Coyotes are not only abundant in Missouri; they're probably the most widely distributed predator in North America.

Although, many Missourians’ relationship with coyotes could hardly be called a love affair, the animal has earned a certain amount of universal respect.

Despite generations of year-round hunting, trapping and – in previous generations – poisoning; these animals are probably more abundant and have a wider range now than they’ve ever had. Many landowners, particularly those with livestock or poultry, don’t rate modern coyote abundance as a wildlife success story but, underneath all that grudge, it’s hard not to have at least a minimal amount of respect for an animal whose ability for adaptation has few equals in the wildlife world.

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are close relatives of wolves and domestic dogs. Coyotes are not only abundant in Missouri; they’re probably the most widely distributed predator in North America. Their range extends from coast to coast and from Alaska to deep into Central America. The coyote is one of the few mammals whose range seems to be increasing despite a multitude of human impacts on its habitat.

One reason it is that theorized coyotes are flourishing is the disappearance of wolves in many areas of the country and a decline in red fox numbers have opened up more territory. An equal (if not bigger) key to this animal’s success is its amazing skill to adapt. Unlike most other animals, coyotes have been known to change their breeding cycles, dietary habits and social dynamics in order to adjust to living in an area. That type of biological flexibility, combined with efficient hunting skills, a varied diet and highly developed senses of hearing, vision and smell make for an animal that can cope and succeed in a changing environment.

You won’t find a definitive ruling on how to pronounce this animal’s name, but the version that’s truest to its history is probably KI-O-TEE. That pronunciation is derived from the Aztec word “coyotl,” which became an animal name the Spanish pronounced KI-O-TEE. The KI-OTE (silent “e”) pronunciation is a corrupted form.

In this part of the state, coyotes live in a variety of habitats. Brushy country, along the edge of timber and open farmlands are favored homes, but they can show up in virtually any setting – including urban areas. Except for the breeding season, coyotes have no true home site and merely sleep on the ground in a protected spot. Coyotes can run up to 45 mph and are good swimmers. They also have good stamina and, if conditions allow, they often simply run their prey to exhaustion before pouncing.

Coyotes can be seen throughout the year, but sightings tend to increase in winter for a couple of reasons. One is that January and February is their mating season so they are more active. Also, winters that feature heavy snow and ice cover are times when pickings become slimmer for coyotes and their hunger makes them become bolder in their searches for food.

Studies show that rabbits, small mammals, reptiles, carrion and plant matter (fruits, seeds, etc.) make up much of a coyote’s annual diet. However, they are opportunistic predators so calves, lambs, young horses and poultry are also occasional food items.

When coyotes begin to cause problems, there are solutions. In Missouri, coyotes can be taken by hunting or trapping methods and pelts may be possessed, transported and sold. (There are exceptions that apply to spring turkey season. See Wildlife Code of Missouri for details).

Information about coyotes or about controlling coyote problems on your land can be found at mdc.mo.gov.