With robins bob-bob-bobbin' and pine pollen settling, it must be almost spring; and that means our island's wildlife is becoming more active and visible. That includes our local population of coyotes (Canis latrans), which mate in late winter and produce litters of up to five pups. SIPOA's wildlife map shows at least five widely scattered sightings during the winter, but those could become even more common as adults forage and hunt to feed the pups as warmer weather arrives.
Coyotes are now present throughout South Carolina; and although populations are concentrated in the Midlands and the Upstate, where they were first noted in 1978, the animals have been common in the Lowcountry for more than thirty years, following the push into new territory by one of their prey species, armadillos. Further afield from Seabrook, Isle of Palms has reported a population of sixty coyotes, who have been observed swimming to Dewee's Island from IOP, Mount Pleasant and Sullivan's Island to breed and den. They've been spotted on beaches dining on ghost crabs, scouring the tideline for washed-up fish, or creeping through marine underbrush for rabbits, mice and snakes. Their diet is filled out by deer fawn, insects and berries.
Considered a pest species by some, particularly as a threat to deer populations, data collected over the past thirty years indicates that the the number of white-tailed deer (South Carolina's state animal) remains plentiful, with coyotes serving as a curb on overpopulation by replacing the now endangered red wolf as an apex predator. Nonetheless, the state doesn't require a license to hunt or trap coyote on private land within 100 yards of one's residence and designates December 1st through March 1st for trapping state-wide.
Coyotes and humans have been linked in mythology for centuries, particularly in the legends of western and Great Plains Native Americans. Coyote is usually portrayed as a wily trickster, but one myth tells the story of Coyote singing with Earth Maker to create the world and its humans. Another attributes the bringing of fire to Coyote, who steals it from the sun. And one Navajo legend tells how Coyote, who lived in the Sky, one day felt the Sky reaching down to touch the Earth, where the First People were struggling to survive. Coyote leaped down from the Sky to teach the First People how to hunt and fish, and has been with mankind ever since.