Answer Man: Will a coyote eat my cat? Hop my fence? Eat cantaloupe?

John Boyle
The Citizen-Times
Coyotes are aggressive hunters, and they can pose a threat to household pets such as cats and small dogs.

Today’s batch of burning questions, my smart-aleck answers and the real deal:

Question: I wonder if you could find out a bit more helpful info? We have a coyote in our neighborhood. What are its habits likely to be? Is it primarily nocturnal? Can it jump fences? Will it attack people? What size pet will it prey on?

My answer: You should be fine, unless you happen to keep a roadrunner as a pet. If so, look for a lot of explosions and falling boulders.

Real answer: First of all, we do have a lot of coyotes around here, and they are most definitely not native to North Carolina.

"About 30-40 years ago, they started moving in here from out west." said Mike Carraway, a wildlife biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

He also noted that at the time of European settlement of North America, coyotes were only found on the Great Plains.

I blame this on the local tourism commission and their relentless advertising about what a great place this is to live.

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Seriously, the elimination of competitors such as wolves, along with the coyotes' natural ability to adapt to a wide range of habitats, resulted in their spread throughout the country.

So, about your dog getting snapped up for Wile E.'s dinner ...

"They have adapted very well to living around people, and they will take advantage of human-supplied food sources, especially dog food or cat food, if you're feeding them outdoors," Carraway said. "And they have been known to prey on cats and small dogs. It is possible they might interact with a bigger dog like a collie-sized dog, particularly if there are multiple coyotes."

A coyote watches prey from a vantage point. Coyotes are omnivorous, with a diet ranging from mice and rabbits to berries and other fruits.

And often they are. Coyotes will live together, usually in family groups.

They are also — and here's your word for the day — crepuscular. That means they are particularly active during times of twilight, either dawn or dusk.

"But they will be active at night at night, and it's not terribly unusual to see coyotes in daytime," Carraway added.

Coyotes usually weigh between 20-45 pounds, and they're omnivorous, meaning they eat a wide variety of foods, including plants and animals.

"Primarily they prey on mice, rats and rabbits, and they can prey on deer fawns," Carraway said. "They like rabbits in particular, and they are usually out at dawn and dusk, too."

As far as hopping your fence, coyotes certainly can do that, and like their domesticated canine cousins, they'll also dig under one. So, if you know you have coyotes in the neighborhood, the best strategy with your smaller pets is to keep them leashed and don't leave them outdoors for extended periods of time alone.

Coyotes are not prone to attacking humans, Carraway said, but they can get rabies, which makes animals behave in an aggressive, unpredictable manner.

As far as habitat, they really don't need large patches of woods to hide out in, and they love a good suburban area.

Coyotes are very adaptive, and they do like living in suburban areas because the supply of food is usually high.

"It is fairly common for coyotes to hang around residential areas, because that's where they find rabbits and mice," Carraway said. "They also eat other things like berries and fruits. They like things like cantaloupes, too, so if you have a garden, that might be an attractant for coyotes."

They will get into garbage, so try to keep it secure.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources website notes, "the coyote has the widest range in this country. This predator is arguably the hardiest and most adaptable species on this continent."

They're found throughout the country, and through North Carolina.

"Coyotes in North Carolina look similar to red wolves, but coyotes are smaller, have pointed and erect ears, and long slender snouts," the website states. "The tail is long, bushy and black-tipped and is usually carried pointing down. Color is typically dark gray but can range from blonde, red, and even black."

They usually are about 2 feet tall and 4 feet long.

RELATED: Nature Center Notes: Coyotes adapt to WNC

Oh, and they howl.

"Although some people find a coyote’s howl unnerving, this howl serves many purposes," the website states. "Coyotes howl to locate pack members, distract threats away from their den, or establish their territory. In the late summer, pups practice howling to mimic their parents. Because of the hollow tone of the howl, a pair of coyotes often sounds like a huge group and may seem closer than they actually are."

Because coyotes are considered "nongame, nonnative animals," year-round hunting of them is allowed, Carraway said.

Keep in mind the firearm discharge regulations that apply where you live. Most municipal areas do not allow gun firing.

On that note, Aroooooooooooooooooo!

This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 232-5847 or jboyle@citizen-times.com