Friday evening approaches and with it the event during which more people on campus will be paired off then at any other time in the year. Set up your roommate is tonight and, whether you are wondering who your roommate could have set you up with or wondering what they will think when they finally find the cookie to their milk or the Piglet to their Pooh, you might also want to take a moment to wonder about one of the potential pairings in the Arb. A den which Arboretum Director Nancy Braker found this past week suggests that there is a pair of coyotes in the area.
Coyotes are Minnesota’s most common large predator. They moved into the prairies after human activity had chased away most wolves. They are smaller than their more famous cousins and, as such, are better adapted to the openness of the prairie. They are also much less picky eaters than wolves, which allows them to live closer to places like Northfield; they can even survive on grasshoppers. It is also interesting to note, especially since couples are today’s theme, that coyotes often mate for life. The females den after the mating season in January and February, often enlarging other animal’s dens. The dens consist of a series of interconnecting underground tunnels, where coyote pups are born and raised. The male coyote helps raise the pups until they are mature enough to strike out on their own, which happens just about this time of year.
However the Arb’s own young pups do not seem to have moved on quite yet, or have moved on very recently. Last week, the den in the Arb appeared to be still active, since there was some fairly fresh looking scat near it. Other possible signs of habitation around the den might include bits of the meals the parent coyotes bring home for the pups. However, it is not surprising that there was no evidence of past meals last week because our pups are probably old enough to hunt for themselves. As they move off on their solitary way, perhaps the pups will find territories in which to set up dens of their own. They will, however, not have the assistance of their den-mates when looking for a pleasant coyote to hang out with for an evening, so keep that in mind as you enjoy the fruits of your roommate’s careful selection tonight!
- Mira Alecci '11, for the Cole Student Naturalists