by Katherine J. Wu/

For 10,000 years—and possibly many more—the borders of the coyote’s wild empire more or less stayed put. Penned in by the dense forests where their wolf and cougar predators tended to roam, these cunning canines kept mostly to the dry, open lands of North America’s west, scampering as far north as the alpines of Alberta and as far south as Mexico and bits of the Central American coast.

Then, around the turn of the 20th century, nature’s barriers began to crumble. Forests began to fragment, wolf populations were culled, and coyotes (Canis latrans) began to expand into regions they’d never been before. By the 1920s, they’d found their way into Alaska; by the 1940s, they’d colonized Quebec. Within a few more decades, they’d tumbled across the Eastern seaboard and trickled down into Costa Rica, all the while infiltrating parks, urban alleys and even backyards.

“Coyotes are flexible and adaptive,” says Roland Kays, a zoologist at North Carolina State University, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “They’re such good dispersers, and they’re able to deal with humans. This is one of the few species that’s been a winner in the Anthropocene.”

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