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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Collection: Species Details Lewis and Clark as Naturalists
Mammal    Species Name:
Canis latrans

Common Name:


Chamberlain, South Dakota   September 18, 1804

Burrowing dog of the prairie

Coyotes were not known in the eastern woodlands of Lewis' native Virginia at the time of the expedition.  By contrast, coyotes can be seen regularly today in the Atlantic states, and they now range from Florida to Alaska, and from Maine to Costa Rica.  Coyotes are even known to eke out a living in large cities such as Los Angeles and Boston!  This successful expansion has led to their victimization by humans, though without any great success in controlling this survivor's numbers.

From the journals, we learn coyotes are generally seen in packs of 10 to 12, or more, which speaks to the abundance of food items for them, as such large packs are much more rare today.  In the presence of so many wolves, coyotes must have adapted their behavior and developed a social organization that successfully defended the group against their larger relative.  One way the groups could have protected themselves and their pups from the danger of wolf predation is by burrowing together.  Lewis made mention of these pack burrow sites in contrast to wolves, though he and Clark never discovered wolf dens.  Ironically, as the United States expanded westward, the coyote expanded eastward.

For more information about this North American mammal, click here.

Journal Entries:

Capt. Clark, September 18, 1804--I Killed a Prarie Wollf, about the Size of a gray fox bushey tail head & ears like a Wolf, Some Fur ...  more>>

Sound    coyote (0:00, 30 kb)
Credit: Wind Cave National Park
References Say, Thomas, Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, Performed in the Years 1819 and 1820, By Order of The Hon. J. C. Calhoun, Sec'y of War: Under the Command of Major Stephen H. Long, from the Notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and Other Gentlemen of the Exploring Party (Edwin James, author), Philadelphia, two volumes, 1823

See following caption

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