Coyotes: Opportunistic Omnivores

Researchers study the diets of coyotes in different habitats to analyze what they eat.

Coyote stomach contents
A researcher examines the stomach contents of a coyote. Coyotes typically digest food in five hours or less.

Their howls can be heard in the night. They prowl about in suburban neighborhoods, so you may hear them in your backyard. Coyotes, Canis latrans, are well-camouflaged: their brown, gray fur camouflages their lean bodies against dense brush. Coyotes are habitat generalists, meaning they live in almost every type of habitat and are in every Florida county. Because they adapt so well to different environments, coyotes often cross paths with humans.

From insects to dog food, coyotes are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they eat whatever plants and animals are most readily available. However, natural food sources are not always easiest to come by: Biologists have found fast food containers and chocolate wrappers in deceased coyotes’ stomachs. One of the main objectives of coyote research is to study how humans affect coyote eating habits. Scientists with FWRI intend to determine what percentage of coyotes’ diets in urban/suburban areas is from human food. Researchers are also evaluating whether wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) plays a major role in coyote diets, with particular focus on turkey nesting season. Understanding the role coyote predation plays on turkey populations can help address research and management questions.

Because traditional scat sampling may not provide the most accurate results due to the digestion process, this study analyzes deceased coyote stomach contents. So far, researchers acquired 234 coyote carcasses from urban and rural landscapes statewide. This habitat diversity provides a good comparison between different diets. Researchers evaluate the dead animals for heartworms which, if found, are counted and collected to study the prevalence of the parasite in coyotes. Genetic samples of the coyotes are sent to Princeton University for analysis. Ticks and blood samples are collected for the University of Florida to examine the animals for blood-related diseases.

The different components of this study provide the data needed to better understand coyotes and their role in Florida’s ecosystems. Coyote populations remain steady in some areas and are increasing in others. It is important for scientists to understand coyotes’ impacts on humans and wildlife in order to make informed management decisions.

FWC Facts:
A harmful algal bloom, or HAB, is a high concentration of toxic or nuisance algal species that negatively affects natural resources or people.

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