10 Wily Facts About Coyotes

ArmanWerthPhotography/iStock via Getty Images
ArmanWerthPhotography/iStock via Getty Images

Whether you’ve seen them in cartoons or in your backyard, you’re probably familiar with coyotes. They are one of the most successful and widespread predators in North America, with a range stretching from southern Mexico to Alaska. And even if you’ve never seen one in person, you may have heard their famous howls when they’re hunting after dark.

Coyotes have been depicted as bumbling, desperate, and deceptive—but they’re much more than the stereotypes suggest. The predatory mammals are also agile, smart, and equipped to adapt to environments humans are constantly changing. Here are some more facts about coyotes.

1. Coyotes are resourceful.

The coyote’s adaptable nature has allowed it to thrive in an era when many species have dwindled. It mainly eats small mammals like rodents and rabbits, but it has no trouble making a meal of fruit, grass, insects, carrion, or garbage when it has to. It’s also resourceful: The coyote can build a den from scratch, but it's also been known to take over and enlarge burrows dug by smaller animals like badgers.

2. Coyotes star in many Native American stories.

The coyote’s resourcefulness was first observed by Native Americans. Many tribes across the continent cast the coyote as a central character in their folktales and tell stories of his cunning and perseverance. Though he's often characterized as a trickster, Coyote isn’t necessarily a villain. In some myths, Coyote’s ability to make the most of his circumstances and do whatever it takes to succeed is seen as a reflection of humankind’s own survival instincts.

3. Howls aren't the only sounds coyotes make.

Coyote in the snow howling.
JohnPitcher/iStock via Getty Images

While the howl is definitely the most recognizable sound they make, coyotes have a wide range of vocalizations in their arsenal. There’s a total of 11 distinct noises the animals use to communicate. Outside of howls used for long-range contact, sounds are either categorized as greetings (whines and yelps) or agnostic (warning barks and alarm vocalizations).

4. Coyotes are solitary animals.

Coyotes are much less likely to hunt in packs than their larger wolf relatives. When going after small mammals, they usually prefer working solo. They make an exception when pursuing larger prey like deer; in such cases, several coyotes will get together and take turns chasing the deer until it gets too tired to run.

5. Mark Twain didn’t paint coyotes in the best light.

In his 1872 book Roughing It, Mark Twain recounts his time in the Wild West. He spends part of the book describing a coyote he saw in his travels, and his harsh depiction of the animal may have contributed to its unsavory reputation today. He characterizes it as a "long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton” in one passage and later calls it "a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry … He is always poor, out of luck and friendless.” Chuck Jones, the animation director behind many Looney Tunes characters, said he used Twain’s writing as inspiration when creating Wile E. Coyote.

6. Coyotes outpace roadrunners.

Wile E. Coyote isn’t the most accurate depiction of the species on television, but the cartoon does get one thing right: Coyotes do occasionally chase roadrunners in pursuit of a meal. But while the Looney Tunes roadrunner is the faster of the two, coyotes outpace the birds in real life. Roadrunners move at 15 to 20 mph, and coyotes can run twice as fast, reaching speeds up to 40 mph.

7. Coyotes can jump great distances.

In addition to being fast runners, coyotes are also excellent jumpers. When jumping horizontally they can clear distances up to 13 feet. They can also jump high in the air, which is bad news for any pet owners hoping their backyard fence will keep their animals safe from the predators.

8. Urban coyotes are on the rise.

Coyote on suburban street.
Zachary Byer/iStock via Getty Images

Coyotes are often portrayed as wandering through empty deserts, but it’s becoming more common to see them padding down busy urban streets. Cities are appealing habitats for coyotes: The young forests that grow around metro areas attract the same small animals the predators love to eat, and with fewer wolves around thanks to human development, coyotes can dominate new territory without competition. Many consider them a nuisance, but they aren’t going anywhere: When researchers from Utah State University surveyed 105 urban areas in America in 2016, they found that 96 of them have coyote populations.

9. Eastern coyotes are hybrids.

Human development in North America has driven gray wolf populations toward extinction, but the species's downfall has turned into a success story for coyotes. When many ecosystems lost their apex predators, coyotes stepped in to fill the role. Today they extend beyond their original range in the West all the way to the East Coast.

But coyotes in the east aren’t quite the same animals you’d see in the California desert. Genetic samples from eastern populations show that they have a mix of coyote, wolf, and dog genetic material, with the majority of their DNA coming from coyotes. Even after years of interbreeding, these eastern coyotes don’t constitute a new species—so “coywolves” aren’t really a thing.

10. Scientists are studying coyote poop.

As coyotes move into major cities, scientists are looking for new ways to study the species’s impact. One method involves collecting the poop they leave behind. By looking at coyote droppings, researchers can gain a better understanding of the animal’s diet in urban environments and even analyze its DNA. Coyote scat-collecting programs have been implemented in both New York City and Los Angeles.

5 Weird American Cemetery Legends

iStock/grandriver
iStock/grandriver

These strange, spooky cemetery tales of vampires, ghosts, and bloody headstones will keep you up at night. (If you're not too scared, add them to your next cemetery road trip, and keep this guide of common cemetery symbols handy for when you visit.)

1. The Vampire of Lafayette Cemetery

Perhaps it's not surprising that a grave with "born in Transylvania" etched on it would invite vampire comparisons. Local legends say that a tree growing over this grave in Lafayette, Colorado, sprung from the stake that killed the vampire inside, and that the red rosebushes nearby are his bloody fingernails. There are also reports of a tall, slender man in a dark coat with black hair and long nails who sometimes sits on the tombstone. It's not clear what the man who bought the plot—Fodor Glava, a miner who died in 1918—would have thought of all these stories, especially since he might not have actually been buried there.

2. The Green Glow of Forest Park Cemetery

The abandoned Forest Park Cemetery (also known as Pinewoods Cemetery) near Troy, New York, is known for several urban legends. One of the strangest concerns local taxi drivers, who say they pick up fares nearby asking to go home, only to have the passenger mysteriously vanish when they drive by the cemetery. Others tell of a decapitated angel statue that bleeds from its neck—although the effect may be attributed to a certain kind of moss. But one of the eeriest parts of the grounds is a dilapidated mausoleum said to be home to a green, glowing light often seen right where the coffins used to be located.

3. The New Orleans Tomb That Grants Wishes

Famed "Voodoo Queen" Marie Laveau is buried in arguably the oldest and most famous cemetery in New Orleans, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. (Or said to be, anyway—some dispute surrounds her actual burial spot.) For years, visitors hoping to earn Marie's supernatural assistance would mark three large Xs on her mausoleum; some also knocked three times on her crypt. However, a 2014 restoration of her tomb removed the Xs, and there's a substantial fine now in place for anyone who dares write on her tomb.

4. Pennsylvania's Bleeding Headstone

The Union Cemetery in Millheim has one of the nation's weirder headstones: It's said to bleed. The grave belongs to 19th-century local William (or Daniel) Musser, whose descendants tried to replace the tombstone repeatedly, but the blood (or something that looked like blood) just kept coming back—until they added an iron plate on top.

5. Smiley's Ghost in Garland, Texas

A single plot in the Mills Cemetery is home to five members of the Smiley family, who all died on the same day. Rumor has it that if you lie down on the grave at midnight (especially on Halloween), you'll find it very difficult to rise back up, as the ghost of old man Smiley tries to pull you down, hoping to add one more member to the family's eternal resting place.

8 Fun Facts About Muppet Babies

The Jim Henson Company
The Jim Henson Company

Before prequels were a thing, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies imagined a world in which the felt-covered characters of Henson’s Muppets franchise—Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, and Fozzie Bear among them—met up as children in a nursery. Left to their own devices, the animated cast led a rich fantasy life while in diapers. For more on this 1984-1991 show, including why it’s so hard to find anywhere except YouTube, keep reading.

1. Frank Oz didn’t really want Muppet Babies.

The idea to infantilize the Muppets came from Michael Frith, a longtime collaborator of Jim Henson’s, in the early 1980s. Frith believed that regressing the characters could allow them to impart moral or educational messages to children already familiar with them. But Frank Oz, a Muppets performer (Miss Piggy) and film director, argued that the Muppets needed to maintain their subversive edge. It was Henson who found a compromise, suggesting that younger versions of the characters appear in a dream sequence for 1984’s feature film The Muppets Take Manhattan. The response to the scene was overwhelmingly positive, and Henson soon teamed with Marvel Productions and CBS for an animated series that began airing in September 1984.

2. Skeeter was the result of a gender imbalance on Muppet Babies.

Most of the principal Muppet Babies cast was made up of recognizable characters, including Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Rowlf, Gonzo, Animal, Bunsen, and Scooter. But Frith, Henson, and producers Bob Richardson and Hank Saroyan decided that the babies were skewing a little too male. Aside from Piggy and their caretaker, Nanny, there were no female characters. To balance the scales, they introduced Skeeter, Scooter’s twin sister, a brainy problem-solver.

Skeeter has made only fleeting and sporadic appearances in the Muppet franchise since, leading to speculation she might be caught up in rights issues between CBS and the Jim Henson Company, which was purchased by Disney in 2004. Fortunately, the somewhat murky situation appears to be at least partially resolved: It was recently reported Skeeter will resurface in the new computer-animated iteration of Muppet Babies, which is currently airing its second season on Disney Junior and has been renewed for a third season.

3. One of the major creative forces behind Muppet Babies was Moe Howard’s grandson.

In 1985, Muppet Babies writer Jeffrey Scott received a Humanitas Prize from the Human Family Educational and Cultural Institute for an episode of the series which the Institute declared did the best job of any kid’s show that year to “enrich the viewing public.” The episode centered on the group fearing one of them might be sent away. The prolific Scott actually wrote all 13 episodes of the first season. His father, Norman Maurer, worked at Hanna-Barbera Productions and got Scott’s foot in the door. His grandfather was Moe Howard, founder and head Stooge of The Three Stooges fame.

4. The Muppet Babies live-action segments were a result of budgetary constraints.

A hallmark of Muppet Babies is when the cast finds themselves thrust into scenes from famous films, a Walter Mitty-esque bit of fantasy fulfillment that blends live-action sequences with animation. According to Frith, devoting a portion of each episode to clips wasn’t entirely a creative choice. By inserting clips, producers could save money on animation. It was also easy for Henson to secure the rights to popular films like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark because he was friends with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. While some believe those clips are the reason the show isn’t available to stream—sifting through the legal entanglement of reairing the segments might prove costly—that’s never been confirmed.

5. Muppet Babies never explained what the Muppets were doing in that nursery.

Given time to reflect, it seems odd that the Muppet cast would find themselves in a nursery without being supervised by their own parents. Speaking with the Detroit Free Press in 1987, Michael Frith said that the situation was purposely left vague. “I really appreciate the fact that they don’t [ask],” Frith said of his kid viewers. “Is this a day care center? Is this a foster child home? The more we talked about it, the more we felt it should just exist. The kids accept it.”

6. The voice recording sessions of Muppet Babies included copious farting.

Speaking with CNN in 2011, actor Dave Coulier (Full House) recalled that recording sessions for Muppet Babies sometimes involved flatulence. Coulier, who portrayed Animal and Bunsen, among others, said that “lots of fart humor” punctuated the recording studio. “In one scene, Fozzie [played by Greg Berg] and Animal had to climb a ladder,” he said. “As Animal was pushing Fozzie up the ladder, they were making [grunting] sounds. In mid-scene, Greg Berg farted. I looked at [actor] Frank Welker and we couldn’t contain ourselves. Uncontrollable laughter ensued. I was literally on the floor of the studio laughing.”

7. There was an offshoot of Muppet Babies called Muppet Monsters—and it never aired in full.

Following the success of Muppet Babies, CBS and Jim Henson decided to expand on the Muppets' potential as Saturday morning stars by creating a 90-minute block in 1985 titled Muppets, Babies, and Monsters. (Muppet Babies often aired consecutive half-hour installments for an hour total.) In addition to regular Muppet Babies episodes, the program featured another half-hour of Little Muppet Monsters, which featured puppets of new Muppet monster characters named Tug, Molly, and Boo. The three appeared in a framing device that introduced animated segments of adult Muppets. Only three episodes aired out of 15 produced, reportedly due to both Henson and CBS being unhappy with the finished product and Muppet Babies standing strongly on its own. The remaining episodes have yet to see the light of day.

8. Muppet Babies was turned into a live stage show.

To further incite their juvenile audience and monetize their popularity, the Muppet Babies franchise eventually wound up live and on stage. Muppet Babies Live! debuted in 1986 and featured performers in oversized costumes dancing and acting to a prerecorded track. In one skit, the cast appeared in a Snow White homage. In another, Rowlf became Rowlfgang Amagodus Mozart and played the piano. The arena show toured the country. Hank Saroyan, one of the animated show’s producers, wrote the stage show. The performer for Baby Piggy, Elizabeth Figols, also appeared in a live production of Dirty Dancing. The show ran through 1990.

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