By Abby Jokerst, Seasonal Naturalist
Have you ever seen a dog-like creature roaming your neighborhood only to look closer and realize that it was not a dog at all? It was probably a coyote. Coyotes are increasingly willing to take risks to get the resources they need and venture closer to human-inhabited areas. And as humans move into areas occupied by coyotes, our interactions with them increase so that it isn’t at all uncommon to see them.
Although I don’t see them regularly in my travels, I have seen evidence countless times that they are roaming our parks and neighborhoods. Coyotes and their tracks and scat have been seen by park visitors and staff at Shale Hollow, Gallant Woods, and other parks. But how do we know what we are viewing is actually a coyote? There are no wolves in Ohio, so more than likely the large wild canines that we see are coyotes. Coyotes can be similar in weight to a dog and typically are less than 50 lbs. Distinguishing features include their pointed ears, pointed muzzle, and bushy tail.
In general, coyotes try to keep their distance from people, so you might never even see one. But they are around enough that people worry that these predators might be dangerous to us, our children, or our pets. In reality, coyotes are usually non-violent towards people, but can occasionally confuse small pets as prey. Your pets are in virtually no danger if you keep an eye on them. If you encounter a coyote, the best thing to do is remain calm. The coyote usually will just continue on its way.
While it might seem that coyotes do not belong in Delaware County, they have a positive impact on the environment. Coyotes are a “keystone species.” This means that since they are one of the only large predators in the area, to take them out of the population would cause detrimental effects to the balance of nature. You may have heard about the 1995 reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park. The abundance of prey mellowed out, which led to a steady balance of wildlife.
Closer to home, eradicating coyotes from Central Ohio would cause a domino effect, leading to an eruption in the population of small rodents, which would therefore lead to a dramatic decrease in the number of insects and plants available for use by other species. Remember that nature is here for a reason.
On a personal note, coyotes have been favorite of mine ever since I was little because they give us a glimpse of the ancestors of the domestic dogs we have grown so fond of. Just as Fido smells the aromas dwelling in our clothing to learn about where we have been and who we saw each day, I find some sort of comfort in learning where our dogs came from long ago.
Next time you are in the parks, make sure to look for tracks and scat, and maybe you will even spot a coyote loping through the park.