Coyote Showing A Mouthful Of Teeth

As impressive as a coyote’s teeth are they’re not as massive and sharp as those of their recent ancestors.


1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this coyote on Antelope Island back in October of 2012. I think I awakened it from a nap and it yawned before going on its way. I’m not happy with the mullein stems behind the mouth but I think the image is pretty good documentation of coyote dentition. There’s a bunch of sharp teeth in that long narrow jaw.

We know from the fossil record that in the distant past coyotes had larger and sharper teeth than they do today. Back then their prey was much larger and they needed teeth that were more effective in bringing them down and consuming them. And ancestral coyotes were more carnivorous than their modern more omnivorous descendants which prey largely on rabbits and rodents but they also eat plant matter like fruits and grass (I’ve actually photographed four of them grazing on grass).

For those who may be interested in a more precise and scientific description of the recent evolution of coyotes, this from Wikipedia:

  • “Modern coyotes arose 1,000 years after the Quaternary extinction event. Compared to their modern Holocene counterparts, Pleistocene coyotes (C. l. orcutti) were larger and more robust, likely in response to larger competitors and prey. Pleistocene coyotes were likely more specialized carnivores than their descendants, as their teeth were more adapted to shearing meat, showing fewer grinding surfaces suited for processing vegetation. Their reduction in size occurred within 1000 years of the Quaternary extinction event, when their large prey died out. Furthermore, Pleistocene coyotes were unable to exploit the big-game hunting niche left vacant after the extinction of the dire wolf (C. dirus), as it was rapidly filled by gray wolves, which likely actively killed off the large coyotes, with natural selection favoring the modern gracile morph.”


So as their diet changed so did their teeth but I still wouldn’t want one to chomp down on my leg.



29 comments to Coyote Showing A Mouthful Of Teeth

  • Here in Edmonton , Alberta, we have 500-600 coyotes living in our river valley. They will come down the main streets near the parks to look for food, feeding off of feral cats, domestic cats who are roaming, ducks and rodents.I have seen them a couple of times when I have been walking my friend’s dogs and a neighbour’s dogs were attacked last winter,luckily only bites in the flanks. The dogs have learned not to play with them and I have a firm watch on the smaller dog when we go into the off-leash area. I believe we can co-exist but need to not try to be too friendly. The city has brochures warning not to leave your pets’ food outside, coyotes will even come to yards to eat apples that have fallen off of trees. I worry that people will feed them and have seen whole buns stuck on branches of bushes on the trails.

  • Laura Culley

    I’m just hoping not to see one up close and personal when I’m out hunting! I’m not sure Jack has the sense to fly off when his meal is challenged by a coyote (or whatever), not sure I will always be able to get to him fast enough or any one of a number of possible dire scenarios. If it were Mariah, I wouldn’t be quite so concerned, but Jack’s a captive-bred bird.
    I’ve thought about carrying a gun, but the reality is I can’t trust my right hand as far as I can throw it on several different levels. If I can’t handle it safely, I can’t go there.
    The other part of that equation is I’ve seen singular coyotes roaming the neighborhood a couple of times, which means a) there’s more than one and b) they live here, too.
    Sorry to be late to this party, but in my defense, I started this at sunrise then got distracted cleaning and organizing. I’m running out of time for my guests to arrive. ACK!

  • I suspect that their omniverous nature is part of the reason that coyotes are a success story. And hope that their success continues.

  • Great image Ron, and I enjoyed the evolutionary post too. Highly adaptable and very successful species!

  • Jean Haley

    Beautiful Coyote.

  • Patty Chadwick

    We have Eastern coyotes around here…larger than the western varieties…more wolf DNA . They’ve pretty much eliminated the once large woodchuck population, and cut down our rabbits, too. They’ve taken cats and small dogs, too. Recently, several people have been bitten by rabid ones…a couple of rabid fox have also been reported. Unless sick, like these particular animals, they usually don’t bother you unless you are too close to their den and babies.

  • Susan Stone

    Very interesting. I don’t think I realized before that Coyotes are omnivores. A healthy Coyote like this one, is a gorgeous animal. I’m always happy to see them, and am sorry that they are so maligned by so many (that’s probably in large part a Southern California thing, where they are very much not appreciated).

  • Marty K

    He’s a beaut! Looks like he’s met some tough times, though. He’s missing an upper canine and a lower one is broken, poor guy. Fabulous shot, Ron, to be able to see those details!

  • Dick Harlow

    Love this shot and very interesting stuff Ron! We think we live too short a life to really witness change, but change is always going on and thankfully we keep records. In my ‘fantasy world’ I would love to go to sleep for a hundred or so years and come back to witness what this planet and world looks and acts like. My grandfather used to think when he was in his 90’s that the US is going to “hell in a hand- basket”. I wonder if age and the times dampens optimism. Evolution is never ending and constantly developing in every living organism no matter the smallest detail. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sybil Latham

    The coyotes we have here in the Northeast are not the same as when I was a kid sixty years ago. They are much larger and more robust. Here is a link to an excellent documentary by PBS/Nature explaining why. “Meet the Coywolf”.

  • Gary Dunning

    Avocado fed coyotes around us can be quite impressiveour.

  • Judy Gusick

    Nice shot in spite of the stems and great biology lesson. Know coyotes will eat most anything and the “grazing” coyotes show that. Our Border Collie is like that and will hunt “bugs” among other things……..:) Also interesting on the wolves taking over their spot – know in Yellowstone the wolves are changing the habits of the coyotes now that they’re back.

    • “know in Yellowstone the wolves are changing the habits of the coyotes now that they’re back.”

      Judy, that sounds quite similar to how coyotes adapted in response to the loss of their larger prey and gray wolves replacing dire wolves. Coyotes are nothing if they’re not adaptable.