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11.1: Canis latrans: Coyote

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12

Common Name

  • Coyote
  • Brush Wolf
  • American Jackal
  • Prairie Wolf


Coyotes have gray-brown to yellow-brown fur on the upper half torso and the tail, and whitish fur on the underbelly, under the muzzle, and on the legs. They have big, tawny ears, a long muzzle with a large black nose, yellow eyes, a long torso, and a long, bushy tail. Their scientific name, Canis latrans, is Latin for barking dog. The common name comes from the Nahuatl Indian word coyote. To Native Americans, they were thought to be tricksters and clowns, but were a god-like being that had a lot to do with the creation of the world and what went on after it.

The complete taxonomic classification is:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: C. latrans


Coyotes live in North America and Central America. They live mostly in southwestern states of the United States, however, some live as far north as Alaska. Some live in deserts of Arizona. They also live in urban settings such as New York, Chicago, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. Their population may continue to spread due to the fact that they are very adaptable. They make their dens in rocky crevices, logs, coves or dens of other animals. They usually don’t dig their own dens. They find an abandoned den of a badger or fox, and they make it bigger.


Cell Biology

Coyotes have eukaryotic cells, like all other animals. Eukaryotic cells are found in animals, fungi, and plants. These cells are made up of the cell membrane, nucleus, which contains the DNA, ribosomes, the endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi bodies, and the mitochondria, as well as other organelles. The cell membrane separates the inner and the outer parts of the cell. The next part of a cell is the DNA. DNA is a cell's genetic code that has the blueprints for the rest of the living organism. The ribosome makes proteins, essential for a cell. The endoplasmic reticulum can either be rough, which is used for protein synthesis, or smooth, which is used for lipid metabolism, carbohydrate metabolism, and detoxification. The Golgi body carries proteins inside the cell before they are sent to where they are needed. The mitochondria is where sugars are burned for energy.

Cells can divide in two ways, mitosis and meiosis. Mitosis is the process in which a cell divides the chromosomes in its nucleus into two identical sets in two new nuclei. Meiosis is the process in which DNA divides to create a cell with only half the chromosomes needed. This process is used to make gametes for reproduction.

The blood of coyotes and all other mammals has red blood cells without a nucleus. Nerve cells are a vital part of the body. Nerve cells transfer information around the body. They are used for sound, touch, sight, movement, and other senses. Skin cells are use primarily for protection. Muscle cells have 3 types: skeletal, which is used for locomotion (movement), smooth, which are used in the walls of intestines, and cardiac, which are used in the heart.


The results of genetic analysis show that, on average, roughly 10 to 15 percent of the genetic makeup of the eastern coyotes is wolf. Coyotes in the eastern United States and Canada are actually gray wolf hybrids.


The first animal fossils were found 630 million years ago. Amniotes evolved about 350 million years ago. Amniotes were the first land vertebrates. Amniotes are animals that produce eggs with internal membranes that let gases pass through but not water. In the amniotic egg, an embryo can breathe without drying. Amniotic eggs were the first eggs that could stay on land. One important amniote group to evolve was the synapsids, which then evolved into mammals. Canis is about 5 million years old, while the coyote evolved about 1.18 million years ago.


Coyotes are prey to only two animals, the gray wolf and the mountain lion, and are hunted by humans. Ninety percent of their diet is made up of mammals like voles, prairie dogs, eastern cottontail rabbit, ground squirrel, and mice. They will also eat small birds, snakes, lizards, deer, javelina, cattle, and small insects. Coyotes are omnivores and also eat fruits.

Anatomy and Physiology

Coyotes have keen hearing and sense of smell but have a limitation to the colors they can see. Coyotes have blade-like teeth for ripping meat off, but they have flat teeth for chewing plants. They have a gland in their nose, like all canids, called the Jacobson's organ, which is used for a better sense of smell. The ears of the coyote have a chain of three tiny bones that pick up sound waves. Coyotes have long, black -tipped tails that they use for balance when running, and non-retractable claws to provide gripping. Coyotes stand at less than two feet tall with ears that appear pointed. They have a four-chambered heart used to pump blood in their body. The heart is used to pump blood into the arteries, and two lungs to pump oxygen into the blood. Coyotes are warm blooded, which means that they can maintain body temperature. Coyotes, like all mammals, have mammary glands, so they feed their young milk. The coyote, like other mammals, gives birth to live young.


Coyotes usually live in packs, but hunt in pairs. Coyotes are nocturnal. Coyotes are very vocal animals. It has a number of calls for different reasons. The male coyote might mate with more than one female. Coyotes mate between January-March. Two months later (April-June) the babies are born. The mother can have as low as one pup and up to 19 pups. The normal amount of pups is six. The pups are born blind and floppy-eared. They open their eyes after 10-14 days. After 3-4 weeks they come out of their den for the first time. They are weaned when they are one month old. When they are fully weaned, the parents start to give them regurgitated food. Male pups stay with their mom for nine months. Females stay with their mother’s pack. Males and females pair off and mate together for several years. Coyotes have a lifespan of ten years.




  • Quinn Tribolet
  • Natalie Vollmer

Supervising Faculty

  • Amy Huff Shah


  • Fred Kramer, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego, California


  • Museum School, San Diego, California


  • Published prior to review.

Edit History

  • Created: April 5, 2013
  • Version 1.0 submitted to CK-12: July 4, 2013
  • CK-12 edits: in progress


  • Middle School (grades 6-8)

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Date Created:
Apr 17, 2012
Last Modified:
Jan 30, 2016
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