Dad Exercises His Control

I had been watching a 10-month-old coyote youngster — I’ll call him “Sibling” here — behave rather hesitantly — maybe apprehensively. Instead of venturing forth to hunt, as was his habit, he was sitting and simply watching — in fact, watching one spot in the distance — as if waiting for something to emerge or appear. The evening rendezvous would soon begin, but why the apprehension? The rendezvous is the evening meetup where, after sleeping usually in somewhat separate locations, the coyotes come together to meet and greet and interact, usually joyfully with wiggles, body hugs, reaffirmations of statuses and squeals of excitement.

I turned away to speak to someone, and when I turned back, there was Brother, lying over him. ‘On top’ is usually dominance in the coyote world. I missed seeing their initial greeting, but I sensed that the first hint of rivalry might be creeping into their interactions — even if ever so mildly at this point. These eventually lead to discord. Dad, of course, can sense these things in their subtlest form and way before I’m able to pick up on them. He will interfere to control it: Dad is the apha when it comes to his offspring. The video captures this.

I’ve incorporated some of this posting as captions into this video clip to explain what is going on.

Sibling takes Brother’s rough and overpowering behavior  in stride — he nuzzles his Brother. All is well between them.

In the next scene, Brother has found a dead mole lying around and subtlelly provokes Sibling to react: “Haha, look what I have.” Sibling is not so sure he wants to enter into this rivalrous game. He hesitates and looks away at first, but then rises to the bait and some fun begins. They chase and then this turns into a tug-of-war.

Just then Dad rushes in — he knows his youngsters well and Brother has been more uppitty than usual lately. Dad needs to keep the nascent rivalry in check. He has to be firmly in control always, and use physical power when his youngsters don’t readily submit to him.

Brother immediately hits the ground submissively when he sees Dad, which causes him to let go of the mole. Sibling slithers away with the mole. Dad is surprised to see him slither away like that, as you can see in the video. He stands over Brother for a moment, but soon Brother also is able to escape his Dad’s grasp. As far as the youngsters are concerned, Dad’s behavior is standard and pro-forma — they don’t appear to be much concerned about it.

But Dad didn’t get the submission he wanted — especially from Brother. Dad immediately heads for Brother and puts him down and keeps him down this time. [If you are quick enough to notice, you’ll see that as Sibling runs away from Dad and Brother, he picks up the mole that had been taken back by Brother during the split second when the camera was not focused on him]. After what seems like an interminable time, Brother again slips away from Dad again, but within a minute, Dad is again standing over him.

Notice that Sibling uses the occasion of his brother’s being restrained to repeatedly flip his mole into the air tauntingly — he knows Brother can’t do anything to get the mole back because he’s under Dad’s thumb. This time, when Dad leaves, Brother remains lying down. This, apparently, satisfies Dad’s requirement. But that’s the end of the mole game.

Finally 10-month-old sister joins the group. Dad demands her submissiveness, but he treats her in a much milder way than her brothers. After she respectfully stoops to his bidding, the family runs off for their evening trekking.

Sibling Rivalry and Aggressiveness Are Calmed by Siblings in Dad’s Absence

As coyote pups develop and grow, their personalities become more obvious and more firm. My first glimpses of distinct personalities appears during play — some personality traits may be innate inborn tendencies and some influenced by nurture/environment. Each is affected by the other distinct sibling personalities in the litter, by their parents, AND by the environment and the prevalence or shortage of resources.

Some youngsters never seem to want to grow up — they live an extended charmed and carefree puppyhood, playing and teasing boisterously and incessantly, and grooming each other repeatedly. The easier-going ones may form pairs and tight-bonded friendships with those of similar temperament and energy levels: they are friends, buddies, BFF, and comrades. The shyer ones might withdraw during rough play and become more watchful, while the extreme rough-housers may be avoided by the others. Playing and interacting for these youngsters may wane earlier than for the others, and rivalry, flared tempers and one-upmanship may come into play. . . and negative run-ins.

Coyote sibling rivalry I would imagine is not so different from human sibling rivalry. In humans, in some cases it can be deep-rooted and visceral, and at its core, it may never be outgrown. You can search the internet and find young humans who have, for instance, actually killed a brother over such things as a WiFi password, a cheeseburger, aspirin, or any other argument — it’s about much more than the surface argument and more related to a gut reflexive reaction having to do with competition, rivalry, top-dog, and survival.

Relationships with parents are, of course and of necessity, on a different plane — these are very respectful and submissive. At 7 months of age, youngsters were still learning a tremendous amount through parental example and discipline which in this photo to the left involves parental discipline: first a growl, then a show of teeth, and then maybe a snout-grab by the parent. Also note in the photo that the youngster is making himself small by crouching down and pulling himself in, letting Dad know that he’s still a baby at heart — willing to obey and not a threat!

I don’t know exactly when sibling rivalry started in this family, but from November 17th on, we were hearing more and more fighting and growling between them. This posting describes such a confrontation and how other siblings reacted.

It begins with a brother putting down and then attacking another brother. Another sibling with some help from yet another sibling calms the situation. Although hierarchies of course are constantly being established, intense aggressive bullying is not tolerated by parents, and apparently not even by siblings. I don’t know if the reaction of the peacekeeping siblings is due to their innate instincts to maintain order, of if  they have just been quick to imitate how their parents maintain order. The attacker repeats his attacks several times, and the peacekeepers respond accordingly.

I began taking still photos of the altercation, but I soon turned to video which more clearly shows the intensity of the action. I’ve included some of the initial stills and then the video which follows in order to show that it went on and on. I’ve explained what’s happening on the video timeline (by minutes and seconds), below: I hope this is clear.

Note not just their actions, but also their body language and facial expressions: the individual who was initially attacked shows his dislike for the attacker in his facial expression in #3 of the series of six photos above. These six photos summarize what went on initially, before I began to video. After the last photo above, the aggressor slips away from the stronghold of his peacekeeper brother and goes after the “victim” again. In fact I don’t know what caused the attacker to attack. He may have had good reason, one of which, I’ve noted, might be that he was possessive of the one female sibling in the family and dominated play with her, basically excluding the attacker.

Here’s the video: One brother [the aggressor] angrily again attacks a brother [the victim]. At :09 two “peacekeeper brothers” approach the aggressor, and one, ever so calmly, systematically and in-control, pushes the aggressor down and sits on him to calm him down. But the aggressor is able to slip away. This entire sequence is repeated several times. At :35 the victim hurries away from the scene as the peacekeeper deals with the aggressor in the bushes. At :47 the peacekeeper and aggressor emerge from the bushes (peacekeeper on the left). At 1:11 the aggressor reacts antagonistically to the peacekeepers who then circle around him. Notice that the victim has been lying down close by (on the right) watching the goings-on. When the aggressor emerges, the victim runs off, but is again approached by the aggressor at 1:36 and is forced to the ground. Through 2:13 the peacekeeper puts down the aggressor or intimidates him through his upright proximity, but at 2:20 the aggressor again intimidates the victim, and then engages in a full blown attack at 2:32 into the bushes where we can’t see what is going on. The victim is able to slip away, so it’s the peacekeeper who is now engaging in the bushes with the aggressor. The second peacekeeper is watching at 2:42. The victim had extracted himself from the fray and now is sitting off to the side with a sibling who doesn’t want to get involved — they are waiting to see what happens and one gives a stressful yawn. At 3:42 we see the aggressor move out of the shrubbery and away from the peacekeeper. At 4:28 the aggressor moves towards the two lying down — one of those two [the victim] finds this intimidating and moves away. Peacekeeper approaches aggressor again and again makes him hit the ground. But then at 4:44 the victim lies belly up willingly and allows the aggressor to sniff him submissively. At that point, the altercation seems to be over. It’s because this video was taken at dusk that it blurs out at the end.

Disruptive behavior of this sort isn’t tolerated for long in coyote families, and if it continues, it leads to a forced dispersal.

I noticed that, for a time after this “fight”, the attacker and attacked avoided each other: when they saw each other, each went the other way without reacting at all: like ships passing in the night. I then noticed that they hung out at opposite ends of the family territory. This worked for the next little while. I now see neither of these two siblings — they’ve left the area: dispersed. And another male has dispersed to a nearby location about 1/2 mile away in a fragment of the family’s territory. This will serve as a stepping stone or halfway point before the youngster moves on. Meanwhile, he is safe from sibling rivalry . . . at least for a while.

These are the dramatic moments in an otherwise amazingly uneventful family life this year.


Pestering and Taunting: Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry and discord are part-and-parcel of coyote families, just as are the formation of tight and everlasting bonds and friendships.

Here a younger sibling continues to harasses his sister (see Yearling Taunts) through body blows/bangs/punches or smacks. He seems to have a need to egg-her-on, whereas she just wants to be left alone atop the mound. This younger brother followed her there explicitly to taunt her and dives into his activity the minute she tries lying down. This is now an established behavior between these two.

No other coyote in this family engages in the type of body blows he performs at the beginning of this video except his mother. Mom is an expert at this, and this 8-month old pup watched and learned from her, and now uses his sister as his punching bag to practice his technique. Coyotes are keen observers: they learn by watching and copying. It’s fascinating to watch.

After the body bangs, the younger sibling continues to be “in his sister’s face” by yanking up dried sticks disruptively right next to her. He’s purposefully making himself into an utter nuisance and is probably hoping for a rise from her.

Eventually, a third older sibling comes to check out the activity, but he soon leaves because the disruptive behavior is not enough to warrant interference. This older sibling is very mild, peace-loving, and generally aloof from the first two, but he has occasionally been a disciplinarian when their behavior became too disruptive, and he also has approached the female to comfort her after some of the youngster’s harassment sessions, which lately are growing in number and intensity.

Coyote families are orderly, so growing disruptive behavior is not tolerated for long. This behavior will eventually lead to someone’s dispersal.

Yearling Taunts Older Sister As He Practices Body Blows

This video depicts a yearling male taunting his two-year-old sister with an unusual technique he picked up from his mother. Coyotes learn by observing and imitating, which is definitely what went on here. The only coyote I know who regularly uses this body-blow method for discipline or fighting, is these coyotes’ mother who has used it at various times towards her daughter, this same two-year-old sister. The yearling male obviously picked it up from her by watching and imitating her, and in this video he bangs his sister tauntingly and mercilessly with this new-found skill. He is doing it simply to bully and harass her.

What led to this is that older sister for a while attempted dominating younger brother and got rather aggressive in doing so. This may be because younger brother had the habit of following big sister around and imitating her, and as he did so, he would get in her way. So Sister reacted. Soon, Mom interfered and forbade daughter from any aggression towards her younger brother. If Sister showed any aggression towards younger brother, Mom would interfere with an aggressive put-down towards the daughter. The result was that younger brother became more and more taunting, and the daughter had no recourse except to put up with it, which she is doing here, as he practices and perfects his body-blow technique on her.

Interestingly, he’s the one who ended up dispersing, of his own volition, at a year-and-a-half of age, whereas she is still part of her birth family.