Today I witnessed what I THOUGHT was a very deliberate “back-scratch.” But, after carefully examining the photos I took, I can now see that what I mistook for a stick was actually a dead lizard!! And therefore, what I mistook for a back-scratch was actually a “perfume bath”!!
After a morning of basking in the sun and watching walkers, this particular coyote walked about 50 yards from its resting spot, where it picked up what looked like a stick, but turns out to have been a dead lizard — with a girth of about 3/4 inch. The coyote didn’t so much pick it up, as move it — lifting it in its jaws and moving it. I thought the coyote was going to play with it. Instead, the coyote lowered itself, shoulders first, onto its back, and onto the lizard, and then started wiggling on its back ecstatically: flopping from side to side and all-over, with legs flailing in the air. This apparently was not satisfactory, because the coyote got up, moved the lizard again and repeated the activity. This time the activity must have been successful, because the coyote then trotted off into the distance. Dogs often will wallow in grass that has been doused with fish-emulsion as a fertilizer. They seem to do this to absorb the scent. I’ve seen dogs do the same thing in horse manure — THAT was a real mess. I’m wondering if this is an instinct that helps mask their own scent? I actually found the lizard the next day, at which time I was able to identify it as a California Alligator Lizard.
What Does The Yipping Mean?? I wanted to mention another behavior which surprised me. I was at one end of a park photographing, as best I could, a juvenile coyote which was hunting. The coyote caught a muddy gopher and carried to the middle of a hill where the coyote lay down to eat it, right there in an open area of grass, in plain view. When the coyote was finished, it began wandering on the hillside. As it did so, I heard the coyote’s mother begin an intense barking episode on the other side of the park. It flashed through my mind that I might be able to see how coyotes react to “communication”. But there was NO reaction whatsoever: no hiding, running towards or away from the barking, no tensing up. There was total unconcern, and absolutely no change in this coyote’s meanderings on the hillside. When I reached the other side of the park, sure enough the mom had been chased by a dog and was letting everyone know that she was upset. She ended up climbing to the top of some high rocks where she continued her barking for 20 minutes or so. So, obviously, the barking was not a communication to other coyotes. It was just a display to the dog who had chased her. Also, could it have been an emotional release?
However, the next day I was in the vicinity of the mom who was basking in the sun in her normal fashion, when coyote yipping began across the canyon. This would have to have been one of her offspring. In this case, the mom did sit up and listen, cocking her ears back and forth, but she remained put, and eventually lay down to bask some more. The yipping went on for about ten minutes. It appeared that the mom could assess the danger of the situation from the yipping she was hearing. I have seen a non-yipping situation where this mom raced down the hill to aid her pup who was being chased by a dog. Hmmm, coyotes seem to be able to size up the danger of a situation pretty accurately.