And Baby Makes Three

by Carl Strang

Our recent snowfalls have been a boon, making it easier to read certain of the landscape’s stories. Last week at Mayslake Forest Preserve I saw this:

Three coyotes covered a large part of the preserve, moving in parallel.

Three coyotes covered a large part of the preserve, moving in parallel.

Sometimes they were close together, sometimes they spread out, sometimes one walked in another’s footprints, but it was clear they were a trio on a coordinated hunt. Last winter there never were more than two, and last summer their den clearly was in use much of the season. All of this points to a successful reproduction in 2013 with at least one pup surviving, and the parents are keeping it with them for the winter.

Mayslake’s coyotes have looked healthy and strong on the rare occasions when I have seen one (that infrequency itself a sign of their competence). If they were weak, they would not be able to afford to apprentice a youngster in this way. Doing so, they enhance their own fitness (in the genetic sense) by improving the likelihood that this offspring will survive its challenging first winter.

A different point came from an observation following our first significant snow, back in November. I noticed something in coyote tracks on the ice of Mayslake’s parking lot marsh.

The coyotes were trotting, as they usually do, but they were sticking to the straight trot rather than the diagonal trot.

The coyotes were trotting, as they usually do, but they were sticking to the straight trot rather than the diagonal trot.

I have noticed the straight trot in new snow before, and now I am wondering if it is an adjustment to an uncertain, potentially slippery surface. (For a primer on the trot gait, go to this earlier post). Certainly cottontails make an adjustment to such conditions, as I also have explained. Now I am wondering, in general, how often and in what conditions coyotes use the diagonal and straight versions of the trot.

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