INDIALANTIC, Fla. – More than 5,000 people statewide have contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation to report coyote sightings over the past four years, including complaints of pets being killed by coyotes.
The number of reports in Central Florida has grown each of those years, state records indicate.
With the assistance of Esri, a location intelligence company, News 6 created this interactive map showing where coyote sightings and complaints have occurred throughout Central Florida.
One hotspot for coyote activity is around Indialantic, where more than 30 reports have been made to FWC.
[Zoom in and click on the icons below to see coyote sightings reported across all 10 Central Florida counties.]
When Gillian Dionne moved to the beachside community in Brevard County about three years ago, she didn't realize the mile-wide strip of land between the Indian River and the Atlantic Ocean was home to numerous coyotes.
“You won’t know coyotes are around at first until pets start disappearing,” Dionne said.
In 2018, one of Dionne's cats was killed by a coyote.
On that same night, a home security camera captured another one of her cats being chased off by a coyote.
“My cat is on a chair, facing the camera, looking around as if knowing something is going on,” said Dionne. “Suddenly a coyote comes walking up my front steps and attacks the cat. And the cat jumps off the chair and they both disappear.”
That feline, named Geo, managed to escape. But Dana Meredith’s cat Smudgee was not so fortunate.
“In the last three, three-and-half years (coyote activity) really got heavy,” said Meredith, who lives in nearby Satellite Beach. “We’ve noticed a big spike in ‘Have you seen my cat?’ posters everywhere.”
Coyotes began appearing in Florida in small numbers sometime in the late 1960s, according to Dr. Martin Main, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida.
“Coyotes have spread across North America, and this is due to a lot of reasons (including) changing landscapes due to agricultural practices and the removal of wolves from many areas, which really kept coyotes in check,” Main said.
Although coyotes are not native to Florida, Main said they arrived here naturally through range expansion.
“The coyote’s range has expanded from the southwest (U.S.) up into Alaska, over to Newfoundland, down to Panama and into Florida,” Main said.
In the mid-1990s, Main organized a statewide survey of coyotes.
“By the end of the seventh year, when we terminated the study, every single place that we monitored had evidence of coyotes being there,” Main said, who discovered coyotes had spread as far south as Key Largo. “That wasn’t the case in the beginning of our study.”
Carol Carpenter has lived in Ormond-by-the-Sea since 1995 but did not see any coyotes in that part of Volusia County until about two years ago.
“I lost approximately six cats to coyotes,” Carpenter said. “I heard a rustle through my backyard. I came out and saw three of them running through the neighborhood.”
Unlike some predators like bears and wolves, coyotes are highly adaptable and can live in proximity with people, including in dense urban areas.
“There are coyotes all over Chicago and people don’t even realize it,” said Main, whose colleague has placed radio collars on more than 100 coyotes around that city. “The come out at night and hunt in the alleys. They den in the parks. They sleep under cars.”
Coyotes, which have no significant predators in Florida, typically feed on mice, rabbits, large insects and berries.
"If you have chicken wings in your garbage, there's a good chance they'll eat that, too," said Main. "Coyotes can eat just about anything, and that's partly one of the reasons for their success."
Another one of the coyote's favorite meals: small pets.
Some residents of Orlando’s College Park neighborhood have put signs in their yards warning pet owners to be aware of recent coyote activity.
Even though coyotes have been known to chase small children, Main said attacks on humans are extremely rare.
"There are typically several dozen mortalities every year from domestic dogs," Main told News 6. "Mortalities from coyotes historically has been just a couple. And those are typically animals that have been fed."
Although Main discourages Floridians from contacting FWC if they simply see a coyote in their neighborhoods, he said the state agency can offer advice if a coyote appears to be a problem, such as hanging out near a playground.
When a trapper captures a coyote, the animal is usually euthanized and not relocated.
“Coyotes have a very interesting social system,” Main said.“A dominant pair will stake out a territory and try to keep other coyotes out of that territory. Every time you kill a coyote, you change the whole dynamic of territoriality. And you might actually end up with higher densities of coyotes than before you removed a coyote.”
Since coyotes cannot be easily eradicated from an area, Main believes Floridians must adapt to the animals living nearby.
“I think its sort of like seeing an alligator in a lake. We get used to that idea and we learn how to live with those animals. And that’s what we need to do with coyotes as well,” he said.