Coyotes, Snakes and “Flying Dragons”

“Flying dragon” is what someone on Instagram called the San Francisco Alligator Lizard captured by this coyote. Dragons were large, mighty and ferocious fire-spitting scaly creatures guarding the entry of caves where a pile of gold was being hoarded just for the dragon himself. Only brave and fearless Medieval knights ever confronted them. I went looking for the fiercest photo of that dragon (lizard) and am posting it here (below right), along with a rendition of that mythical dragon (below left) we all know about from childhood (credit kerembeyit).

In fact, the San Francisco Alligator Lizard is a small lizard you can hold in the palm of your hand and it’s not one bit dangerous. The one captured by the coyote was a bit larger than average, but that’s it.

I have observed that when a coyote finds a lizard or a snake — or even a mole — they dispatch it, even though it is not “prey” for them: I myself have never seen a coyote actually “eat” one of these. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t eat snakes, however, I myself have never seen it. If they do ever eat them, I wonder if it might be when pickings have become scarce? I’ve been told that these particular critters be bitter in taste. The hapless and harmless critter is simply captured, vigorously toyed with, and then wallowed on by the coyote whose intent is to absorb its potent acrid odors. Finally, to add insult to injury, the critter is urinated on before being abandoned in the dry grasses — disabled and left to die if it hasn’t already died from this treatment.

Why would a coyote slay a harmless garter snake if he doesn’t eat it, and then only roll on it to absorb its scent? After thinking about it, it occurred to me that the primary snakes in coyote habitats include some extremely venomous ones: various rattlesnakes, including the diamondback. So there is a strong instinct to get rid of them for survival. The aim would be to get that snake and disable it before it got you with its venomous bite. For coyotes, might all snakes be the same?

I have observed snakes and lizards tossed in the air and caught with supreme dexterity over and over again. Coyotes are extremely coordinated and their skills are finely and precisely tuned when it comes to using the tools they have: their snouts, teeth, paws and claws, in addition to their keen eyes, ears and nose — much more so than we might think. Their extreme skill is probably beyond that of my own cattle dog who once took out her own stitches, one by one, without damaging the skin at all, using ultra-fine control of her teeth. And she did so when she knew it was time to do so — which was one day before the veterinarian was scheduled to do it! I didn’t catch her doing this until she was on the last stitch, so I let her finish her precision work. The nylon suture was ever so carefully sliced through with her teeth, and then the stitch itself gently pulled out. Coyotes appear to have manipulative skills which are as keen as our own ability to thread the tiniest needle.

So snakes are killed right off, and then, in their cat-like fashion, the coyotes toy with them. Other cat-like behaviors of coyotes include their halloween-cat like pose with the hairpin arched back and fur sticking up on end, pouncing on prey, and the ability to extend their claws into a useful defensive tool, or to splay the toes into a larger “holding” tool, as the splayed toes in the photo to the left.

Below are some photos of coyote encounters with harmless snakes in San Francisco — we only have harmless snakes here as far as I have seen. Lizards behave similarly to snakes and even look like them with their long tails, which might be why they are treated the same way by coyotes. As for their aversion to eating moles (not “voles”, which are one of coyotes’ favorite staples here in SF), again it might be the bitter taste of these underground rodents.

Vigorously toying with a snake

Wallowing on a smelly snake before abandoning it there.

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