Coyotes have long become commonplace in North America, and at the present, are known to exist in every U.S. state. The species can also be found in most Canadian provinces and is also making its way to relatively new territory, popping up south of Mexico in some parts of Central America. With this increasing presence in mind, a new study has shed some light on how coyotes spread across multiple continents, and why they were able to establish themselves so quickly.
In a study published Tuesday in the journal ZooKeys, researchers James W. Hody and Roland Kays wrote about how the geographical distribution of coyotes has “dramatically” expanded since the turn of the 20th century, as the species spread across large parts of North America just as the populations of several mammal species were on the decline. Prior to this spread, coyotes were mainly found in areas that now make up the western part of the United States, but as the Washington Post noted, the arrival of European settlers in this region resulted in a favorable situation for the coyotes.
With trees getting chopped down and pumas, wolves, and other large predators getting killed in an attempt to protect livestock, these settlers were able to build farms and ranches for themselves, but also facilitated the spread of coyotes across North America. The aforementioned large predators were “mortal enemies” of coyotes, and the decrease in their numbers allowed the species to thrive, and eventually make their way to deforested land in eastern states during the early 1900s.
In the 120 years or so that have passed since that time, coyotes have been spotted in parts of North America where most people wouldn’t have expected them to appear in the past. These include certain parts of New York, as well as North Carolina, where two coyote attacks on humans have been reported in the last three months, according to the Charlotte Observer. Furthermore, the Washington Post wrote that coyote sightings have even been reported as far south as Panama, hinting that the species is trying to establish itself in parts of Central America.
For their paper, North Carolina State University and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences research associate professor Kays and NCSU graduate student Hody analyzed archaeological records and fossils of coyotes, then used a variety of sources, including previous peer-reviewed studies, game department records, and museum specimens to see how the animals started appearing across North America from 1900 to 2016. Using these methodologies, the researchers came up with their conclusions on how coyotes expanded their reach.
According to the researchers, their new paper further corroborates the belief that coyotes spread throughout North America and made their way north and south of the border as a result of human-related activities that killed larger and stronger predators the animals competed with.
“The north extension into Canada and northeast moved faster than the southern one,” said Kays in a statement.
“It goes down through Mexico. It’s all open country for the most part.”
Thorough as Kays and Hody were with their research, there were a few questions that weren’t quite answered by the study. It remains unclear why coyotes favor open plains over forests, but with the animals appearing in areas that are free of larger predators, the researchers believe that it won’t be surprising if coyotes start popping up in South America, or other parts of the world that are new to them.
Aside from coyotes spreading from North America to other continents, the researchers believe that the trend of killing predators that target coyotes might also result in the increase of hybridized species. While Kays was quoted by the Washington Post as saying wolves and coyotes only breed when both species are “really, really rare,” there has been a growing number of sightings of “coywolves,” or coyote-wolf hybrids that have allegedly been spotted in suburban New York City, according to a 2017 report from Fox News.