Friday, June 12, 2009

I Am Attacked By A Coyote. (Really!)

Yup, that’s right- a coyote lunged at and tried to bite me Wednesday AM. Just to be clear up front, he didn’t connect, so I came away unscathed. And I didn’t see the final lunge and attempted bite, so the description comes from the guy I was riding with.

Side Note: Speaking of which, I know this story sounds a little hard to believe, so I’ll mention that I had a witness. If you’re involved in (road) bike racing along the Wasatch Front, it’s Dave C., a Cat 4 racer for the Skull Candy team.

Dave and I met at my place at 6AM Wednesday morning to ride up Big Mountain Pass*. I was apprehensive about riding Big Mountain less than 48 hours after riding White Rim, but it went fine. We had a few sprinkles on the descent, but otherwise dodged the foul weather.

*My usual Wednesday AM “steady date”, Teammate-Jason, bailed due to iffy weather and a rough night’s sleep (he has an infant son.)

We crested Little Mountain Pass, then began the long descent down Emigration Canyon. About ~1/2 a mile above Ruth’s Diner, we saw a car hit the brakes and swerve slightly to avoid hitting a Coyote in the road. I’ve seen Coyotes on or alongside the road in Emigration at least ½ dozen times over the past few years, so it wasn’t a big surprise. We continued down-canyon, but as we approached the coyote, which had stopped in the right-hand shoulder, we slowed to around 20-25MPH and swung out a bit more into the road to give it a bit of room. I was on the right and probably a bike-length+ ahead of Dave.

CoyAttack1 All About Coyotes

CoyotePC1 Everybody knows (or thinks they know) what a Coyote, Canis latrans, is. (Pic right = shot I took up near Kimball Junction last month. It’s my only photo in this post; all others are web downloads. As we’ll see, the encounter was not conducive to photography, even if I had had a camera with me…) It’s that little guy that looks like a small wolf and yips and howls at night. More specifically, it’s a wild predatory canine, and probably the only wild predatory canine most Americans have ever seen or heard.

dire7 Back when people first arrived in North America, there were 3* common, widespread predatory canines (though to be fair, the Dire Wolf, Canis dirus (drawing left), is suspected to have been primarily a scavenger, with a lifestyle similar to that of a modern Hyena.) One of those canines was a “recent” import, one was an “American Original”, and the last was sort of an American Original, albeit with some help from our neighboring continent to the South.

*Forgive me, I’m intentionally ignoring the Red Wolf, Canis rufus, here. Its range, history, evolution, genetics and the issue of its outright “species-ness” are just too big for me to tackle in this post.

Canines as a group originally evolved in North America. Wolves and domestic dogs evolved from canines that migrated to the Old World. Wolves then “returned” to North America via Beringia several hundred thousand* years ago.

*I’ve found estimates for anywhere between 300,000 and 800,000.

grey-wolf-snow Tangent: The evolution of domestic dogs is way complicated, way fascinating and way outside the scope of this post. If you’re interested, check out this post, which Christopher pointed to a few months ago in his canine post. But there are 2 quick take-aways worth mentioning about dogs, wolves and coyotes: First, they can all interbreed, producing fertile offspring*. And second, specifics aside, dogs were domesticated (how many times isn’t clear) from wolves, meaning that your dog, if you have one, is more closely related to a wolf (pic right) than it is to a coyote.

*I believe 2 other Old World canines can also successfully interbreed with dogs. I’m pretty sure one is the Ethiopian Wolf… I forget the other at the moment…

About 3 million years ago, North and South America were joined at the Isthmus of Panama, bringing about the Great American Interchange*, and another group of canines migrated to South America, where they evolved into all sorts of canines, including the Dire Wolf, which later migrated back up into North America, probably around 700,000 years ago. But the coyote never “went” anywhere. It evolved from canine ancestors here in North America.

*Which was way cool and which I explained in this post.

Suspiciously coincident with the arrival of humans, most of the North American megafauna became extinct, including the Dire Wolf*. So when Europeans arrived, there were 2 widespread predatory canines on the continent.

*This jibes with its supposed scavenger lifestyle, as most of the large animals upon which it presumably must have scavenged went extinct around this same time.

coyote3 Wolves often kill and eat coyotes* in the wild, and served to limit their numbers and range in times past. But over the last couple of centuries, wolves were nearly eliminated from the lower 48 states, and as a result coyotes have expanded their range tremendously over the last century, today ranging clear from Los Angeles to Cape Cod. In this respect, coyotes are one of those “privileged” animals who on the whole have benefitted tremendously from European settlement of North America**.

*Big animals often kill and eat similar, smaller animals. Wolves kill coyotes. Coyotes kill small dogs. Big dogs kill coyotes. Mountain lions kill Bobcats. Bobcats kill Housecats. And big primates, such as Humans and Chimpanzees, kill and eat monkeys. There are even mosquitoes that prey upon the larvae of other, smaller mosquitoes.

**Wolves may have experienced a similar expansion of range/relaxation of competitive pressure ~11,000 years earlier, when the Dire Wolf became extinct. And Grizzlies may have as well, following the extinction of the Short-Faced Bear right around the same time.

Interestingly though, coyotes and wolves sometimes mate in the wild, usually in areas where there aren’t a lot of wolves. And in fact there’s evidence that as coyotes migrated eastward across Southern Canada over the last century, they may have interbred with wolves along the way, resulting in Eastern Coyotes that are a bit bigger (and maybe even a little more aggressive) than Western Coyotes.

Tangent: Reading the above, one could be tempted to think of Coyotes in the same category as Rock Pigeons, Rats, House Sparrows or (German) Cockroaches, all of which have also benefitted from European settlement. But those guys are all exotics. A better similar example is the Brown-Headed Cowbird, another North American native who’s similarly seen its range expand dramatically following Euromerican settlement.

Back To The Story Already

The coyote stood and stared as we approached. When I was maybe 10-15 feet away, and expecting it to bolt, it did something completely unexpected- it stepped forward, further out into the road. I can’t quite say whether I held my line or swerved a titch to the left, but in the next fraction of a second, as I passed it by, I detected sudden motion toward me in my peripheral vision, and almost immediately heard Dave yell “Shit!” I felt no impact and kept moving. Dave quickly caught up and told me what had happened:

CoyAttack2 The coyote lunged and jumped in the air, jaws open, and snapped, apparently targeting my right buttock. It missed contact by about (Dave’s estimate) a foot and a half.

Tangent: The clear irony and weirdness of this event has not escaped me. Wednesday morning I got up early, put up a post going on and on about how great my ass looked, pedaled out of the house, and promptly had a wild animal attempt to bite same ass. Seriously, WTF is going on?

coyote2 We talked about it on the way down. Dave wondered if it might be rabid, but the coyote wasn’t showing foam at the mouth, or snarling or anything, and it turns out that while attacks on humans are rare, they’re not unheard of. In fact over the last couple of decades they’re getting more common. Although no one’s been killed by a coyote in almost 3 decades, several attacks occur each year across the US. Most such incidents involve coyotes which have become habituated to, or even fed by, humans. The majority of coyote attacks on humans target small children, so if you have little kids, it’s a good idea to teach them about coyotes, and to tell them to fight back if attacked- running away doesn’t work* with coyotes; they can sprint up to 40 MPH and jump fences up to 8 feet high.

*Neither does playing dead.

wile_e_coyote_2 Running might be inadvisable, but pedaling downhill seemed to do the trick for us; Wile E. failed to give chase. But I will be a bit less blasé the next time I spot a coyote in the foothills.

Beep! Beep!


KanyonKris said...

Wild, literally.

Maybe it was this coyote:

Bart lives in Emigration Oaks.

Anonymous said...

did you call the DWR? not a good thing for people or coyotes.

also, did it look like a pure coyote or perhaps a cross? big cottonwood used to have packs of dogs mixed with coyotes which were more aggressive than just coyotes.

KB said...

That is a weird story. All the coyotes that I've encountered have acted scared of people - very scared. I even once had a pack of five chasing my dog - who was running directly to me. I yelled at them at the top of my lungs certain that once my dog got to me, both of us were in big trouble. But, they veered away from me just as my dog got to me. I had my huge can of pepper spray out, but didn't need to use it.

There've been a number of coyote attacks on people, even on an adult, around Boulder in the last couple of years. Every time, the story that the DOW gave was that the person went too close to a den. They hunted down and killed all coyotes in the area each time.

I have a hard time imagining a den right next to a road (in your case).

Bart G said...

Yea that same coyote is commonly seen in Emigration Oaks and he seems to patrol Pioneer Fork road. His fur is rather mangy and he is always alone. Multiple neighboors of mine have had close enounters with him as he seems to have no fear of humans.

thanks for right

Kent Peterson said...

Not to alarm you, but you might want to avoid that section of road for a while. My contacts at ACME have told me that they just FedExed out a large shipment containing an anvil, dynamite, rocket boots and other related items to an address in Emigration Canyon.

Matt said...

Great post, long, but great! Too bad you were not wearing the Skull Candy Kit. If you had you would have been protected, I know I made it for them!

Anonymous said...

I think you should listen to Dave. In Flagstaff this winter, we had an outbreak of rabies among foxes, several of which tried to attack people. Coyotes aren't as shy as foxes, but they're pretty shy, so the behavior you describe seems unusual.

In an article in our local paper, NAU geologist Wendell Duffield described an attempted attack. The fox charged him when he was walking in the forest with his family, biting the end of his shoe. Rabies is carried in the saliva, a fact Duffield and his wife didn't know or they wouldn't have touched the shoe. (Duffield didn't say anything about the fox foaming at the mouth, and when my cat got rabies, he didn't do so either.) As a result of possibly coming into contact with the saliva, the Duffields had to get the injection series. It's not as painful and harrowing as it used to be, but it is expensive.


Watcher said...

Bart- that’s him, and I’m pretty sure most (all?) of my other Emigration sightings have been the same one. I read your post- he went after us both the same morning. My encounter was a few minutes before 8AM.

KB- Same for me- they all always ran away from me- until this guy. I already knew they got into it with dogs, but it hadn’t occurred to me to be cautious around them. Sort of a wake-up call for me, as I have small kids.

Anon-It didn’t look like an obvious coydog, though of course there’s no way to be sure.

Matt- Nice job, that’s a good looking kit. And well, all of my posts are long, that’s sort of my thing, and it’s why I color-code ‘em, so people can skip around…

Shelley- thanks for the rabies heads-up. That’s the first I’d heard of your outbreak down there.

Kent- good one :^) Beep! Beep!

KristenT said...

We have some coyotes up here in Suburban Western Oregon-- most notably, they range through the ravine at the end of my neighborhood. I've seen them on my morning walks, but they don't seem to be interested in me or my big dog.

One cool thing I've learned about coyotes is that when the Dept of Wildlife goes and kills a bunch of them off, the remaining females breed more pups more often-- to fill the gap created by the humans. So it sounds like the DoW are really just helping the coyote population explode.

Also, most coyotes won't bother a human-- unless that human is too close to the pups or the den.

Running away triggers the "chase" switch in all dogs' minds, including coyotes. Keep this in mind when you next encounter a strange dog on a ride.

People need to understand that WE live in amongst the wildlife... not the other way around. Keep your dogs on leash and your cats inside.

Interesting post, Watcher!! Really enjoying the blog!

Anonymous said...

already rambled on barts blog about coyote attacking people in south cali. and the government not releasing that info.

be careful.

btw if somebody has good aim, i have a dog that can track coyotes....

Mike said...

Wow, this is an incredible story. Love your graphics, tangents, and fortune escape!

Cathy Crandall said...

Thank goodness you didn't have this encounter last summer. My husband and I were camping with our (fortunately, in this situation) deaf dog at Hart Mountain in SE Oregon. Just after I had returned from the outhouse with only a flashlight and gotten into the tent, at least two coyotes started howling and yipping at each other--sounded like just outside of the tent. I asked my husband if we should be scared, of course he said no. I didn't fully believe him then, but now I'm thinking I might not have had enough adrenaline in me had I previously seen this post and comments.

D. Sirmize said...

Lamest graphic? I think not. The coyote featured is awesome!