As we approach Valentines Day, the thoughts of many humans turn towards romance, flowers, chocolates, and time spent with an amorous partner. Curiously enough, many human children are born 9 months after Valentines Day….
A similar tale is told for many medium-sized mammals around this time of year. A drive down any Texas highway will yield the odorous testimony that skunks are on the move. Foxes, too, and yes, coyotes. Curiously enough, Valentine’s Day is situated near the peak of breeding season for coyotes, along with many other similar-sized mammals.
Why would this be? The answer brings us back to the basics of life, and predator-prey interactions. For we humans, we would not choose to have and rear our children in a time and place where we could not feed them. After breeding, coyote gestation lasts roughly 63 days. For sake of ease, let’s call that two months…so females that become pregnant now will give birth right around Easter. What animal is a symbol of Easter? Why, rabbits. At that time of year, the spring green-up produces an abundance of rodents and rabbits for the coyotes to feast upon. Like all new mothers, coyote females with pups nursing have extremely high energy demands. Additionally, their pups cannot yet regulate their body temperatures very effectively.
So, right around Easter the prey must be sufficient to carry mother and child through, and the weather must be tolerable. Nature may not be interested in timing romance in the animal world with that of human culture, but Mother Nature knows best. Young are born when mother can find nutrition to feed them–deer fawns in the late Spring and early Summer, birds in the Springtime–and predators like coyote pups, too.
The presence of predators is essential in natural ecosystems, so that prey do not become overpopulated, thereby depleting lower-tier food resources (like plants for herbivores), and causing disease episodes. The reverse is also true… too many predators can result in depleted populations of prey, and end in starvation for predators. This is the underlying logic of wildlife management–to maintain balance in ecosystems and thereby prevent overpopulation or starvation, destruction of plant resources, or extinction of animal populations.
Photo courtesy of Bill Weaver (Flickr User).