No cheating, no wife swapping, no ménages-a-trois, no polygamy. Coyote couples are partners for life.
That’s the finding of a new study of urban coyotes in and around Chicago. Over six years, the research team didn’t find a single case of a coyote having more than one mate – nor of one mate ever leaving another while the other was still alive.
“I was surprised we didn’t find any cheating going on,” said study co-author and wildlife ecologist Stan Gehrtat Ohio State University. “Even with all the opportunities for the coyotes to philander, they really don’t. We found incredible loyalty to partners in the study population.”
This isn’t some moral decree, of course; it’s how and why coyotes are doing so well – and in the face of ever-increasing hostility from humans. Gehrt explains that a female coyote on her own would not be able to raise large litters of pups. But with a partner who’s committed to her and to his own offspring, the family thrives. The coyote dad knows that every one of those pups is his and that he has a real genetic stake in helping them survive.
The metropolitan area of Chicago is home to nine million people and up to two thousand coyotes in almost every neighborhood of the city.
“You’ve got territories that abut each other,” said Cecilia Hennessy, a doctoral student who led the study. And coyotes can make long-distance forays. So you’d think, based on previous investigations of dog behavior, that cheating would be likely. But to find nothing, absolutely nothing, no evidence whatsoever of anything that wasn’t monogamy, I was very surprised by that.”
The study was done by humanely trapping coyotes, taking DNA samples, and then releasing them.
“We’ve been able to follow some of these alpha pairs through time, and we’ve had some of them stay together for up to 10 years,” Gehrt said. “They separate only upon the death of one of the individuals, so they truly adhere to that philosophy, ‘Till death do us part.'”
The study is published in the Journal of Mammalogy.