Friday, 9 August 2013

NHL Animal Week - Phoenix

The NHL has a few teams with logos that feature animals, so it became apparent that with Shark Week on Discovery Channel that I should feature an NHL Animal Week where some real biology can be discussed! There are seven teams that distinctively could be featured, and we've taken a look at the animals in the logos of the San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, and Pittsburgh Penguins in the previous days. Today, we focus on the canine species in the NHL as the Phoenix Coyotes take center stage on HBIC's NHL Animal Week!

Friday - Phoenix Coyotes

The coyote, Canis latrans, is a hearty canine species, spanning the North American continent from Alaska through to Panama. The only places they really don't range into is the extreme north in both Canada and Alaska. They were once the primary canine species on the prairies and in the desert, but their range has been changed due to loss of habitat and prey. They can still be found in these ecosystems, but their numbers are less in those ecosystems than before. However, the coyote has also shown an adaptability to move into and thrive around areas populated by man, and have been seen in cities across the continent at night. Needless to say, the coyote is a savvy and adaptable animal, and estimates put their populations at an all-time high thanks to their city living.

Coyotes commonly weight between 20 and 50 pounds, and stand approximately three-feet tall when fully grown. Fur colors will range between gray to a yellowish-brown hue. Their tails make up half of their body length, and are identifiable due to their bottle shape and distinctive black tip. The fur on the backs of the coyotes are black-tipped as well, giving a darker stripe along the spine and across the shoulders. They have large ears that stand straight up from the skull and taper into a point, and are extremely large in relation to their head. The size of the coyote is much smaller than that of wolves, but they are significantly larger than foxes.

Courtship in coyotes last for approximately 60 to 90 days. Mating occurs as the spring season arrives in North America, commonly occurring between January and March. Mates are kept for a number of years, but monogamy should be inferred as males hunt in a territory that can extend up to 20 square kilometers away from their dens. This could include several females, but males will normally choose one mate per year due to the reproductive cycle of the female coyote. Gestation is approximately two months, and a litter of five to eight pups is common. Mothers will nurse the young for approximately one month until they are ready to emerge from the den. Both the male and female will bring food to the den to assist in feeding as well.

While coyotes can dig their own dens, they normally steal dens from animals they have killed. Favorite den-digging prey include both badgers and woodchucks, and the coyotes usually enlarges it as needed once they have occupied their new homes. Surprisingly, coyotes and badgers are often seen working together to hunt smaller rodents in burrows. Because coyotes don't dig well, they allow the badgers to unearth the rodent dens. Once unearthed, both the badger and coyote take their fill of rodent for dinner and part ways. Dens occupied by coyotes are used year after year, and all coyotes are quite protective of their dens. There are normally several entrances/exits to a den which makes capturing coyotes in urban and suburban areas difficult due to their many escape routes.

Hunting is normally done in pairs or alone, and all hunts follow similar trails to food sources. Packs are rarely seen in the wild, although they can be found when hunting larger animals. Coyotes are actually seen as a beneficial animal by most farmers as they hunt rodents, rabbits, raccoons, fish, frogs, and even deer, but are quite comfortable with meals of insects, snakes, fruit, and grass. They may also scavenge off of kills made by other animals, showing their adaptability across their environments. They are poor climbers, making their presence in mountainous and hilly environments less, but they show an excellent ability to swim and will swim across tributaries if prey movement is spotted on the opposite shoreline. Coyotes do not possess sharp vision, but do have excellent olfactory senses like other canine species, and can reach top speeds of 40mph or 65kph when hunting prey. They can also jump up to heights of four meters, allowing them occasionally take low-hanging bird nests as food as well.

There are different methods of hunting employed by the coyote. When "mousing" - hunting rodents - they slowly stalk through the grass and sniff out the rodent. Once identified for the kill, the coyote stiffens its body with all four legs held together, and it pounces on the prey much like one would imagine a cat doing. When hunting deer, teamwork is needed to bring down the larger prey. Usually two or three coyotes take turns nipping at the deer until it falters when the kill is actually made. Alternatively, the younger coyotes have been seen driving the deer towards a dominant, larger coyote who will emerge from its hidden location and make the kill on the startled deer. These learned behaviors have aided the coyote in its success as a species.

Predators of the coyote are few, but they do pose a major problem for families of coyotes. Mountain lions and wolves are extremely adept at hunting coyotes, but prefer the ease of attacking a den with young. Because coyotes do not live in packs, this allows the lions and wolves an easier time in their hunts as they normally only have to kill one adult coyote before having access to the cubs. Man poses a problem simply due to his proximity with coyotes. Because coyotes live in cities, cross-breeding with domestic dogs is seen, and the killing of house pets, rodents, and rabbits is quite common. Being omnivorous, coyotes also raid garbage cans and will engage in encounters with raccoons. All of this has given the coyote a reputation of being a pest in city environments rather than being seen as a benefit in helping rid neighborhoods of potential pests. While some relocations of coyotes to areas outside of cities has been successful, most cities simply choose to exterminate caught coyotes due to them being too naturalized in a city environment. Coyotes also can be hosts for a number of diseases, including rabies. Farmers will consider them a threat to poultry, livestock, and crops if affected.

Coyotes have an amazing communication system amongst their populations that use auditory, olfactory, and tactile signals. They are the most vocal of all North American mammals as they use three distinctive sounds: a squeak, a distress call, and a howl. These are used to communicate with other coyote individuals, and howls are usually used to announce territorial ranges or to greet when pack members re-unite. Visual acuity is low, but they will use vision to spot movement. With their large ears, they have excellent hearing, and, like all dogs, they have an excellent sense of smell - both important senses to have while hunting at night. Like all canine species, they also mark their territories very well using urine and feces. When coyotes meet, they often smell each other out and rub against one another in order to remember the scent of the new meeting.

Because of their vast numbers and city-dwelling populations, there is no known number of coyotes. It is thought that they may number into the millions across North America, but they are not considered threatened in any way thanks to their adaptability.

There's some information on the coyote. While it appeared that the NHL's Coyotes may not survive into another winter, they were saved once again in Phoenix with the hopes that they may thrive like their representative animal does. Time will only tell, but they will play in the Arizona heat for at least another five years, proving that this team, like the animal, seems to have the ability to adapt to their environment. Tomorrow, we'll move a little further west and check out the waterfowl in Anaheim as we feature ducks on the next entry in NHL Animal Week!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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