The Massachusetts Coyote: Bigger, Wolfier, But Not To Be Feared

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Judy Place describes a scene straight out of a horror movie. She was being stalked by a rabid animal, in her case, a coyote.

The deranged creature had wandered out of the woods around the river that runs behind the trailer park complex where Place lives with her mother. The coyote had been menacing her and other neighbors, turning over lawn furniture and attacking random objects.

Then one evening, she heard a couple of loud banging sounds, like something was trying to get underneath her trailer home. She went to the window, where she “saw something scurrying away. I said, ‘Oh boy, I think that’s the coyote!’”

She called the North Attleboro police, who sent over two officers. When they arrived, their flashlights revealed a large section of siding that had been pulled away, leaving a gaping hole under the house.

“I said, ‘oh my gosh, she’s in there, I’m going in the house.’”

But the coyote had slipped around the side of the house, where it was waiting for her.

Place backed away, avoiding eye contact, but the coyote came after her. “She just latched right on to my leg,” she said.

Place says that in the shock of the moment, she didn’t feel the pain from the bite. Amazingly, she managed to keep calm, and stay still.

“I don’t know what I was thinking at the time, ‘cause you know, you’re in shock. So I basically thought to myself, ‘Don’t move too much,’ because she might think I was trying to fight her…things are going through my head like I don’t even know.”

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The officers shot the animal twice with a Taser. The electroshock gun can take down a large man, but the coyote would not let go. Finally one of the officers fired a shot in the air, which, “scared the coyote enough to get off of me. So I beelined back into my house.”

Once inside, Place heard another two shots. The first wounded the coyote, which then turned on one of the officers who had to fire the second, fatal shot.

Testing confirmed rabies was the reason for the coyote’s bizarre behavior and attack. Place is now getting a series of shots to prevent her from contracting the fatal disease.

The incident was terrifying, but it’s important to know that Coyote attacks are extremely rare. Place is only the ninth person bitten in Massachusetts since the state started keeping records in the 1950s. The fact is, you’re more likely to get killed by lightning than injured by a coyote.

Still, they can be intimidating animals — the Eastern Coyote is a bigger, more robust animal than its Western cousin. That’s because they’re part wolf.

“As they came east and interbred with the wolf, they became larger,” said Christine Schadler, a wild canid ecologist and the author of Becoming Wolf: The Eastern Coyote in New England.

“Our animals are 35 to 60 pounds. The largest [Eastern] coyote documented is 62 pounds, which is the same size as a small Eastern Wolf,” said Schadler.

“All the animals in New England are this hybrid animal,” said Jon Way, a researcher involved with some of the recent studies that revealed the genetic makeup of Eastern Coyotes in Massachusetts. They found that “about 25 or 30 percent of its DNA is Eastern Wolf. And a little bit of gray wolf. A total of 25 to 30 percent Wolf, and maybe 60 to 65 percent coyote, and then about 10 percent dog.” Way thinks it’s more correct to refer to this animal as a ‘coywolf,’ to recognize its uniqueness as a species.

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Schadler says that the wolf DNA is behind “significant differences in the eastern coyote that makes this animal unique. One is the ability to live in a pack, which is very different than the coyote out west.”

Combined with their larger size, living in packs could make the coywolves, as Way calls them, better predators of large animals like deer. “They’re kind of genetically plastic, where they can survive on small prey,” like rodents, that typically make up the majority of the coyote’s diet. But thanks to their body size, the Eastern Coyote may be “more able to prey on deer than western coyotes are,” said Way.

Place says she could see the wolf in the coyote that attacked her.

“The face of it looked exactly like a wolf. I kept saying, ‘I don’t think we have wolves in this area,’ so thought I was losing it,” she laughed. “But yeah, it did — it resembled a wolf.”

Place says she remains spooked by the attack, and now feels a little scared outside, but still loves living near abundant wildlife, including the coyotes.

She has two more rabies shots to go before she’s in the clear.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>