Gaping

Gaping

“Fee fi fo fum . . . I smell the blood of an Englishman”. I remember thinking that if the Giant could actually SMELL Jack, then how could Jack hide from him?

This thought came to me as I watched a coyote at dawn hurry purposefully to a spot where she immediately put her nose to the ground and sniffed intently. She immediately kicked dirt: she was decidedly miffed and upset. She continued following that scent with her nose to the ground for the next hour, stopping repeatedly to kick dirt angrily, to mark by urinating, defecating or rubbing, to throw her nose up into the air and whiff the surrounding atmosphere, and to gape.

Someone — either known or unknown to her — had passed through her plot of land — her territory — who was not welcome there. Because of her superb olfactory senses, she not only could tell that someone had been there, and even if not exactly WHO it was, she could read lingering pheromone and other body chemical markers telling her all sorts of things, such as the age, sex, maybe even the social status of the individual involved, and a whole lot more.

Continued gaping

What was new for me was the gaping as she went about sniffing out whoever had been there. I have seen gaping in coyotes who were fiercely warning off and warding off a dog. But here there was no dog or other coyote present, yet that gaping was occurring repeatedly. This was not “yawning” which is more drawn out and accompanied by other behavioral markers. A friend told me that cats gape when they are sniffing/whiffing the scent of other cats. I went online and indeed found something called the Flehmen Response which involves something called Jacobson’s organ or the vomeronasal organ. But the visible behavior of the Flehmen Response was described as more of a grimace or a sneer than simply a wide-mouthed “gape”.  What this does is allows odors in through the mouth instead of the nose causing the odor to be registered as even more palpable than it would be through the nose. The vomeronasal organ consists of two sacs in the roof of the mouth which function more like a “tongue” for scent. This is where the odor is analyzed.

Is this what was going on with this coyote: an intensified “smelling”, or was she just gaping in anger, as though the animal were virtually present? This coyote has never pursued dog scents in this way that I have ever seen, but she has — minus the gaping (or maybe I didn’t notice the gaping before) — towards an enemy coyote.

Whether the gaping was a smelling activity or a show of anger, the coyote’s sniffing, following the scent, repeated kicking dirt angrily, and repeatedly marking in various ways indicate that probably an interloper coyote had been there, and our coyote did not like it. We’ll have to wait for more clues to find out!

Continued gaping

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hilary Cole
    Jan 15, 2020 @ 00:50:39

    Hi Janet,

    What a fascinating read!! Thanks 😊

    You mention cats doing the gaping, not quite like the Coyote of course, but I have seen my cat – Male Burmese – he’s an indoor cat, obviously, but goes out into the verandah, which is quite large. I have noticed him, on many occasions, holding his head up, smelling, and he has his mouth open slightly, and you can see his tongue slightly, like he is tasting the scent!

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about this Coyote..

    Hilary 😍

    Reply

  2. Kathy Lally
    Jan 15, 2020 @ 01:00:23

    Hi, Janet. I have never seen our wolves or coyotes have a Flehman response, but our cats do it all the time. It may be possible. I’ll have to watch for it.

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jan 15, 2020 @ 01:06:39

      Hi Kathy — I don’t really know what is the CAUSE of the gaping. I just know the circumstances under which it was occurring, and it seemed pretty likely that it might be the Flehman response. Janet

  3. Jo Thompson
    Jan 15, 2020 @ 12:46:47

    Another fascinating insight. Thank you.

    Reply

  4. Linda Bolon
    Jan 15, 2020 @ 16:25:05

    Very very interesting. I continue to lecture on urban coyotes and have done so for 16 years now. Your blogs is always fascinating and I continue to learn intricate details I’ve never read anywhere else, You are truly dedicated to your love of coyotes. I admire you and your commitment to these fascinating animals. Blessings!

    Reply

  5. Beth Sewell Berger
    Jan 16, 2020 @ 03:23:10

    What an awesome post. Learning so much! Love the pics as evidence of behavior. But then again, I also just love looking at this beautiful animal.

    Reply

  6. Charles Wood
    Jan 19, 2020 @ 17:42:28

    Hi Janet! Long time. That appears to be one agitated coyote, carrying on for over an hour and marking all those spots. That gaping that reminds of a Flehmen response? But it doesn’t look investigatory like the one’s I’ve seen with cats, which in my dog seemed less defined than a cats. But I wonder. Is the odor just so repugnant to your coyote that it is agape? Like a bad taste you can’t get out of your mouth? The whole scenario seems more intense than the usual sometimes nonchalant or routine marking I most commonly say. This is just pure hatred? I never saw that intensity except the few times with Holtz and me encroaching again and again and again. When Mom and Dad coyote got old, a large male, I named him Rufous, showed up again and again undaunted. The end result was disturbing in that Mom and Dad’s daughter Mary paired up with Rufous. After that pairing became obvious to me, I never saw Mom and Dad again. So the stakes can be quite high in these territorial displays among coyotes.

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jan 19, 2020 @ 18:09:43

      Nice to hear from you, Charles! This indeed is the most intense reaction I have seen to odor or an intruder. It could very well be pure hatred. This coyote had been ousted once from her territory — for over six months. It’s either that situation which she doesn’t want repeated, or the coyote itself. Yes, the states are sky high in these territorial disputes: I would say that a coyote’s territory is its lifeline without which life can be extremely difficult. Thank you for your continued input and valuable insights. I will be updating on her situation shortly.

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