the wild. National Geographic says they can run 40 miles per hour and they can swim well, so the Tomoka River is no barrier to our gray visitor.
If the one we spotted is an adult, the Florida Fish and Wildlife indicates that our coyote will take up a range of as much as 12,000 acres, which could be half the neighborhoods of Ormond Beach or an area more than four times as large as all of Holly Hill; a huge area for it to mark with urine, as wikipedia says it does.
Our coyote shouldn’t be too hard to track because its paw prints are narrower than dog tracks (click here and scroll far down to see paw prints of coyote, dog, puma [panther], red fox, gray fox, bobcat) or (click here to see just coyote tracks versus dog tracks).
With a mate, our coyote could have a litter of 6 to as many as 12 pups, according to Fish and Wildlife; and wikipedia says they can be fully weaned in 35 days and begin eating regurgitated food from both parents then.
The History of Coyotes in Volusia
Coyotes are not really new to our area, even though this was the first I’ve seen. Apparently, more than 20 years ago coyotes were in Volusia when a biologist at Lake Woodruff Wildlife Refuge spotted one in Glenwood just north of DeLand.
Twelve years ago in 2001, I guess they were prowling at night because a Volusia hunter posted online, “The coyotes have been seen all over the area and tracks cover many of the dirt roads over night. Seems like there are a lot of them out there. I have seen two of them chasing a full grown doe, then found the eaten carcass the next day.”
In 2010 photographer Michael Libbe photographed a coyote in Deltona at Lyonia Preserve and also at two other Central Florida sites. (To see other photos of Florida coyotes click here.)
So coyotes are now our Volusia neighbors, though not fully welcomed by everyone. I see that a Daytona Beach professional wildlife removal company advertises that it “handles nuisance animals,” including coyotes.
Removing coyotes entirely is not likely to happen, as another online poster says, “Indiscriminate killing of coyotes is unlikely to reduce coyote populations, which can withstand 70 percent annual kill. Some evidence suggests that light, indiscriminate harvesting of coyotes may actually stimulate production and further increase numbers.”
This harsh view of coyotes as predators may be shared in Pierson where one resident posted online comments about coyote attacks here in Volusia: “I have talked to folks who have lost calves, my neighbor being one a couple of years ago. Cow calved right next to the fence, and coyotes pulled it through the fence.” The person adds, “We hear them often.”
A couple of years ago in a suburban neighborhood two DeLand homeowners lost their pet cats to a coyote, according to an animal-control officer, and another recent sighting of a coyote was also made in Orange City.
Coyotes in Volusia apparently was of interest last May when Martin Main of the University of Florida IFAS Extension at the Volusia County Agricultural Center spoke in New Smyrna Beach to the Samsula Hunt Club and the Volusia County Farm Club; and his topic was titled “All About Coyotes in Florida.”
Today the West Volusia Tourism webpage notes that coyotes can be seen on hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.
Scheik said we have a “Disney-fied view” of predators, so people are generally shocked to read headlines of any coyote attack, possibly because coyotes have only rarely attacked humans.
Even so, from the 1970’s to 2006 coyotes made 160 attacks in the U.S., according to wikipedia, but that’s only about 5 attacks per year, and most have been in Los Angeles County.
Scheik said that the most tragic incident was the death of a 3-year-old girl who was carried off from her driveway by a coyote in 1981 in California.
In contrast to the 160 coyote attacks over a 30 year period, Scheik said we have nearly 5 million attacks by dogs every year, and he said that the danger is minimized because we can easily scare a coyote by throwing rocks at it, and it will leave, coming around again only under cover of dark.
Any potential attack is unsettling, but unless we’re hearing about an attack, having coyotes in our midst in Volusia will probably cause most of us to react as our son did when we told him that we had just seen a coyote when leaving our daughter and son-in-law’s home in Breakaway Trails. He said, “Cool. That confirms what I thought I heard in May when I was on their driveway.”
(I hope you’ll add a comment about coyote sightings in Volusia.)