We associate coyotes with other, potentially ferocious wild canines, such as wolves, yet coyotes are far less violent than their kin. That's why biologists were so mystified by the recent deadly attack on Canadian folk singer Taylor Mitchell by two coyotes.
"I don’t think they regard people, even kids, as an opportunity for a food source, so this is certainly an abnormal attack," John Way said in an interview with the Chronicle Herald. Way runs Eastern Coyote Research in Massachusetts and has studied the animals for 12 years.
The coyotes who killed Mitchell were far more aggressive than usual, noted Bridgit Leger, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Ledger told the Times of London that police shot one of the animals at the scene, wounding it. But the wounded animal and a companion coyote managed to get away.
The two coyotes were "extremely aggressive" when rangers arrived at the scene of the attack, Ledger told the Times. "Coyotes are normally afraid of humans. This is a very irregular occurrence," Leger said.
Coyotes (canis latrans) are omnivores that primarily eat small mammals, such as squirrels and voles, but they can subsist on insects, fruit and even grass. This versatility may explain the explosion in coyote populations in recent years.
The animals crop up in headlines far more frequently for attacking family pets than the families themselves. Coyotes roam in packs, like wolves, but are smaller creatures, adults growing to a maximum of 50 pounds. Wolves are carnivores that can grow to 175 pounds and are much more likely to attack.
Way also noted the fact that the incident happened in a sparsely populated, pointing out that coyotes tend to run at the first sign of humans in the wild.
Wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft confirmed that coyotes are shy creatures. Bancroft, a retired biologist with Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources, doesn't think the attack is likely to be repeated.
"We shouldn’t assume that coyotes are suddenly going to become the big bad wolf," Bancroft said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.