First Coyote Collected on Long Island

by AMNH on

Research posts

The first coyote ever to be collected on Long Island will soon be added to the collection of the Museum’s Mammalogy Department.

It’s easy to forget that Long Island is truly an island, separated from mainland New York by water. So this animal, which was hit and killed by a vehicle on the Cross Island Parkway in Queens and recovered by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, likely had a difficult journey through urban sprawl and over water to get there.

Long Island Coyote
A Bronx coyote investigates its surroundings on a warm afternoon in July 2014. These images were taken via camera trap, a hidden camera that only takes a photo when motion triggered. 
©Gotham Coyote Project

“While the coyote is widely recognized as one of the most resilient creatures in North America, the idea of a New York City coyote is still pretty amazing,” said Mark Weckel, a postdoctoral research fellow at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. “Adapting from a plains habitat to a forest habitat is already challenging, but tackling an urban environment is much more difficult due to human activities.” 

Weckel has been studying this expansion of coyote range as part of a program called the Gotham Coyote Project, a collaboration between researchers from the Museum and the Mianus River Gorge in Bedford, NY.

Long Island Coyote GIF II
A group of coyotes in the Bronx investigate the area around the non-invasive camera traps. 
©Gotham Coyote Project

Coyotes expanded their range from the Midwest about 150 years ago, through newly cleared agricultural areas that mimicked their natural plains habitat. They have continued to adapt to suburban and even urban conditions, often unnoticed by their human neighbors. As Weckel noted, “A successful coyote is the one people rarely see. It is the coyote that learns to navigate traffic, is active when we aren't, and avoids people wherever possible.”

Weckel studies the habits and movement patterns of the animals by using camera traps, which take a picture only when motion-triggered. This method shows whatever the coyote is doing in that instant and proves the presence of coyotes in the area, although it does not reveal details of the lifestyle. Still, it is a noninvasive and relatively cost-effective measure.

Long Island Coyote GIF
This gif shows the gamboling of three coyotes. Since camera traps are non-invasive, they give researchers the opportunity to peer into the natural lives of the animal, including playful moments like this.
©Gotham Coyote Project

Weckel also uses computing software to predict coyote movement onto Long Island. By hypothesizing how difficult a given area would be for a coyote to move through, he can predict likely paths the coyotes may use to enter the island. He intends to use this mapping technique to compare predictions about where coyotes will be found to where they are actually spotted, in an effort to better understand how they are adapting to this new environment. There is currently a system of 35 camera traps across the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, and Weckel hopes to expand the reach of the program in the upcoming years. Coyotes have been in the Bronx since 1995, but researchers are still trying to determine population size in NYC and Long Island. 

The Long Island coyote is now part of the Museum’s collection, yielding a permanent record of its morphology and genetic makeup. “We have a really amazing opportunity to study the range expansion of a predator in ‘real time’ and to collect biological information on the first few colonizers,” Weckel said. “I’m hoping that 100 years from now when a future Museum curator is studying the coyote population of Long Island, he or she will be very excited to have the genetic and morphological records that we are beginning to collect now.”