A Case of Polygyny

The literature has it that only the alpha pair (i.e., the parent-pair) ever reproduce, monogamously, in any particular coyote family on any given territory. And this is all I had ever seen here in San Francisco over the last 14 years. The younger yearling females are referred to as being “behaviorally sterile”. This is one reason why you don’t want to start killing coyotes with the purpose of reducing their population: once you do, the phenomenon of the younger females being behaviorally sterile goes out the window: breeding becomes wild and rampant, and soon you have more coyotes than when you began. In fact it’s been noted that 400K (yep, that many) coyotes are killed every year in the US, but this slaughter has not made a dent in their population because they make up the difference with more breeding when their social system is disrupted.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I found a two-year-old mother lactating on the same territory as her eight-year-old alpha mother who is also lactating right now. And here are their images:

The old alpha male, the 8-year-old-female’s long-time mate, had passed away, leaving a vacant niche in the family — this may be the extenuating circumstance that allowed two litters on the same territory. He happened to pass away shortly before the next breeding season began, so there was no male around to protect his surviving mate (or their daughter) and keep the social order. Normally the alpha male closely and jealously guards his mate and keeps any unconnected suitors who might want to move in far away. But he was gone, and the scent of hormones during the breeding season beckoned. A new coyote, an older guy (very likely a relative judging by his appearance) moved in and into the vacated alpha male position. Apparently both the alpha female and her daughter were impregnated by this same guy. The loss of the original alpha male caused a social disruption. I’ll use DNA analysis to confirm, but that will take a while. There is no other alpha male around.

20210216-1

New alpha male

The territory is a large fragmented one. A year ago, this alpha female and her mate had moved off from their main hangout area for pupping purposes to a more remote branch of their vast territory, where they remained during the day, returning to the area they left every few evenings where they rendezvoused with their yearling offspring: there was grooming and playing and then they headed off on trekking expeditions together. During the COVID outbreak, parks were one of the few places open to everyone, so many more people and their off-leash dogs than usual visited the parks: chasing coyotes became rampant, causing the coyotes to leave this part of their territory. In spite of their move, the alpha female — and the male until October — continued and continues to visit her main old hangout almost every night, and that is where her daughter had her pups this year. 

Back in November/December, the alpha female began spending more and more time back in the main part of her territory, grooming her two remaining two-year-old offspring, as though she were soliciting them to PLEASE stay. Then, well into their pregnancies, with the due date approaching, I found both mother and daughter grooming each other frequently and extensively, as though they would be moving forward as a team.

See Walkaboutlou’s observation which is both a similar and very different situation. In both cases, it is the alpha female (the mother) who allowed the “other” female to remain, and that other female is a daughter in one case, and is most likely a daughter in the second case. Lou’s story involves a shared den, the two females likely mother/daughter, one older alpha male, and a yearling male. In this case, there most likely was a different male who sired the daughter’s offspring and is no longer around. In contrast, my story involves two separate dens about half a mile apart, the two females who are definitely mother/daughter, a two-year-old yearling male (brother to daughter, son of mother), and one newcomer alpha male who appears to have sired both females’ pups. These both are unusual situations — as I’ve said, I’ve not seen this situation before — but such situations do occur.

One may wonder if two-year-old yearling brother could have sired the daughter’s pups. I myself haven’t seen a male produce pups here in San Francisco until he’s three years old at the earliest. In addition, this two-year-old male youngster is not an alpha, he’s submissive to the new alpha male and travels nightly with him between the two pupping areas. Eight year old Mom is often with them, but not two-year-old Mom who remains always close to her pups.

Alphas are intent on control and dominance within their families. Here are some postings, along with videos, showing a mom dominating and showing who’s boss to her seven-month old youngster, and a mom imposing her hegemony on her two-year old, if not actually trying to drive her out. See Beatings and Rank Issues, A Mother’s Harsh Treatment of a Pup, Punishment, and this video below. This dominating and controlling behavior, meant to impose a clear hierarchy, is not occurring between the two females described in this posting, and there is only one dominant male, so I’m calling it “polygyny”.  We’ll have to wait and see how the situation works itself through.

Coyotes are famously known to mate for life — one-on-one — and that’s what I’ve always seen except for one unusual “divorce” last year: the split led to separate bonded nuclear families. Polygyny is something different.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lancer223
    May 27, 2021 @ 21:18:22

    Thank you for your wonderful insight and excellent videos on these facinating animals. I am so happy to live next to one of the parks so I can observe them. The coyotes are so lucky to have you educating the people.

    Reply

  2. lancer223
    May 27, 2021 @ 21:25:38

    Thank you for your insightful article and videos. I am thankful I live next to McLaren Park so I can observe these facinating animals. The coyotes are lucky they have you to educate all the people.

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      May 27, 2021 @ 21:27:51

      Hi Lance!

      I’m so glad you enjoy observing the coyotes in your area. I actually have a question relating to my DNA study — I’ll shoot you an email. Thanks! Janet

  3. environmentalhealthpolicy
    May 27, 2021 @ 23:30:20

    Wow, this is a very interesting situation! I wonder how the pups in each litter will fare.

    Reply

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