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

Anger


This is the same happy coyote who is in the previous posting, “BURSTING with Happiness”. But now she has been chased by a large four-year-old white female dog, a 90-pound Pyrador, who is a repeat-chaser. The female dog taunts the coyote on purpose: the dog gives chase to the coyote and even stops at the coyote’s favorite lookout/resting spots and pees there in a sort of “take that!” way. Peeing is used by dogs to communicate dominance and one-upmanship.

The coyote’s reaction to this treatment is anger. She doesn’t get angry often. In fact, she only complains distressingly and angrily this way when this one particular dog chases her, even though other dogs, too, chase her. If you need confirmation that she’s angry, twice towards the end of the video clip you’ll see her kicking the ground, which is a display of anger. She is very upset. Yes, coyotes have feelings.

Below are more photos of anger. These are of another coyote — in this case, a male — displaying his anger in the same way by *kicking the dirt*. He’s not marking his territory. He’s not spreading his scent. He’s upset and angry because a dog has taken the liberty to act disrespectfully towards him in his territory. The dog is a two-year-old female German Shepherd who has, as in the first example, chased the coyote in the past.

These photos were taken as the dog was playing frisbee exuberantly with her owner. The owner kept his dog from chasing the coyote this time.  I tend to think it’s less the dog’s presence — after all, other dogs are not reacted to in this fashion by this coyote — than the dog’s “oneupmanship” and “dismissive” attitude towards the coyote which is so upsetting to the coyote. You’d be surprised at how much is communicated below the reach of human radar. If the owner were not around, the coyote would probably be messaging the dog much more firmly: say, with a nip to the haunches. The message would mean, “go away, leave me alone, leave my territory alone”. It’s how coyotes communicate to each other. When the dog and owner finally left the area, the coyote finally relaxed.

And here’s my favorite example from years ago of the same coyote-anger-display towards a dog who, again, intruded upon a peacefully resting coyote by chasing after it. The coyote turned and faced the challenging dog as in the previous examples: it’s not unlike a provoked bull in a bullfight. The intensity of the anger can be seen in the kicked-up flying debris. In the latter two cases, there were young pups around, hidden nearby.

Also see: Display of Temper and Anger at Being Thwarted.