By Ali Dunstan

One of the most talked about, feared and misunderstood animals, encountered in all 67 counties of Florida, is the coyote. Resembling a German shepherd, coyotes are a naturalized species of a wild dog, averaging around 30 pounds.

Their scientific name, Canis latrans, literally translates to ‘barking dog.’ Comfortable in rural, urban and suburban areas, the curious coyote is extremely adaptable to most habitats. These migratory canines are well assimilated into our landscapes and ecosystems in the state as their natural range has extended across North America.

Coyotes are omnivores, including fruits and vegetables in their meals, but they prefer a natural diet of small animals such as rodents, frogs and rabbits, as well as the occasional deer. Although opportunistic feeders, it is fear more than fact that the urban coyote is interested in eating pets or attacking people. Rather, coyotes are timid creatures and have a natural flee response to people and threats.

Coyotes can live in forests or farmland and rarely hunt in packs. They have a natural fear of humans and are often elusive. Their average lifespan is 14 years in the wild, they are monogamous by nature and breed in late winter and early spring. Their litters average four to six pups, which are raised in well-hidden dens. Coyotes have strong familial ties and are attentive parents to their young. They can commonly be spotted at dawn or dusk hunting with another of their pack, but they are often solitary wanderers, rarely hunting in a group.

Coyotes are mostly territorial and are an important part of the Florida ecosystem and landscape. Threats such as overdevelopment and habitat loss are increasing the reports and sightings of these animals as they are continuously displaced from their homes. They rarely pose a threat to humans and are an integral predator species in our ecosystem.

Some tips to reduce fear and conflict with coyotes: Keep pets leashed and attended to. Cats should always remain indoors. Discontinue the use of retractable leashes. Secure livestock in predator-resistant enclosures. Secure food attractants such as garbage bins and outdoor pet food sources. Install motion detector sprinklers and lighting in especially rural areas with chicken coops.

Remember that feeding coyotes is illegal and that you must never interact with wildlife. Observing a coyote is not a cause for concern. By understanding these creatures and their important role in our ecosystem, we can prevent conflicts and coexist successfully.