Even more eyebrow-raising: "There are coyotes in York County?"
True on both counts.
In fact, the canine critters are so abundant, hunters manage to kill more than 20,000 of the animals each year throughout Pennsylvania. While the Game Commission is hesitant to give an official estimate of their total population, you can bet it's a figure several times the annual harvest. The Commission will tell you, however, that coyotes have a presence -- either inhabiting or passing through -- in every municipality in the state.
That means they are all around us. You may have been lucky enough to see one. Or, if you live in the rural parts of the county, you've probably heard their "singing" as the moon crawls across the nighttime horizon.
The region has a bit of a fascination with coyotes. Most deer hunters despise them. Farmers want them pushed back to their native lands. And most others mistake a suburban 'yote for their neighbor's German Shepard.
As a strong predator, a hungry coyote has no problem taking a young or otherwise weak deer. That's why deer hunters are not fond of their population boom. They fear the more coyotes we have, the less deer they'll see.
As for farmers, it's no wonder they aren't happy when the bushy-tailed hunters are on or near their property. The first animal to suspect when a sheep or a few chickens disappear is -- you guessed it -- a coyote.
It's no wonder so many of us mistake a coyote for a neighborhood dog. Averaging about 45 pounds
or so, they fit the description, and their ultra-sly manner rarely lets us get a good look at their key identifying feature -- their tail. Most dogs run with their tails in the air. Not coyotes. Their tail stays down.
In fact, many folks believe the area's coyotes have been breeding with domesticated dogs, which is what has made them so adaptable to a world of urban sprawl. But a recent test of nearly 700 coyotes proves that isn't true.
Just one out of 696 samples showed any evidence of being related to a domestic dog species. Instead, the research showed conclusive evidence that our region's coyotes are hybridized with eastern wolves, hence their larger-than-typical size.
Interestingly, it's because of those wolves that coyotes inhabit the region. When settlers first arrived in the area, wolves were the dominant predator, but Europeans quickly put an end to that, pushing them north and west.
With wolves out of the way, coyotes moved down from Great Lakes region and took over the area. The first populations were not reported in Pennsylvania until the late 1940s.
Now, they're all over the place. Next time you see what you think is a dog jaunting across an open field, take a real close look. You may be surprised. Coyotes are all around us. It's true.
-- Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. Read his blog, "The Outdoors Insid er," at the Blogzone at york dispatch.com. He can be reached at sports@yorkdis patch.com.