Panther Island Adventures!

Panther Island is 2,800 acres of restored wetland and upland habitats situated in the northwest corner of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary's 13,000 acres. It is home to numerous plants and animals including the Florida panther and the iconic wood stork.
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Monday, October 31, 2011

Critter of the Week: Coyote (Canis latrans)

Photo taken in Yellowstone National Park a few years ago.

Coyotes have an interesting history. Once a species found only in the western portion of the United States, it can now be found throughout the eastern United States, including Florida, reaching the northwestern region of the state in the 1970s. While this range expansion is a natural phenomenon, it was also aided by human trafficking. People would capture the animals in the western US and ship them to be released in Florida. Their scientific name, Canis latrans, actually means "barking dog" while the common name is derived from coyotl which is the name used by Mexico's Nahuatl Indians.

Photo above was taken at Babcock-Webb WMA, Florida

A member of the dog family, coyotes range from 20 and 30 pounds, and are considered the best runners of the canids, cruising along at a clip of 25-30 mph and can get up to speeds of 40 mph for short sprints. They can also make leaps of 14 ft.! One way to distinguish them from other canids is the way they hold their tail when running. Domestic dogs hold their tails up and wolves hold theirs straight.

Mating occurs in late winter when the females are in heat, and this is the only time in the year they will breed b/c the males sperm is only active this time of year (unlike domestic dogs whose is active year-round). Gestation lasts for 63 days and then an average of 6 pups per litter is born. Both parents and sometimes offspring from the previous year will rear the young. Dens, often in brush piles, hollow logs and burrows, are used until pups are about 8-10 weeks old. Pups will start exploring the world outside the den when about 3 weeks old. Around 9 months old the parental care ends and the pups begin to disperse to set up their own territories; however some pups will stay within the parents territory and assist with the next years litter. Pairing between parents may last for several years or even a lifetime. It may seem coyotes are extremely social like wolves, but in reality the basic social structure consist of just the breeding pair and their offspring with the strongest bonding occurring during breeding. Coyotes do have territories and their are resident (having established territories shared by family) and transient animals (typically younger animals living on the fringe of resident territories). The home ranges vary greatly in size (1,500 to 12,000 acres) depending on the population size and resources available (water, food, den sites, etc).

Photo above taken in Yellowstone National Park

Coyotes are highly adaptable and will forage on numerous different critters (an opportunist). They eat rabbits, mice, rats, fruits, birds, snakes, insects, and carrion. They usually hunt alone but will work together sometimes. I have seen them on Panther Island before, but the frequency of sitings is few and far, far between.

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