SoCal’s Urban Coyotes Eat … Everything

One of of my favorite movie scenes is from Jaws. As seen from the clip above, Amity Sheriff Martin Brody and biologist Matt Hooper go from sharing a bottle of wine at the former’s dinner table to cutting open the digestive tract of a recently caught tiger shark, presumably the critter that’s terrorizing the New England islanders.

Since you know the movie’s only half over, they weren’t about to find the remains of the boy who was killed by the shark Brody and Hooper are after. But what’s great is what they pulled from what turned out to be a wrongly accused shark. Among the items that had been consumed: a tin can and a Louisiana license plate.

“He didn’t eat a car, did he?” Brody asks.

“Naw, a tiger shark’s like a garbage can, it’ll eat anything. Someone probably threw that in a river,” Hooper answers.

The bottom line is, you just never know what’s going to be in an animal’s stomach. Given that my dog is a bit of a loose cannon, I would actually hate to know what she’s dined on when I leave her alone.

Which brings us to this fascinating  Los Angeles Times report on how researchers at Cal State Fullerton are studying what urban Southern California coyotes are feasting on.  And it’s a lot more hard-core than In-N-Out Burger, fish tacos and avocado toast:

Organs from coyotes that perished across Los Angeles and Orange counties under myriad circumstances are offering fresh glimpses of a biological mystery: Exactly what fits into the diet of the intelligent, socially organized and highly adaptive scavengers in urban settings?

 What percentage of the daily smorgasbord is composed of rodents and garbage compared with, say, household pets?

The answer wouldn’t just interest concerned cat owners, but could also help shape effective strategies for managing the species in urban areas.

This scientific study is a coyote postmortem on an unprecedented scale — it has so far documented the contents of 104 stomachs and intends to examine 300 by the end of the year. The team, led by Niamh Quinn, UC Cooperative Extension’s human-wildlife interactions advisor, is already generating a wealth of data to better understand how these omnivorous canids sample everything from pocket gophers to hiking boots while managing to survive in a land of 20 million people.

Shoes with rubber soles may seem unsavory, but preliminary results show that urban coyotes gulp them down, along with western cottontail rabbits, birds, avocados, oranges, peaches, candy wrappers, fast-food cartons and an occasional cat.

“Cats seem to make up only about 8% of a local urban coyote’s diet,” said Martinez, 27, a graduate student at Cal State Fullerton.

Ninety-two percent of Southland cats either are breathing a sigh of relief or terrified that they could be next on a coyote’s menu.