Although the coyote's scientific name, Canis latrans, means "barking dog" in Latin, the indigenous people of California had another name for these scrappy opportunists: Trickster. The coyote is the traditional symbol for the Trickster character found in many Native American myths. And the versatile coyote is just as clever as the name suggests.

Coyotes have thrived in the face of human encroachment on their territories because of their ability to adapt not only their diets but also their breeding habits and social temperaments to the environment they find themselves in. Their numbers have flourished not only in the high mountains and low deserts of the West, their original habitat, but also suburban and urban communities in every state in the contiguous U.S. and almost every major city (according to one estimate, the greater Chicago area is home to 2,000 coyotes). They are fine with eating your trash, your dog's food and even, sometimes, your dog. If they have chosen a more rural lifestyle, they enjoy fruits, insects and a wide assortment of small critters. Whatever the area has to offer, coyotes are pretty OK with eating it.

Coyotes are generally as big as a medium-sized collie. (Desert coyotes are the exception, weighing about 20 pounds, or half as much as their mountain kin.) They can be reddish-brown to yellowish grey, with tufts of white sprouting from their underbellies. One might find it hard to distinguish a coyote from a wolf from a distance, though coyotes have a very pointy snout, whereas a wolf snout is more boxy and squarish. Coyote ears are also pointed, whereas a wolf's are rounded.

Coyotes hunt in pairs and run in packs of a half-dozen or so adults, often formed around mating pairs and their daughters. Females bear litters of 6-19 pups; mother and father co-parent by regurgitating food for the young. You’re likely to hear packs calling in the evening when you’re out camping: a high, quavering chorus-like howl going higher and higher that gives you goose bumps, then erupts into short, staccato "yips" that either sound playful or harrowing, depending on your outlook. You may as well put a log on the fire, kick back your feet, and enjoy the moon serenade of the coyote, because this survivor isn’t going anywhere soon.

—Aaron Carnes