|For an overview of coyotes that appear throughout the Fallout series, see Coyote.|
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The ancestors of the coyote diverged from those of the gray wolf, 1-2 million years ago, with the modern species arising in North America during the Middle Pleistocene. It is highly flexible in social organization, living either in nuclear families or in loosely-knit packs of unrelated individuals. It has a varied diet consisting primarily of animal matter, though it may also eat fruit and vegetable matter on occasion. It is a very vocal animal, whose most iconic sound consists of a howl emitted by solitary individuals. Other than humans, cougars and gray wolves are the coyote's only serious enemies. Nevertheless, coyotes have on occasion mated with the latter species, producing hybrids colloquially called "coywolves".
The coyote is a prominent character in Native American folklore, usually depicted as a trickster who alternately assumes the form of an actual coyote or a man. As with other trickster figures, the coyote acts as a picaresque hero which rebels against social convention through deception and humor. The animal was especially respected in Mesoamerican cosmology as a symbol of military might, with some scholars having traced the origin of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl to a pre-Aztec coyote deity. After the European colonization of the Americas, it was reviled in Anglo-American culture as a cowardly and untrustworthy animal.
The coyote is typically smaller than the gray wolf, with longer ears and a larger braincase, as well as a thinner frame, face and muzzle. The coyote also carries its tail downwards when running or walking, rather than horizontally as the wolf does. Coyote tracks can be distinguished from those of dogs by their more elongated, less rounded shape. Scent glands are located at the upper side of the base of the tail. These glands are smaller than the gray wolf's, but are of the same bluish black color. Males average 8–20 kg (18–44 lb) in weight, while females average 7–18 kg (15–40 lb), though size varies geographically.
The color and texture of the coyote's fur varies geographically, though it is much less varied than the wolf's. The hair's predominant color is light gray and red or fulvous, interspersed around the body with black and white. Coyotes living on high elevations tend to have more black and gray shades than their desert-dwelling counterparts, which are more fulvous or whitish-gray. The coyote's fur consists of short, soft underfur and long, coarse guard hairs. The fur of northern subspecies is longer and denser than in southern forms, with the fur of some Mexican and Central American forms being almost hispid.
Like the golden jackal, the coyote is gregarious, but not as dependent on conspecifics as more social canid species like wolves are. This is likely linked to the fact that the coyote is not a specialized hunter of large prey as the latter species is. The basic social unit of a coyote pack is a nuclear family centered around a reproductive female. However, unrelated coyotes may join forces for companionship, or to bring down prey too large to attack singly. Such "non-family" packs are only temporary, and may consist of bachelor males, non-reproductive females and sub-adult young. Families are formed in midwinter. A single female in heat can attract up to seven reproductive males, which can follow her for as much as a month. Although there may be some squabbling among the males, once the female has selected a mate and copulates, the rejected males do not intervene, and move on once they detect other estrous females. The coyote is strictly monogamous, even in areas with high coyote densities and abundant food. Females that fail to mate sometimes assist their sisters or mothers in raising their pups, or will join their siblings until the next time they can mate. The newly mated pair then establish a territory and either construct their own den or clean out abandoned earths. During the pregnancy, the male frequently hunts alone and brings back food for the female. The female may line the den with dried grass or with fur pulled from her belly. The gestation period lasts 63 days, with an average litter size of six, though the number fluctuates depending on coyote population density and the abundance of food.
Individual feeding territories vary in size from 0.38 to 62 km2 (0.15 to 23.94 sq mi), with the general concentration of coyotes in a given area depending on food abundance, adequate denning sites, and competition with conspecifics and other predators. The coyote generally does not defend its territory outside of the denning season, and is much less aggressive towards intruders than the wolf is, typically chasing and sparring with them, but rarely killing them. Conflicts between coyotes can arise during times of food shortage. When coyotes use a den (usually the deserted holes of other species) when gestating and rearing young, though they may occasionally give birth under sagebrushes in the open. Coyote dens can be located in canyons, washouts, coulees, banks, rock bluffs, or level ground. Some dens have been found under abandoned homesteads, infrastructure, thickets and thistles. The den is continuously dug and cleaned out by the female until the pups are born. Should the den be disturbed or infested with fleas, the pups are moved into another earth. A coyote den can have several entrances and passages branching out from the main chamber. Coyote dens can usually be distinguished from those of small burrowing rodents by their rougher surroundings. A single den can be used year after year.
When hunting large prey, the coyote often works in pairs or in small groups. Younger animals usually avoid participating in such hunts, with the breeding pair typically doing most of the work. When attacking large prey, the coyote approaches from the front, lacerating its prey's head and throat. Like other canids, the coyote caches excess food. Although coyotes can live in large groups, small prey is typically caught singly. Coyotes sometimes urinate on their food, possibly to claim ownership over it.
Coyotes almost always travel in packs, like their wolf cousins. They have sharp teeth and will frequently knock a target over, then attack the head.
They are slightly stronger than dogs, but weaker than wolves.
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