City-dwelling coyotes will eat just about anything – especially your pet cat.
According to a collaborative study from researchers at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and the National Park Service (NPS), canines in Los Angeles are less picky than their suburban and rural cousins, opting to dine on the finer things in life like garbage, fruit, and domestic cats. Such dietary adaptations have contributed to coyotes’ success in urban environments in nearly every city in North America.
“They are omnivores, which means they will eat practically anything that fits in their mouths,” CSUN biology professor Tim Karels said in a statement. “Because they will eat anything, coyotes can live practically anywhere — from downtown LA to the urban neighborhoods around CSUN, to the mountains that surround the region and everywhere in between. While they eat a lot of garbage, they also eat a lot of the fruit found on the ground and, yes, domestic cats.”
Karels collaborated with biology graduate student Rachel N. Larson, and Justin L. Brown and Seth P. D. Riley of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, as well as 150 citizen science volunteers to determine what food sources coyotes relied on and how urban coyotes eat differently than those further removed from the city. Researchers dissected scat, the poop of wild animals, found at sites across Los Angeles and the neighboring cities of Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks looking for fur, feathers, bones, seeds, and insects – anything to identify what the animals were eating. They also collected and analyzed whiskers collected by NPS to determine their stable isotope ratios to determine the type and quantity of chemicals from food sources. Their findings were published in PLOS ONE.
“What we were looking for was corn, which is very distinctive from plants naturally found in Southern California. Corn is the base of the American diet. People eat corn. Corn syrup is used in many processed foods, including bread. Corn is fed to livestock and poultry, which humans, in turn, eat,” said Larsen
“If the coyote whiskers had high levels of carbon-13, which signifies the presence of corn, then it could only have come from coyotes eating lots of human food,” Larson explained. “Needless to say, for those coyotes living in urban Los Angeles, we found they were eating a lot of human food, mostly found in the trash we humans leave behind.”
It was thought that both urban and rural coyotes would be shown to eat similar amounts of human-related food. Rather, suburban coyotes were much pickier eaters. Around two-thirds of urban coyotes had evidence of human-related items in their scat as opposed to just one-third of suburban coyotes. In particular, ornamental fruits and cats were eaten by coyotes, though it is thought that most of the cats were feral (but not all). Human trash was not commonly found in the scat but whisker analysis showed that up to 38 percent of both urban and rural coyotes’ diet could be human food leftovers. Though urban coyotes stuck largely to their traditional rabbit and rodent diet, the canines still ate a lot of garbage.
“Coyotes are part of the urban environment,” said Karels. “We’ve created this ecosystem, it’s a new ecosystem from an evolutionary point of view, but it is one that some species are quickly adapting to. Skunks, raccoons, and opossums have all adapted to living in an urban environment. A carnivore, the coyote, has adapted as well.”