Foreign Dirt Sparks an Inquisition

This field-camera video was captured a while back, but it’s of high interest to me for the coyotes’ perception and reaction to something new. I had been putting a field camera in this exact place, on and off, for many months, and the camera was mostly ignored. However, the dirt which was holding the camera up soon wore thin over time and there was no soft ground to support the camera. My solution was to bring in a couple of pounds of soil from elsewhere to give the camera something that would support it.

I gathered the dirt from another park, taken from a pile left by a gopher around its burrow. A doggie-bag full would do the trick, I thought. I dumped the foreign soil into a high pile and then situated the camera on top. The next morning I removed the camera and went through the videos. I was surprised to see this much interest in the new soil. The park where the soil came from has plenty of wildlife, including coyotes and dogs. Any of those smells, and many others, could have come with the soil, but I wonder WHICH of those smells caused the coyotes to investigate so thoroughly — they carefully investigated for over three minutes: first Mom coyote, and then Dad coyote — whiffing in every bit of information — the fine print which that soil could reveal to them, all of which had meaning and importance for them: there was a story there, and they were figuring it out. They knew it hadn’t been there previously. If I had known that it might cause this kind of intense concern, I would never have put it there.

The next day I again put the camera out to see if the interest would continue, but I suppose coyote curiosity had been satisfied, because they did not approach the camera or the soil beneath it again: they had found out what they wanted to find out and they were no longer interested. OR, possibly, the immediate and strong odors from the day before had dissipated enough to smell distant and weak and therefore not of concern. I noted that they hadn’t themselves *marked* the soil in any way — they had just sniffed it intently, which also is of interest.

PS: If you are wondering why these coyotes look so emaciated, it’s for two reasons. The video was captured in June of last year. That is when winter coats have been shed, and the true shape of the coyote is revealed, which happens to be very whippet-like: sinewy, bony, and thin. Also, these are parents who have been regurgitating all their food for their large litter of pups: parent coyotes often look like skin and bone at this time of year because of this. You can see that Mom is still lactating.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maura Lucus
    Feb 20, 2022 @ 16:48:26

    To know them IS to love them❣️ Thanks for posting this.


  2. Jo Thompson
    Feb 20, 2022 @ 16:58:30

    The eDNA technology is available and would enable you to know what species signatures were transported with that soil. Fascinating.


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Feb 20, 2022 @ 17:35:54

      I’m collaborating with UC Davis to confirm my relationship and dispersal findings through DNA. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought of a soil sample, and since it was over half a year ago, I don’t think the soil would reveal clean results. But thank you for the suggestion!

  3. Krishnan R.S.
    Feb 22, 2022 @ 03:03:19

    I’m constantly amazed at the quality of these videos! Great stuff! You could have a “live web cam” like they do for the condors (and eagles?).
    My first reaction was “omg! The coyote looks thin/starved/emaciated”. Your explanation makes perfect sense and puts it into perspective. Parenting … it’s hard no matter what the species :)


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