Pups Are Left While Parents Rendezvous and Play

“Catch me if you can!” You can see the fun and happiness in their faces.

Dancing around her and inciting her with his twists and turns

Affectionate poking and grabbing while running together

Full grown coyote family members tend to sleep and rest during the day, usually not all together as might be expected, but apart — and usually within the distance of a football field — from each other. They rendezvous after their day-long rest. The get together is the most exciting part of the day for them: it includes greetings with squealing, wiggles and hugs; playing all kinds of games such a chase, wrestling, play attacks, etc.; there are confirmations of ranks, and there is mutual grooming, and finally they all head off trekking together further afield, which is when they hunt and mark their territories, and also explore and investigate. As pups mature and become more secure, they, too, will gradually join in this important daily event.

But while pups are very young during their first several months, they stick close to “home” because it’s familiar and they feel safest here. Of course, the whole family plays together in this area: there’s chasing and wrestling, tumbling and bumbling, play attacking and jumping on each other, and lots of grooming from parents. But afterwards the adults of the family head off for more adult, rougher and farther-ranging fun, and the youngsters are tucked away in a safe spot, or sometimes not so safe spot, as I’ve discovered.

So here are photos of a  rendezvous: they are all blurry because they were taken as daylight faded (remember that photography is about light — the better the lighting, the better the photo), but I wanted to give you a glimpse into coyote life that you might not otherwise see. I’ve attempted to tease out some of the distinct elements/activities involved in the play and name them for you. These two coyotes are seasoned parents, having produced at least two previous litters, yet they themselves are so puppy-like in their all-out, exuberant and trusting play. The adoration between these two is particularly heart-warming among the coyotes I know — it melts my heart every time I see it. Their rendezvous seldom seems to include the greetings, grooming, or rank confirmations — it’s as though their bond is above needing these rituals — and concentrates almost exclusively on the play I show here.

At their rendezvous, from their first eye-to-eye contact, you can actually see their *guard* let down as the happiness envelops them and they start running and jumping all over each other — it’s no different now than it was two years ago: they didn’t grow up out of this. What normally happens first is that they excitedly and joyfully race towards each other to be together. They engage in chase, catch-me, tease-shoving, tease leg biting: all joyful fun showing how bonded this pair is. This same scenario without the offspring, with variations in play methods and without quite this degree of affection, occurs in every family I know.

Meantime, what about the pups who are supposed to be tucked away safely? The pups are three-months old and recently I found them not so safely tucked away, but out in the open, exploring on their own, while parents were having their own fun in an open field hundreds of yards away and totally absorbed in each other. These pups didn’t even see me until I had been watching for several minutes.

The pups were close to some bushes which could provide an escape route from the dangers of dogs, raccoons, and even humans. They ran off after spending a few moment examining me from the distance, so their self-protective instincts are there, though not necessarily keen. I’m sure that if a quick dog had wanted to grab one of them, it could have. Dogs frequent the area.

Pups are absorbed in their own investigations

That parents devote this daily time strengthening and confirming their devotion to and affection for each other, over and above their “duties” as parents, is revealing of just how strong and important that bond is, and also attests to their amazing fun-loving natures.


Know that concern for youngsters is indeed there: these are very responsible parents, and leaving them for periods of time is what all coyote parents do. A few days later, a piercing explosion nearby showed how quick these coyotes’ reactions were to possible danger to their pups. I surmised this explosion might have been a remainder firework from the 4th of July only a few days before. The sound provoked the immediate appearance and investigation by both parents who approached from different directions, one right after the other, close to the pup area. Obviously, neither parent had been with their pups when the noise sounded.

But it also showed, again, how important the paired parent relationship is. First, Dad appeared. The direction of his gaze revealed that his concern alternated between two different points: where the hidden pups were, and away from them. It became apparent within a minute that his gaze away from them was in the direction of his all-important mate. This fellow is always watching out for her which always makes me think of some human catch-phrases: “She’s the love of his life”, and “She’s his raison d’etre”.  When she appeared, he relaxed. She looked around and assessed the situation, and then went to check on the kids. He soon followed

 

The Runt

The runt in a litter, when there is one, is the smallest and sometimes the weakest pup. Their biggest disadvantage is that, because all the other pups are larger than them, they have a harder time competing for Mom’s milk. It turns out that getting one’s fair share of milk during the first 48 hours after birth is very important: only that very initial supply of milk contains colostrum which is loaded with antibodies which primes the pups’ immune systems, without which they could be more vulnerable to illnesses.

Indulged by Dad

In domestic dogs the runt may be ignored by the mother who focuses more on her healthier looking pups — it’s a form of natural selection. There is no reason to believe this is any different for coyotes, whose infant mortality rate is often 70% and more.

Like father, like son! Size and age don’t matter when you itch!

According to Dr. Margaret V. Root Kustritz, a veterinary theriogenologist (specializing in animal reproduction) the smaller size is due to their placement in the uterine horn during gestation — theirs is a poor implantation site. She says that small size is not due to being premature: all pups in a litter are fertilized at the same moment in time.

The littlest guy plays alone here. He’s energetic and very focused

So here is a little coyote runt whose small size compared to the rest of the litter really surprised me at first. It is about 2/3 the size of the others — a litter of all males! Cool! As I watched, this one was the only pup indulged by Dad — and he loved the attention when it came.

He’s the littlest guy in these photos

As it turned out, none of the other pups — size notwithstanding — had anything over this particular runt. Although small, scrawny and with obvious skin issues, this one is the most active, most focused, most inquisitive of the bunch, and the only one, as I watched, who spent a great deal of time alone, honing his hunting skills, possibly imitating what he saw his parents do. It will be interesting to watch his development in relation to his siblings as they grow up.

The littlest is off to the left

The larger siblings

The whole pup clan lined up for me!