Burying the Perfume ‘Bottle’ for Later Use

This fellow was trekking along in a park when he pulled off to the side of the path to examine something. He must have been drawn by the intense smell. He picked it up, moved it a few inches to a more appropriate/accessible place, rolled on it, picked it up again, carried it off about ten feet and then buried it. The above photos show the “find”, “rolling on”, and “carrying the item for burial”.

Below I caught the end part of the burying on video. When I got home I was able to see from my zoomed-in photos that the object of interest was a tiny mole. It had been dead already when the coyote picked it up — there was no killing as I watched. I actually went back to see if I could find the little deceased critter. Even though I had photos to guide me to the exact location, I could not re-locate the animal. Of course, the coyote will have no trouble at all re-locating it — by scent — when he wants another perfume bath!

Dealings With A Mole

I watched as a small prey was quickly and effortlessly plucked from the ground — I mean, after a single nose-poke into the ground, the coyote ran off with the small prey dangling from its mouth. I marveled at how adept some coyotes were at hunting. I’ve seen moles and gophers hunted down, and it always takes some doing. The coyote nosed its prey and watched it intently, picking it up a few times and watching it intently again. The coyote was looking for a response, for any sign of movement. I’ve seen coyotes do this with most of their prey before consuming it.  The coyote was treating it as if it were not quite dead.

Once absolutely sure the mole was not moving, the coyote lowered the front part of its body onto the dead animal and began rubbing its neck on the critter. This was repeated several times. When done, the coyote examined the critter again and then urinated on it rather than eating it. This clued me in that it was probably a mole: they don’t seem to eat moles, but they do like rubbing themselves on them because of their smell.

After the coyote walked off, I took the opportunity to go see what the animal was. It was a mole. Not only that, it became obvious to me that it was a mole which had been dead for some time — it was hard and cold. Hmmmm. I wondered why the coyote had treated it as if it had been alive, waiting for it to move, toying with it and watching for it to react.  Maybe he was hoping; maybe it was just a game. I feel that the coyote knew it was already dead when he found it. I had concentrated on the toying behavior of the coyote instead of the speed with which the critter was plucked from the ground as the main clue to what was going on.

As I finished photographing the dead mole, I looked up to see the coyote — still there — watching me. I thought that the coyote had moved on — I had no idea that I was being watched. I immediately and quickly walked away — I had no intention of giving the impression that I was actually interested in “stealing” it.

As I walked off, the coyote, again, approached “his” mole and examined it for any changes I might have made — such as that I might have declared ownership by urinating on it? He smelled it intently, as before. This time he was assessing me through any markings I might have made. Satisfied that I had not marked it as mine, he wandered off, this time for good. This is the first time a coyote I’ve been observing has actually checked me out and thought I was “involved”.  My personal method is never to be “involved” in whatever a coyote is doing: if I’m reacted to in any way, I know I’ve overstepped the bounds I like to maintain for myself. It happened this time.

Yet Another Snake Rub

I’ve posted this behavior before, and am posting it again just to let everyone know how common it is. I’ve seen it often, I saw it again today.

The coyote must have smelled the dead, dry snake from the path. The first photo shows the coyote sniffing. It went over to the edge of the path, where after a little bit of nose-work to move leaves and debris, it picked up the very stiff and dry dead snake. This snake was carried to the other side of the path where there were fewer twigs on the ground. It was dropped as the coyote grimaced disgustedly at the smell. It was carried a little further and then rolled on. The coyote then got up, making sure the snake was placed correctly  — however that was — with its nose. And then the coyote rolled again on the snake, over and over. When the “rubdown” was finished, the snake was left there, and the coyote trotted off.

Snakes Are Not For Eating

I have seen coyotes pick up dead snakes before, snakes that had already been killed either by them or some other animal, but today I actually watched as a coyote caught a live snake. The coyote was quick and exact in its hunting techniques: it only took one plunge before the coyote had the snake. I watched intently, thinking that this was a “fresh” snake, and might be eaten, but that was not to be. I don’t think that coyotes eat snakes if they don’t have to.

The coyote put down the snake, rolled on it, and played with it, tossing it high in the air. The episode took a little over a minute. I learned that an animal does not have to have decomposed for a coyote to want to roll on it — maybe snakes are strong smelling to begin with. When the coyote was through with these activities, it moved on to making its rounds. Interestingly, the coyote returned to this snake about 40 minutes later, searching for it and picking it up just for a second before dropping it and continuing on the path. Ten minutes later I came back to find the snake was gone: it had probably been picked up by either a red-tail hawk or a raven which are seen constantly flying above.

More Wallowing On A Mole

Two coyotes walked together along a trail — they appeared to be out on a hunting expedition. One of them veered off the path to pick up a dead mole which had been lying on the grass. As with the rat (see posting of June 16 Dead Rat Toy?), the coyote seemed to know that the dead mole was there — it had either been left there or put there. The coyote carried the mole about three feet and then dropped it. The coyote then trotted back to rejoin the other coyote which had not stopped walking. Again, as before with the rat, the dead animal was not rolled on — at this time. Maybe these dead animals had not been dead long enough to build up a real stink from decomposition — maybe they were not “ripe” enough? Or maybe these were “toys” and the time was not appropriate to play with them? Or maybe there were other things on the coyote’s agenda for the day? It impressed me when I saw the coyote pick up the rat a few days ago and then this mole, that they both might be some kind of toy.

The very next day these same coyotes approached the same mole, which was still in the same place, and they DID wallow on it. Maybe, after at least a full day of decomposing time, the dead animal smelled strong and ready to be used as “perfume”. The first coyote lowered the front part of its neck, snake-like, onto the mole before gleefully rolling on it. The other coyote came over, not only to watch, but because, it too, apparently wanted a turn. It grabbed the mole from right under the first coyote when it had a chance, walked a few paces, and then lowered its shoulders down onto it. The first coyote apparently was through because it trotted off unperturbed. When this second coyote had “finished”, it picked up the mole just for a moment, but then dropped it, abandoning it to join the other coyote. THEN, about fifteen minutes later, a THIRD coyote walked by. This coyote, too, without sniffing around first, just walked right over to the correct spot and picked up the mole, and then carried it about 300 feet this time, to a more “protected” area. Here, the mole was dropped and wallowed on and then carried a little further — maybe to a place where it would be easier remembered for the next time?  On this day, whenever there was wallowing, another coyote was there to watch, and did so very interestedly.

Self-Medication? Scat Left On A Path: A Message?

I watched this coyote poop only a few paces before it stopped to sniff. It sniffed at the base of a tree and then at a spot on the ground close to the tree. The spot close to the tree was the greater attraction. The coyote remained sniffing here and then began to lower itself onto the spot to “roll” or “wallow” on it. The coyote only went so far as to lower its head sideways onto the spot when it changed its mind. Instead, it walked a few paces forwards and pooped, again, within a few inches of the spot it had been smelling — close enough to be called “on” it. Then it walked on. I was able to see that the coyote had sniffed a three-inch piece of cooked fish with the bone intact. How this got to the path I don’t know: we have both raccoons and coyotes who could have removed it from a patio meal plate left out, or from a garbage can.

So, after having been attracted to the fish’s strong scent, the coyote began to roll on it, but then decided to poop on it instead. Hmmm — two things, probably separate things, were going on here: rolling on something had its own purpose; and pooping right here had another — maybe?

1) Was the pooping a form of marking, of leaving a message? The coyote had just pooped a few paces earlier, with me behind on the coyote’s path. I’ve observed this same situation a couple of times before. It pooped only a few paces after the first pile: was the poop saved purposefully, like skunk scent, to be used when needed?  Was this at all related to the “rolling on the fish”?

2) Could rolling on something, such as the fish, constitute “marking IT” — the coyote leaving its own scent there, a sort of “trumping” what was already there, the same as when a coyote marks over dog poop or urine it has found? Or, as I have written before, was the coyote trying to “perfume” itself, either for the fun of it or as some kind of “disguise”? OR, and this is my new idea, is there some kind of self-medication involved in rolling on specific items — the same way we humans use ointments? Might rolling in dead smelly stuff ward off skin mites? This coyote does have patches of fur loss. Mange is a common ailment of coyotes, and can actually kill them, though I don’t know if this particular coyote is afflicted specifically with mange.

A hypothesis: I’ve gone to the Internet to find that some of the skin “treatments” for mange include apple cider vinegar or borax or a borax/hydrogen peroxide combination or even neem oil with its sulfur smelling properties. I tried to figure out what these might have in common with the smelly things I have seen a coyote rub itself on: dead lizard, dead snake, dead mole, rancid fish, and with horse manure and fish-emulsion used as fertilizer which I’ve seen dogs rub themselves in. It appears that the dead animals were left in their locations specifically to be wallowed on over and over again. Decomposition produces gases and acids. Might the mites responsible for mange be warded off by the byproducts of decomposing tissue? Or might the Ph level of these byproducts be soothing to mite-infested skin? I’m wondering if these byproducts of decomposition have some of the same properties as apple cider vinegar or borax or neem oil? I’m not a chemist or biochemist. This is just a thought I had. Feedback is welcome!

A Snake Is Found: Coyote behavior


This coyote jumped down from a rock and seemed to be headed off. I went to look over the ledge where the coyote had disappeared, but it was right there, in a depression. The coyote looked up at me so I quickly backed off. After a minute, thinking the coyote had gone by now, I again peeked over the ledge. The coyote had something long in its mouth: it was a snake! I thought that maybe the snake would be eaten, but it was not. Instead, it was carried a short distance and dropped. The coyote must not have liked the taste because after dropping the snake, it licked its mouth with displeasure. Then it rolled on the snake several times, picking it up during the last roll. The coyote then stood up, dropped the snake, and left!

I can’t be sure if the coyote killed this snake while it was out of my sight, or if the snake had been killed at an earlier time and left there to be “rolled on as needed”. I have seen a coyote pick up an already dead lizard and then lower itself onto the smelly carcass for a “perfume bath.”

Another Smelly Rub-down: Coyote behavior

I watched this coyote for two full hours! First it hunted. Then it watched human activity — specifically the sawing of an old fallen Eucalyptus branch, which was then pulled with ropes to form the edge of a path.  There was some wandering, including on a street. There was keeping hidden from two dogs — the coyote spotted them down the path, but they did not see the coyote at all, and neither did their owner. The coyote evaded detection by quickly climbing up a hill and standing very still behind some sparse ground growth — this worked because the coyote’s coat is a wonderful camouflage, especially when the coyote stands absolutely still. The coyote kept its eyes on the dogs: studying what they were doing, discerning their intent, assessing their energy level: basically evaluating the level of danger to itself. The dogs discovered the coyote scent, maybe because of some scat that had just been deposited, but they kept to the path.

THEN, maybe because the coyote knew it had been flagged by its scent, it was drawn to a place which I later discovered was very smelly. And the coyote lowered itself, shoulders first and gave itself a smelly rub-down with whatever was on the ground. It lay on its back and wiggled around, and slid down the hill. It got up twice during this rub-down session, and repeated the rub-down three times. Then it got up again and walked off.

I went over to find out what the smelly substance was which had been so pleasant to wallow in. There definitely was a very strong smell of poop, but I could not see anything in the immediate rub-down spot. Maybe it was something like urine which I could not see?

See more wallowing postings: on a lizard: A “Perfume Bath”: coyote behavior of October 29, 2009; on a snake: A Snake Is Found: Coyote behavior of March 6, 2010.

A “Perfume Bath”: coyote behavior

Today I witnessed what I THOUGHT was a very deliberate “back-scratch.” But, after carefully examining the photos I took, I can now see that what I mistook for a stick was actually a dead lizard!! And therefore, what I mistook for a back-scratch was actually a “perfume bath”!!

After a morning of basking in the sun and watching walkers, this particular coyote walked about 50 yards from its resting spot, where it picked up what looked like a stick, but turns out to have been a dead lizard — with a girth of about 3/4 inch. The coyote didn’t so much pick it up, as move it — lifting it in its jaws and moving it. I thought the coyote was going to play with it. Instead, the coyote lowered itself, shoulders first, onto its back, and onto the lizard, and then started wiggling on its back ecstatically: flopping from side to side and all-over, with legs flailing in the air. This apparently was not satisfactory, because the coyote got up, moved the lizard again and repeated the activity. This time the activity must have been successful, because the coyote then trotted off into the distance. Dogs often will wallow in grass that has been doused with fish-emulsion as a fertilizer. They seem to do this to absorb the scent. I’ve seen dogs do the same thing in horse manure — THAT was a real mess. I’m wondering if this is an instinct that helps mask their own scent? I actually found the lizard the next day, at which time I was able to identify it as a California Alligator Lizard.


What Does The Yipping Mean?? I wanted to mention another behavior which surprised me. I was at one end of a park photographing, as best I could, a juvenile coyote which was hunting. The coyote caught a muddy gopher and carried to the middle of a hill where the coyote lay down to eat it, right there in an open area of grass, in plain view. When the coyote was finished, it began wandering on the hillside. As it did so, I heard the coyote’s mother begin an intense barking episode on the other side of the park. It flashed through my mind that I might be able to see how coyotes react to “communication”. But there was NO reaction whatsoever: no hiding, running towards or away from the barking, no tensing up. There was total unconcern, and absolutely no change in this coyote’s meanderings on the hillside. When I reached the other side of the park, sure enough the mom had been chased by a dog and was letting everyone know that she was upset. She ended up climbing to the top of some high rocks where she continued her barking for 20 minutes or so. So, obviously, the barking was not a communication to other coyotes. It was just a display to the dog who had chased her. Also, could it have been an emotional release?

However, the next day I was in the vicinity of the mom who was basking in the sun in her normal fashion, when coyote yipping began across the canyon. This would have to have been one of her offspring. In this case, the mom did sit up and listen, cocking her ears back and forth, but she remained put, and eventually lay down to bask some more. The yipping went on for about ten minutes. It appeared that the mom could assess the danger of the situation from the yipping she was hearing. I have seen a non-yipping situation where this mom raced down the hill to aid her pup who was being chased by a dog. Hmmm, coyotes seem to be able to size up the danger of a situation pretty accurately.

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