Reveling In A Scent Bath


Coyotes love wallowing in, or rubbing on, smelly items — usually a dead rodent. They indulge themselves, unrestrained, luxuriating and taking pleasure in something the rest of us humans find rather repulsive. Dogs do it, too. Humans don’t have a handle on why this is so much fun. In this case here, the coyote is rubbing her back on something she likes, rolling back and forth, and stretching at the same time, trying to get as much “coverage” as possible.

Dealings With A Mole

I watched as a small prey was quickly and effortlessly plucked from the ground — I mean, after a single nose-poke into the ground, the coyote ran off with the small prey dangling from its mouth. I marveled at how adept some coyotes were at hunting. I’ve seen moles and gophers hunted down, and it always takes some doing. The coyote nosed its prey and watched it intently, picking it up a few times and watching it intently again. The coyote was looking for a response, for any sign of movement. I’ve seen coyotes do this with most of their prey before consuming it.  The coyote was treating it as if it were not quite dead.

Once absolutely sure the mole was not moving, the coyote lowered the front part of its body onto the dead animal and began rubbing its neck on the critter. This was repeated several times. When done, the coyote examined the critter again and then urinated on it rather than eating it. This clued me in that it was probably a mole: they don’t seem to eat moles, but they do like rubbing themselves on them because of their smell.

After the coyote walked off, I took the opportunity to go see what the animal was. It was a mole. Not only that, it became obvious to me that it was a mole which had been dead for some time — it was hard and cold. Hmmmm. I wondered why the coyote had treated it as if it had been alive, waiting for it to move, toying with it and watching for it to react.  Maybe he was hoping; maybe it was just a game. I feel that the coyote knew it was already dead when he found it. I had concentrated on the toying behavior of the coyote instead of the speed with which the critter was plucked from the ground as the main clue to what was going on.

As I finished photographing the dead mole, I looked up to see the coyote — still there — watching me. I thought that the coyote had moved on — I had no idea that I was being watched. I immediately and quickly walked away — I had no intention of giving the impression that I was actually interested in “stealing” it.

As I walked off, the coyote, again, approached “his” mole and examined it for any changes I might have made — such as that I might have declared ownership by urinating on it? He smelled it intently, as before. This time he was assessing me through any markings I might have made. Satisfied that I had not marked it as mine, he wandered off, this time for good. This is the first time a coyote I’ve been observing has actually checked me out and thought I was “involved”.  My personal method is never to be “involved” in whatever a coyote is doing: if I’m reacted to in any way, I know I’ve overstepped the bounds I like to maintain for myself. It happened this time.

Yet Another Snake Rub

I’ve posted this behavior before, and am posting it again just to let everyone know how common it is. I’ve seen it often, I saw it again today.

The coyote must have smelled the dead, dry snake from the path. The first photo shows the coyote sniffing. It went over to the edge of the path, where after a little bit of nose-work to move leaves and debris, it picked up the very stiff and dry dead snake. This snake was carried to the other side of the path where there were fewer twigs on the ground. It was dropped as the coyote grimaced disgustedly at the smell. It was carried a little further and then rolled on. The coyote then got up, making sure the snake was placed correctly  — however that was — with its nose. And then the coyote rolled again on the snake, over and over. When the “rubdown” was finished, the snake was left there, and the coyote trotted off.

Self-Medication? Scat Left On A Path: A Message?

I watched this coyote poop only a few paces before it stopped to sniff. It sniffed at the base of a tree and then at a spot on the ground close to the tree. The spot close to the tree was the greater attraction. The coyote remained sniffing here and then began to lower itself onto the spot to “roll” or “wallow” on it. The coyote only went so far as to lower its head sideways onto the spot when it changed its mind. Instead, it walked a few paces forwards and pooped, again, within a few inches of the spot it had been smelling — close enough to be called “on” it. Then it walked on. I was able to see that the coyote had sniffed a three-inch piece of cooked fish with the bone intact. How this got to the path I don’t know: we have both raccoons and coyotes who could have removed it from a patio meal plate left out, or from a garbage can.

So, after having been attracted to the fish’s strong scent, the coyote began to roll on it, but then decided to poop on it instead. Hmmm — two things, probably separate things, were going on here: rolling on something had its own purpose; and pooping right here had another — maybe?

1) Was the pooping a form of marking, of leaving a message? The coyote had just pooped a few paces earlier, with me behind on the coyote’s path. I’ve observed this same situation a couple of times before. It pooped only a few paces after the first pile: was the poop saved purposefully, like skunk scent, to be used when needed?  Was this at all related to the “rolling on the fish”?

2) Could rolling on something, such as the fish, constitute “marking IT” — the coyote leaving its own scent there, a sort of “trumping” what was already there, the same as when a coyote marks over dog poop or urine it has found? Or, as I have written before, was the coyote trying to “perfume” itself, either for the fun of it or as some kind of “disguise”? OR, and this is my new idea, is there some kind of self-medication involved in rolling on specific items — the same way we humans use ointments? Might rolling in dead smelly stuff ward off skin mites? This coyote does have patches of fur loss. Mange is a common ailment of coyotes, and can actually kill them, though I don’t know if this particular coyote is afflicted specifically with mange.

A hypothesis: I’ve gone to the Internet to find that some of the skin “treatments” for mange include apple cider vinegar or borax or a borax/hydrogen peroxide combination or even neem oil with its sulfur smelling properties. I tried to figure out what these might have in common with the smelly things I have seen a coyote rub itself on: dead lizard, dead snake, dead mole, rancid fish, and with horse manure and fish-emulsion used as fertilizer which I’ve seen dogs rub themselves in. It appears that the dead animals were left in their locations specifically to be wallowed on over and over again. Decomposition produces gases and acids. Might the mites responsible for mange be warded off by the byproducts of decomposing tissue? Or might the Ph level of these byproducts be soothing to mite-infested skin? I’m wondering if these byproducts of decomposition have some of the same properties as apple cider vinegar or borax or neem oil? I’m not a chemist or biochemist. This is just a thought I had. Feedback is welcome!

More Play: Wallowing On A Dead Mole

This coyote stopped at a brown spot in a grassy area and rolled on it: twisting and turning, lowering the shoulders first and sliding down the small incline. The activity was repeated over and over many times. Then the coyote walked about 8 feet and did the same thing, over and over, occasionally checking to see that I was watching. THIS TIME, however, there was a dead mole involved. The coyote picked it up, moved it over then rolled on it. The coyote’s enthusiasm and joy in this activity increased as the moments went by: the mole was tossed up in the air then swung over to the side and picked up again. So, besides rubbing itself in a smelly dead mole, the activity seemed to constitute play — joyful play!! I’ve seen this wallowing on a dead animal before: on a dead snake and a dead lizard. This time it was a furry mole. I have found a number of dead moles — obviously they had not been eaten. I wonder if moles, lizards and snakes are distasteful to coyotes? I’ve seen domestic dogs wallow in distasteful stuff.  What they roll on is always very smelly, so the assumption is that they are “perfuming” themselves. For what purpose, I don’t think anyone knows for sure. We do know that the dog or coyote is thoroughly enjoying himself as he wallows!

On a few occasions I have distinctly felt that when I observed “playing” or “toying with prey” that there was an aspect of “performance” involved for me as an observer. The coyote definitely saw me and looked over to make sure I was watching. The wallowing on the mole carcass lasted a full eight minutes: it was a feature length performance!!

See more wallowing postings: on a lizard: A “Perfume Bath”: coyote behavior of October 29, 2009; on a snake: A Snake Is Found: Coyote behavior of March 6, 2010; and on other waste: Another Smelly Rub-down: Coyote behavior of January 3, 2010.

A Snake Is Found: Coyote behavior


This coyote jumped down from a rock and seemed to be headed off. I went to look over the ledge where the coyote had disappeared, but it was right there, in a depression. The coyote looked up at me so I quickly backed off. After a minute, thinking the coyote had gone by now, I again peeked over the ledge. The coyote had something long in its mouth: it was a snake! I thought that maybe the snake would be eaten, but it was not. Instead, it was carried a short distance and dropped. The coyote must not have liked the taste because after dropping the snake, it licked its mouth with displeasure. Then it rolled on the snake several times, picking it up during the last roll. The coyote then stood up, dropped the snake, and left!

I can’t be sure if the coyote killed this snake while it was out of my sight, or if the snake had been killed at an earlier time and left there to be “rolled on as needed”. I have seen a coyote pick up an already dead lizard and then lower itself onto the smelly carcass for a “perfume bath.”

Another Smelly Rub-down: Coyote behavior

I watched this coyote for two full hours! First it hunted. Then it watched human activity — specifically the sawing of an old fallen Eucalyptus branch, which was then pulled with ropes to form the edge of a path.  There was some wandering, including on a street. There was keeping hidden from two dogs — the coyote spotted them down the path, but they did not see the coyote at all, and neither did their owner. The coyote evaded detection by quickly climbing up a hill and standing very still behind some sparse ground growth — this worked because the coyote’s coat is a wonderful camouflage, especially when the coyote stands absolutely still. The coyote kept its eyes on the dogs: studying what they were doing, discerning their intent, assessing their energy level: basically evaluating the level of danger to itself. The dogs discovered the coyote scent, maybe because of some scat that had just been deposited, but they kept to the path.

THEN, maybe because the coyote knew it had been flagged by its scent, it was drawn to a place which I later discovered was very smelly. And the coyote lowered itself, shoulders first and gave itself a smelly rub-down with whatever was on the ground. It lay on its back and wiggled around, and slid down the hill. It got up twice during this rub-down session, and repeated the rub-down three times. Then it got up again and walked off.

I went over to find out what the smelly substance was which had been so pleasant to wallow in. There definitely was a very strong smell of poop, but I could not see anything in the immediate rub-down spot. Maybe it was something like urine which I could not see?

See more wallowing postings: on a lizard: A “Perfume Bath”: coyote behavior of October 29, 2009; on a snake: A Snake Is Found: Coyote behavior of March 6, 2010.

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