It’s Mating Season, and things don’t always work

Right now it’s mating season for coyotes.  This is a once-a-year event, and actually distinguishes coyotes from dogs who have a twice-a-year reproductive cycle. Here is a short summary of the process.

An unattached female usually has several suitors, and it’s the female who then chooses among them: see Coyote Courtship by Walkaboutlou — in this story, the fella who brings her a gift of a rabbit is the one who wins her!! Then, usually, the pair remain together for life, but not always! See “Till Death Do Us Part?“.

In most instances, when the female is in heat, the male will closely and carefully guard her and stay with her. The earliest I’ve seen females reproduce is 2 years of age. The earliest I’ve seen males reproduce is 3 years of age. I’ve heard of them reproducing at a younger age, but I have never seen it myself.

Interestingly, coyote males only produce sperm at this one time of year. Producing that sperm is a two-month long process called spermatogenesis. They, too, become fertile at the same time the females do, and have only a very short window of opportunity in which to ‘perform’. It doesn’t appear that this “system” has limited the number of coyotes around!

Mating in coyotes involves a “tie”, which is how you know that it didn’t happen in the above video — the process was not completed in this video. The tie is where both coyotes become “locked” together for as long as 20 minutes — back end to back end. You can imagine that they are extremely vulnerable during these 20 minutes. In the video above, the male mounts the female, but obviously something isn’t right. He turns around to examine the problem or fix it, then they move out of the range of the camera.

As the time of birth approaches, the female will dig a den or find an appropriate alternative (expand another critter’s hole, find harborage under a rock or fallen tree trunk, etc.). During birth, she’ll want to be left alone, so the male waits or guards the area outside where birthing is taking place — I’ve seen males guard like this for about a week. See The Birthing Rock. During this time, the male often brings food to the female. Then, I’ve seen coyote mothers first emerge from their dens anywhere from one day to almost a week after they give birth.

Pups are born after a 63 day gestation period. I’ve seen as few as one and as many as seven pups born, with an average of 3 or 4. Of that larger litter, only four survived to disperse or move on. Survival rate can be as low as 20% in the wild, but it appears to be higher in urban areas. Pups are raised by both parents.  Lactation occurs until about June. As the pups are being weaned they are introduced to regurgitated food from their parents which eventually will be replaced with more and more solid food in the form of dead rodents and then live ones until the pups get the knack of hunting for themselves. However, I have seen a father coyote still regurgitating for his fully yearling pups!!

Pups are kept well hidden and as “secret” as possible until they attain some ability to take care of themselves.  Then they hunt together in twos or threes and eventually the youngsters will head off on hunting and explorational forays of their own. They disperse sometime between one and two years of age, usually. In the meantime, for the 1-2 years before dispersal, they live very full and rich family lives, with interactions between them, along with feelings that rival our own.

Courting Behavior In Full Swing

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Slide show has 52 slides

These coming-of-age young adults appear to be forming a pair-bond. Their interactions here involve a push-pull dance of enticement, interactions, attempts and denial. It’s mating time, and the dance will be performed until the bond is solid and mating takes place.

It was dark, so I just kept clicking away at the rate of about one click per second during a time span of about seven minutes. I actually could not see what was taking place until I got home, when I looked at the images I took. Many of the behaviors were repeated over and over, so I’m just going to post enough of the shots to show what was going on: to show what is going on in the coyote world right now.

Background information: Coyotes come into heat only once a year, beginning about now. Males, too, only can reproduce once a year. They begin producing sperm, through a process known as spermatogenesis, which takes, I’m told, two full months to accomplish. Neither male nor female coyotes are reproductively viable at any other time of the year. Coyotes are monogamous and mate for life. The parents work together to raise the young: family life is the essence of their existence. Gestation is about 63 days, and birthing takes place at the beginning of April.

The ritual you can see here involves the male who initially, ever so casually, approaches the female as she hunts. She snaps at him a couple of times and runs off — but this phase of their dance doesn’t last longer than a few minutes. Her snapping appears to be more of a love bite. She crouches or slithers on the ground, and she rolls onto her back and seems to invite him to sniff her and “play” with her. She also crouches low with her rump up in his face. He sniffs her reproductive organs, but also stands over her in a humped position as she lies on her back, and she sniffs his from her lying down position.  Although the 52 slides I’m posting (out of about 360) were taken in the dark and are blurry, you can still see what is going on between these two.