Two pairs of coyotes have found Long Island homes where they can raise pups, around a decade after the first pioneers arrived from elsewhere in the metropolitan area.
Long Islanders appear unfazed — and biologists hope they remain so — advising precautions such as sealing garbage bins and never feeding the coyotes, as well as keeping small dogs on leashes and cats inside.
One coyote couple now lives in a Nassau municipal park; the other lives on a northwest Nassau estate. The precise locations of their dens are not being revealed to protect them.
At the park, "the few times I've been there I've always run into people and there have never been any incidents," said Mike Bottini, a wildlife biologist with Seatuck, an Islip-based nonprofit that aims to preserve wildlife and the environment.
When he asks joggers and other visitors if they know coyotes are nearby, the typical response is: "Oh yeah, I saw them earlier this week," he said.
Judging by the photographs, these coyotes could easily be mistaken for dogs, were it not for a few telltale signs. Look for that black tip on the tail — and the dark scent gland where the tail joins the hindquarters, Bottini said.
There is another revealing giveaway: the tail hangs straight down. Unless a coyote is jumping over a fence, for example, that tail does not curl up, let alone wag.
The coyotes seen in the Eastern United States tend to be larger than their Western counterparts: around 35 to 60 pounds, versus 20 to 40 pounds in the West. The Eastern coyote is thought to have made its way to the East Coast by way of Canada, just north of the Great Lakes, where it might have mated with the gray wolf. Gray wolves can weigh as much as 175 pounds, Bottini said.
On the North and South forks, golfers and farmers for the past several years have grown accustomed to seeing the very few coyotes that somehow made it out East, possibly by swimming from islands in the Long Island Sound, experts say.
One even seems to have popped up at Robert Moses State Park in Babylon about 10 months ago.
Scientists are not sure exactly when the first coyotes arrived on Long Island; it might have been as far back as 2005.
Their arrival was inevitable, scientists say, because Long Island settlers killed off their rivals as long as a couple centuries ago: gray wolves, black bears and bobcats.
And coyotes are exceedingly adaptable, as well.
They thrive in the wild — there are as many as 30,000 upstate, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has estimated — and in big cities from Chicago to Washington, D.C.
They have proved they can live undetected and rather peaceably in urban and suburban areas, provided people are alert.
Anyone who encounters a coyote that gets too close should stand tall, shout and if necessary, throw objects in their direction. That kind of hazing should help coyotes learn to avoid people, scientists say.
"There were a number of incidents involving coyote bites in Westchester County in 2018, but DEC has not received any reports of coyotes biting humans in 2019 or 2020," DEC spokesman Jomo Miller said by email, though police do not always inform the agency of attacks. At least one child was bitten in 2018 in Westchester.
Coyotes eat everything from fruit to insects to small animals, from rats to rabbits to squirrels. And coyotes may keep the populations of other prey, such as red foxes and raccoons, from spiking and then crashing. Density allows diseases, such as the painful mange now afflicting red foxes, to spread more easily.
One of the mysteries of the Nassau coyotes may be solved as soon as this spring: their origin.
That is when Anthony Caragiulo, assistant director of genomic operations at the American Museum of Natural History, hopes a DNA analysis of waste will reveal whether these pairs are part of families that came from the Bronx or Westchester.
Having two pairs of coyotes possibly already raising their young could help the species settle in.
"The significance of two breeding pairs is this dramatically increases the potential for successful young, which in turn provides greater potential for great coyote numbers and more genetic diversity for LI coyotes moving forward," he said by email, as it means the pups possibly can mate with their peers from the other den.