Coyotes came to West Virginia from the west and the south. 

The coyote is a predator that continues to intrigue me as they’ve taken up residence throughout the entire country. They are literally everywhere now.

We’re learning more about them with current research taking place in the eastern United States. They are a highly adaptable animal that have expanded their range from the western states to the Midwest, and now they’re found throughout the East all the way to the coastline and south to north from Florida up to Maine.

The eastern coyotes are larger in body size than the western species. It is believed that while the coyotes were making their way east, they crossed paths with gray wolves in the Great Lakes area along the way.

A recent DNA study conducted by Dr. Christine Bozarth in Northern Virginia found that the eastern coyotes have mainly coyote DNA with slight hints of gray wolf and even domestic dog.

Bozarth confirmed this with her DNA study, but she was surprised at how much wolf DNA showed up in her samples. Coyotes not only came into both West Virginia and Virginia from the west, but they’ve also come up from the south.

There is a population of red wolves found in eastern North Carolina and it has been documented that coyotes crossed paths with these wolves as well, which could explain the wolf DNA and why the eastern coyotes are bigger than their western counterparts.

Even though the eastern coyotes have some wolf DNA present, they act more like coyotes than wolves. During a 2009-2011 study, known as the Tri-State Coyote Project, more information was gained about how coyote populations were structured across the eastern U.S. landscape.

This project took place in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, where 190 coyotes were trapped and then collared with GPS that tracked each coyote’s movement.

The GPS data revealed that there are 2 types of coyotes: residents and transients.

“Residents maintain territories that average about 7 square miles, whereas transients move around the landscape looking for open territories, typically using more than 25 square miles. Some of these transients traveled hundreds of miles before either dying or finding a territory,” the study reported. 

An interesting find was that when a resident coyote was shot, trapped or killed; a transient would quickly move in to replace it. The transient would then become a resident.

It also found that more than 35 percent of the coyotes are transients. Some residents will become transients until they find suitable habitat to settle down as residents again. Long story short: coyotes can cover a lot of ground, especially transients.

In 2012 there was a similar survey conducted in West Virginia by Lauren Mastro, a research biologist with USDA Wildlife Services. During this survey coyotes were caught, collared and released in the Stonewall Jackson Lake Wildlife Management Area.

One particular female coyote was released in September and stayed in that area until the first week of February and was most likely a resident.

After the first week of February, Lauren was unable to locate the female coyote until a hunter got a trail camera picture of a collared coyote in the Little Birch area of Braxton County.

Once the coyote’s collar was retrieved it showed that the female traveled roughly 33-and-a-half miles as a crow flies from Feb. 3 to Feb. 19 when the trail camera picture was taken.

Another transient coyote went on a 70-mile trek one way, and then came back on pretty much the same route. The Tri-State Coyote Project found that “transients used pretty much all habitats, but showed a strong selection for roads as they used them for moving and navigating the landscape. On the other hand, residents avoided roads and showed strong selection for open and agricultural habitats.”

One exception to this rule would be residents that live in urban areas where hunting and trapping isn’t a factor.

It’s no surprise that mortality rates in transients were higher than that of resident coyotes. I believe in West Virginia that the transient coyotes use our Interstate and major highway systems to navigate as they’re more likely to find roadkill along the way.

The Tri-State Coyote Project also studied what resident coyotes were eating. They studied the residents because they could delineate their territory unlike transients that are on the move.

Once the resident area was known they collected scat samples to determine what prey species were being consumed. The article states that “overall, we found deer were the single most important prey item, as deer were most frequently identified in scats. When we detected deer hair, we then measured the diameter of hairs using a microscope to determine if the hair was from an adult or fawn. We noted that adult deer remains were found in scat in all months of the year, and fawns occurred during seven months.”

Keep in mind that this study took place in the south where deer “have prolonged conception dates, and hence fawns are available to coyotes across many months.”

It’s impossible to determine if the deer were killed or scavenged from scat samples but it’s believed that predation is the way resident coyotes hunt and consume deer.

“We know that coyotes will opportunistically consume deer killed by other sources, but the availability of carcasses varies across landscapes. Hence, coyotes would have to forage across broad areas to reliably and routinely find carcasses, yet resident coyotes are constrained by territories and do not exhibit such roaming behavior.”

In all of the scat samples studied, common roadkill species such as raccoons and opossums were rarely found. “This suggests that scavenging is not an important foraging strategy for resident coyotes, and instead predation plays an important role for coyotes to acquire deer in their diets.”

The transients on the other hand are more likely to be scavengers as well as consuming more smaller prey animals such as mice, ground moles, rabbits, chipmunks as they travel along their way.

In 2011 a WVU grad student sampled 24 West Virginia coyote stomachs during the winter months and found that deer was the most frequently occurring food item present in the contents.

Fully 20 out of the 24 stomachs contained deer, 4 out of the 24 had fruit in them, and 2 out of 24 contained small mammals. Granted 24 is a small sample size, deer were still high on the menu for coyotes.

Whether they’re resident or transient, coyotes are roaming all over the mountain state and they’re here to stay. I recently trapped a large resident male that has disrupted things for the time being until a transient moves in.

I’ve noticed that has been the case here for the past 5 years I’ve been trapping. o

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