THE WHITE-FOOTED MOUSE THAT RAN UP MY DRESS -By Kim Smith

Well hello there little mouse! My husband Tom was releasing a mouse that was caught in his have-a-heart trap. He first opened opened the front door of the trap, with no sign of movement within, and then the back door. After a few minutes passed, out ran the little mouse, but then he froze in his tracks, only several feet from where I was standing. As I was motionless taking his photo, I think he must have thought I was a tree. He suddenly ran up my leg, up under my dress, and poked his head out from beneath my coat. It’s too bad I was holding the camera and not my husband!

Thinking about hantavirus, and just to be on the safe side, I changed my clothes and washed immediately.

Off towards the woods he ran.

Studies show how the increasing Eastern Coyote population has impacted White-footed Mice, Red Fox, and the explosion of Lyme disease. In areas where the Eastern Coyote has outcompeted the Red Fox for habitat, Lyme disease has increased. Coyotes not only kill Red Fox, they simply aren’t as interested in eating mice as are the fox.

 

 

Answer: Both the White-footed and Deer Mouse carry hantavirus, not the House Mouse. To be on the  safe side, if you find rodent droppings in your home or office, do not vacuum because that will disperse the virus throughout the air. Instead, wipe up with a dampened paper towel and discard.

 

Read more about the White-footed Mouse and Lyme disease here: The Mighty White-footed Mouse

CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE COYOTE KIND -BY KIM SMITH

East Gloucester Friends,

Please be on alert for a pair of very bold coyotes in the neighborhood. Over the weekend I was standing with a group of photographer friends and we were noticing the coyotes along the edge of a field. The coyotes ducked behind the shrubby growth and soon after, my friends left. I became distracted and forgot about the coyotes while photographing a chatty little Downy Woodpecker. Without warning, the coyotes were suddenly quite near, within twenty feet. I yelled and clapped loudly, which did not in the least intimidate one of the pair. The smaller trotted a few steps back toward the woodland edge while the larger one started to dig in the ground, similar to a bull marking his territory. It was more than a little eerie, and while yelling I began to walk backwards off the field.

When a gentleman came to the field to walk his dog, the coyotes headed back towards the shrubs. Reappearing a few minutes later, they had circled around in the shrubs and began to stalk the leashed dog. I walked towards the man to give the coyotes the idea that we were a group and they didn’t come any closer after that. This post is not meant to alarm anyone, but to let you know that we have some very hungry coyotes in our midst; I had the oddest sensation that they had an expectation of dinner. I sure do hope no one is feeding them.

The bolder coyote is on the left in the above photo. You can see in the middle photo in the first row that the bolder one’s coat is darker (also on the left).

COYOTE CLAN

Stopping on my way home from a job site in Boston late this afternoon, I met up with a beautiful immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron. While photographing and filming, out from the woods appeared a pack of coyotes, two youngsters and two adults, I think. Then the heron that I was filming flew low and toward the coyotes; please don’t do that I said to nobody but myself. Up he then flew into the trees above and you can see one of the adult coyotes looking up toward the heron.

The canids took a few sips of water from the pond’s edge before stealing back into the brush. A few seconds later there was a series of loud growling and yelping. I was tired and shaky from a long day with no lunch, a little spooked that the coyotes were so close and didn’t wait to see what would happen next.  With both cameras in hand, I did manage to film the scene (and record audio of the ferocious growling!) and here are a few snapshots.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Immature

BREAKING: COYOTE ALERT

The coyote was trotting down Bass Ave in the direction of Good Harbor Beach. It paused briefly at the garden at the corner of Bass Ave and Brightside and then proceeded to jaunt up Brightside before ducking into a yard.

COYOTE ATTACKS DOGS

Note to Readers: Coyotes are guarding their dens at this time of year. Please keep dogs on leash at all times.

Photo credit: Sherman “Pat” Morss, Jr.

 

From the Concord Patch

By Lisa Redmond

CONCORD, MA – Chief Joseph O’Connor and the Concord Police Department would like to advise residents to be vigilant while at the Estabrook Road trail after several dogs were attacked by coyotes this week.

From April 18-20, Concord Police received multiple reports of coyote attacks on dogs in the area of Estabrook Woods.

Three separate incidents occurred where people, who had their dogs off-leash, encountered a coyote near the beginning of the trail on Estabrook Road.

Approximately 600 yards in and on the left hand side, reporting parties noted that their dogs approached what is believed to be a coyote den containing pups.

The dogs flushed the adult coyote, which then bit each of the dogs in their behinds and tracked the canines until they left the area.

The coyote is described as medium to large in size, approximately 60 to 80 pounds.

Concord’s Animal Control Officer has consulted with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, which stated the coyote is in its own habitat and people should stay away from the area.

The Concord Police Department advises that dog walkers avoid that section of Eastbrook Woods.

Late April through May is weaning season for coyote pups, which means protective adults will be on the alert.

To prevent coyote attacks in areas like Estabrook Road and at home, Concord Police recommend that residents follow safety tips from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife:

  • Leash pets at all times if outdoors. Small cats and dogs are seen as prey and larger dogs, competition.
  • Do not approach, feed, pet, or try to interact with coyotes.
  • Don’t hesitate to scare or threaten coyotes with loud noises or bright lights.

At home:

  • Cut back brushy edges, as these areas provide cover for coyotes and their prey.
  • Secure your garbage. Coyotes raid open trash materials and compost piles. Secure your garbage in tough plastic containers with tight-fitting lids and keep them in secure buildings when possible. Take out trash when the morning pick up is scheduled, not the previous night. Keep compost in secure, vented containers, and keep barbecue grills clean to reduce attractive odors.
  • Keep bird feeder areas clean. Use feeders designed to keep seed off the ground, as the seed attracts many small mammals coyotes prey upon. Remove feeders if coyotes are regularly seen around your yard.

COYOTES ON THE RUN!!

Four coyotes on the causeway–thank goodness for the immediacy of cell phones, but oh how I wish my camera gear was not in the back seat!

 

GLOUCESTER’S COYOTE ORDINANCE AMENDED

COYOTE raiding garbage can left outside house. Rocky Mountains. (Canis latrans).
Photo courtesy google image search

Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Board member Jen Holmgren shares the following:

Last night, in a unanimous vote, the City Council approved an important animal-related measure initiated by Councilors Valerie Gilman and Scott Memhard. The Animal Ordinance GCO Section 4-2 has now been updated to reflect the prohibition of the feeding of coyotes as well as gulls and pigeons.

This type of thing may only seem to be common sense, but without an ordinance in place, the police or other authorities, and even neighbors, don’t have a legal leg to stand on. This is a solid, much-needed step in the right direction.

Thanks, and have a good day!Eastern Coyote Canis latrans massachusetts Kim Smith

LAST NIGHT’S COYOTE MEETING RECAP

img_4109Pat Huckery 

The informational meeting was conducted by Pat Huckery, the northeast district manager for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and was nearly identical to the meeting given last year at this time.

Pat presented the life history of the coyote as well as a number of methods for lessening human encounters with coyotes, most notably to cut off their food supply. Humans providing food to the coyotes directly and indirectly is the number one reason the coyote population has exploded on Cape Ann, and at the top of the list states Pat is bird feeders. She recommends that if you do have a bird feeder, at the very least, clean up the mess left daily underneath the feeders. Spilled bird food attracts rodents and small mammals, which in turn attracts coyotes.

Unsecured garbage as well as pet food left outdoors are also strong coyote attractants.

From my own observation its easy to see why Cape Ann’s coyote population is mushrooming. Our shoreline, marshes, and wooded habitats provide a wealth of food, both hunted and scavenged. I am curious to know if our readers see dead fish and birds washed ashore any longer. In the past I have seen quite a bit more on daily walks and think today the coyotes are providing a service by eating the carcasses.

At the meeting it was suggested that coyotes eat rats. That information seems surprising as rats are highly intelligent and not easily hunted. Additionally, if coyotes are doing such a terrific job eating small mammals and rodents, then why do we have an exploding population of rabbits, chipmunks, and mice? Regrettably conjecture is often presented as fact and unfortunately there is no hard data available. We learned at the meeting that tagging and tracking coyotes is not allowed in Massachusetts under the same provision that does not allow for poisoning and trapping with snares.

Hunting as an approved option for reducing the coyote population was discussed. Local licensed hunter Sam Holmes was in attendance and he can be reached at 978-491-8746. Communities such as Middleton, Rhode Island, have an expanded hunting season to manage the population of specifically coyotes that have lost their fear of humans.

Pat’s Top Recommendations for Lessening Contact with Coyotes

  1. Put away bird feeders, or clean up daily beneath the feeder.
  2. Supervise pets outdoors at all times.
  3. Secure garbage in tight fitting bins and put out the morning of trash collection
  4. Seal up any areas of your home and outbuilding’s foundation that might provide a coyote with a place to hide.
  5. Secure chickens.
  6. Compost in bins.
  7. Under no circumstances, feed coyotes.

Note to the folks who are feeding the coyotes: By feeding the coyote, you are habituating it to people. You may thing you are helping the coyote but you may potentially hasten its demise. Habituated coyotes are considered a serious threat.

If you do come face to face with a coyote, be be big, bold, and brave. Waving and flailing your arms will make you look bigger and scarier, and yelling will startle them.

Coyotes typically do not want to interact with people. Each of the three times I have come face to face with a coyote it was because I was unwittingly between it and potential food. The big, bold, and brave technique is effective although during my most recent coyote encounter, I thought the coyote had departed. He had however instead stealthily circled around to the dead fish on the beach he so determinedly wanted to eat. Eastern Coyote massachusetts beach Canis latrans Kim Smith

Eastern Coyote

REMINDER: COYOTE FORUM TONIGHT AT CITY HALL

Tonight at 7pm the coyote forum will be held at Kyrouz Auditorium. The program sounds similar to the one presented last year at this time. If you plan to go, leave early because last year the auditorium was packed.

eastern-coyote-canis-latrans-massachusetts-kim-smith

Eastern Coyote, Loblolly Cove
Coyote scat ©Kim Smith 2016Coyote scat, Eastern Point
Coyote lair ©Kim Smith 2016Coyote lair, Brace Cove

COYOTE raiding garbage can left outside house. Rocky Mountains. (Canis latrans).
COYOTE raiding garbage can left outside house.
Rocky Mountains. (Canis latrans).

Coyote eating trash courtesy Google image search

YES, EASTERN COYOTES ARE HYBRIDS, BUT THE ‘COYWOLF’ IS NOT A THING

Talk of “coywolves” – a blend of coyote and wolf – is everywhere. There is a PBS special called “Meet the Coywolf,” a recent article in the Economist, and it is now trending on Facebook. The media really love this new animal name.

There is no doubt that there is a hybrid canid living in the eastern US, and that it is the result of an amazing evolution story unfolding right underneath our noses.

However, this is not a new species – at least not yet – and I don’t think we should start calling it a “coywolf.”

Genetic swapping

What creature are we talking about? In the last century, a predator – I prefer the name “eastern coyote” – has colonized the forests of eastern North America, from Florida to Labrador.

New genetic tests show that all eastern coyotes are actually a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog. The percentages vary, dependent upon exactly which test is applied and the geographic location of the canine.

Coyotes in the Northeast are mostly (60%-84%) coyote, with lesser amounts of wolf (8%-25%) and dog (8%-11%). Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes. Virginia animals average more dog than wolf (85%:2%:13% coyote:wolf:dog) while coyotes from the Deep South had just a dash of wolf and dog genes mixed in (91%:4%:5% coyote:wolf:dog). Tests show that there are no animals that are just coyote and wolf (that is, a coywolf), and some eastern coyotes that have almost no wolf at all.

In other words, there is no single new genetic entity that should be considered a unique species. Instead, we are finding a large intermixing population of coyotes across the continent, with a smattering of noncoyote DNA mixed in to varying degrees along the eastern edge. The coywolf is not a thing.

All eastern coyotes show some evidence of past hybridization, but there is no sign that they are still actively mating with dogs or wolves. The coyote, wolf and dog are three separate species that would very much prefer not to breed with each other. However, biologically speaking, they are similar enough that interbreeding is possible.

This genetic swapping has happened more than once in their history; one study showed that the gene for black coat color found in North American wolves and coyotes today (but not in Old World wolves) originated in dogs brought to the continent by the earliest Native Americans. Some prehistoric hybridization event transferred the dog gene into wild wolves and coyotes.

The eastern coyote is born

We can estimate the date of the most recent hybridization events that created eastern coyotes by analyzing their genetic structure. Their DNA show that about 100 years ago, coyotes mated with wolves, and about 50 years ago with dogs. A century ago, wolf populations in the Great Lakes were at their nadir, living at such low density that some reproductive animals probably couldn’t find another wolf mate, and had to settle with a coyote.

The more recent date for the dog hybridization likely results from a cross-species breeding event at the very leading edge of the wave of colonizing coyotes in the east, possibly after a few females first spanned the St Lawrence seaway into upstate New York, where they would have encountered abundant feral dogs, but no other coyotes.

Nowadays, eastern coyotes have no problem finding a coyote mate. Their populations continue to grow throughout their new forested range, and they seem more likely to kill a dog than breed with it. Wolf populations in the Great Lakes have also recovered, and the wolf is once again the worst enemy of the coyote, rather than its last-chance prom date.

Coyotes have also expanded north into Alaska, although there is no sign of hybridization in that range extension. In Central America, they have expanded out of Mexico’s deserts, working their way south past the Panama Canal in the last decade, apparently bound for South America.

No genetic studies have looked at Central American coyotes, but photographs of doglike animals suggest that coyotes might be mixing it up across species lines along the leading edge of this southward expansion as well.

Coywolfdog evolution

Hybridization across species is a natural evolutionary phenomenon. The old notion that an inability to breed should define what a species is has been abandoned by zoologists (with a resounding “I told you so” from botanists). Even modern humans are hybrids, with traces of Neanderthal and Denisovan genes mixed into our genome.

The first requirement for evolution is variation, and mixing genes from two species creates all sorts of new variations for evolution to act on. Most of these probably die, being a compromise between two longstanding species that were already well-adapted to their own niches.

However, in today’s rapidly changing world, new variations might actually do better than the old types. Some of these genetic mixes will survive better than others – this is natural selection.

The coyote with a bit of wolf genes to make it slightly larger was probably better able to handle deer, which are overabundant in eastern forests, but still wily enough to live in a landscape full of people. These animals thrived, dispersed east and thrived again, becoming the eastern coyote.

Exactly which dog and wolf genes are surviving natural selection in today’s eastern coyote is an area of active research.

Coyotes with odd coat colors or hair types are probably the most conspicuous sign of dog genes in action, while their slightly larger size might come from wolf genes. Some of these genes will help an animal survive and breed; others will make them less fit. Natural selection is still sorting this out, and we are witnessing the evolution of a new type of coyote right under our noses, one that is very good at living there.

Western coyotes adapt locally to their environments, with limited gene flow between populations (called “ecotypes”) living in different habitats, presumably reflecting local specialization.

Will eastern coyotes specialize locally as well? How will dog and wolf genes sort out across cities and wildernesses of the east?

Expect some really cool science in the next few years as researchers use modern genetic tools to sniff out the details of this story.

Evolution still in progress

There are many examples of bad animal names that cause a lot of confusion.

The fisher is a large type of weasel that does not eat fish (it prefers porcupines). The mountain beaver of the Pacific Northwest is not a beaver and does not live in the mountains. And then there’s the sperm whale…

We don’t get many opportunities to name new animals in the 21st century. We shouldn’t let the media mess up this one by declaring it a new species called the coywolf. Yes, there are wolf genes in some populations, but there are also eastern coyotes with almost no wolf genes, and others that have as much dog mixed in as they do wolf. “Coywolf” is an inaccurate name that causes confusion.

The coyote has not evolved into a new species over the last century. Hybridization and expansion have created a host of new coyote variations in the east, and evolution is still sorting these out. Gene flow continues in all directions, keeping things mixed up, and leading to continual variation over their range, with no discrete boundaries.

Could evolution eventually lead to a coyote so specialized for eastern forests that they would be considered a unique species? Yes, but for this to happen, they would have to cut off gene flow with nonhybrid animals, leading to distinct types of coyotes that (almost) never interbreed. I think we are a long way from this possibility.

For now, we have the eastern coyote, an exciting new type of coyote in the midst of an amazing evolutionary transition. Call it a distinct “subspecies,” call it an “ecomorph,” or call it by its scientific name Canis latrans var. But don’t call it a new species, and please, don’t call it the coywolf.

Disclosure statement:

Roland Kays does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

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Following images and video courtesy google image search

Garbage, bird seed, and fallen fruit attract coyotes to your backyard.

COYOTE raiding garbage can left outside house. Rocky Mountains. (Canis latrans).

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