Sibling Rivalry and Aggressiveness Are Calmed by Siblings in Dad’s Absence

As coyote pups develop and grow, their personalities become more obvious and more firm. My first glimpses of distinct personalities appears during play — some personality traits may be innate inborn tendencies and some influenced by nurture/environment. Each is affected by the other distinct sibling personalities in the litter, by their parents, AND by the environment and the prevalence or shortage of resources.

Some youngsters never seem to want to grow up — they live an extended charmed and carefree puppyhood, playing and teasing boisterously and incessantly, and grooming each other repeatedly. The easier-going ones may form pairs and tight-bonded friendships with those of similar temperament and energy levels: they are friends, buddies, BFF, and comrades. The shyer ones might withdraw during rough play and become more watchful, while the extreme rough-housers may be avoided by the others. Playing and interacting for these youngsters may wane earlier than for the others, and rivalry, flared tempers and one-upmanship may come into play. . . and negative run-ins.

Coyote sibling rivalry I would imagine is not so different from human sibling rivalry. In humans, in some cases it can be deep-rooted and visceral, and at its core, it may never be outgrown. You can search the internet and find young humans who have, for instance, actually killed a brother over such things as a WiFi password, a cheeseburger, aspirin, or any other argument — it’s about much more than the surface argument and more related to a gut reflexive reaction having to do with competition, rivalry, top-dog, and survival.

Relationships with parents are, of course and of necessity, on a different plane — these are very respectful and submissive. At 7 months of age, youngsters were still learning a tremendous amount through parental example and discipline which in this photo to the left involves parental discipline: first a growl, then a show of teeth, and then maybe a snout-grab by the parent. Also note in the photo that the youngster is making himself small by crouching down and pulling himself in, letting Dad know that he’s still a baby at heart — willing to obey and not a threat!

I don’t know exactly when sibling rivalry started in this family, but from November 17th on, we were hearing more and more fighting and growling between them. This posting describes such a confrontation and how other siblings reacted.

It begins with a brother putting down and then attacking another brother. Another sibling with some help from yet another sibling calms the situation. Although hierarchies of course are constantly being established, intense aggressive bullying is not tolerated by parents, and apparently not even by siblings. I don’t know if the reaction of the peacekeeping siblings is due to their innate instincts to maintain order, of if  they have just been quick to imitate how their parents maintain order. The attacker repeats his attacks several times, and the peacekeepers respond accordingly.

I began taking still photos of the altercation, but I soon turned to video which more clearly shows the intensity of the action. I’ve included some of the initial stills and then the video which follows in order to show that it went on and on. I’ve explained what’s happening on the video timeline (by minutes and seconds), below: I hope this is clear.

Note not just their actions, but also their body language and facial expressions: the individual who was initially attacked shows his dislike for the attacker in his facial expression in #3 of the series of six photos above. These six photos summarize what went on initially, before I began to video. After the last photo above, the aggressor slips away from the stronghold of his peacekeeper brother and goes after the “victim” again. In fact I don’t know what caused the attacker to attack. He may have had good reason, one of which, I’ve noted, might be that he was possessive of the one female sibling in the family and dominated play with her, basically excluding the attacker.

Here’s the video: One brother [the aggressor] angrily again attacks a brother [the victim]. At :09 two “peacekeeper brothers” approach the aggressor, and one, ever so calmly, systematically and in-control, pushes the aggressor down and sits on him to calm him down. But the aggressor is able to slip away. This entire sequence is repeated several times. At :35 the victim hurries away from the scene as the peacekeeper deals with the aggressor in the bushes. At :47 the peacekeeper and aggressor emerge from the bushes (peacekeeper on the left). At 1:11 the aggressor reacts antagonistically to the peacekeepers who then circle around him. Notice that the victim has been lying down close by (on the right) watching the goings-on. When the aggressor emerges, the victim runs off, but is again approached by the aggressor at 1:36 and is forced to the ground. Through 2:13 the peacekeeper puts down the aggressor or intimidates him through his upright proximity, but at 2:20 the aggressor again intimidates the victim, and then engages in a full blown attack at 2:32 into the bushes where we can’t see what is going on. The victim is able to slip away, so it’s the peacekeeper who is now engaging in the bushes with the aggressor. The second peacekeeper is watching at 2:42. The victim had extracted himself from the fray and now is sitting off to the side with a sibling who doesn’t want to get involved — they are waiting to see what happens and one gives a stressful yawn. At 3:42 we see the aggressor move out of the shrubbery and away from the peacekeeper. At 4:28 the aggressor moves towards the two lying down — one of those two [the victim] finds this intimidating and moves away. Peacekeeper approaches aggressor again and again makes him hit the ground. But then at 4:44 the victim lies belly up willingly and allows the aggressor to sniff him submissively. At that point, the altercation seems to be over. It’s because this video was taken at dusk that it blurs out at the end.

Disruptive behavior of this sort isn’t tolerated for long in coyote families, and if it continues, it leads to a forced dispersal.

I noticed that, for a time after this “fight”, the attacker and attacked avoided each other: when they saw each other, each went the other way without reacting at all: like ships passing in the night. I then noticed that they hung out at opposite ends of the family territory. This worked for the next little while. I now see neither of these two siblings — they’ve left the area: dispersed. And another male has dispersed to a nearby location about 1/2 mile away in a fragment of the family’s territory. This will serve as a stepping stone or halfway point before the youngster moves on. Meanwhile, he is safe from sibling rivalry . . . at least for a while.

These are the dramatic moments in an otherwise amazingly uneventful family life this year.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hilary Cole
    Feb 10, 2020 @ 03:48:32

    Amazing to watch the video! and read all about the altercation.. so interesting! Can’t help feeling sorry tho for the victim, and finally the dispersal of them from the family. Do hope they are all ok…

    Thanks Janet.. another amazing read with photos and video 😊

    Hilary 😊


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Feb 10, 2020 @ 04:22:34

      It’s absolutely fascinating! I’m so glad that you, too, find it so! Dispersal, unfortunately, is a hard and treacherous time for them. I know an ecologist who has radio-collared (something I don’t believe in) 17 of them over the last three years. It turns out that all of these except one ended up being killed by cars. :((

    • Hilary Cole
      Feb 10, 2020 @ 06:51:43

      No I don’t like the radio-collar either. That’s so sad to read that only the one survived out of 17! There are so many that lose their lives, or have them taken from them by humans, in their relentless persecution of them. I find it so heartbreaking.. A very misunderstood animal… plus a percentage of the population who are living in a bygone era, and have zilch compassion…

      Look forward to reading more, and seeing such wonderful photos and videos …

      Hilary 😊🦋

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