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Naturalist Center Debuts New Resident

May 7, 2014

Showcased on the second floor of the Nature Research Center sits the Naturalist Center, which houses a small sample of the Museum’s vast research collection of over 3 million specimens.  While the research collection is only available to scientists, the Naturalist Center is open to the public so you can browse through the collection of over 1,000 non-living specimens including birds, mammals, reptiles, and much more. Walking past the room, I noticed a new mount located in the back of the center, so I popped in and spoke with Cindy Lincoln, Coordinator of the Naturalist Center. Cindy explained that they had acquired a new coyote mount. The Naturalist Center is always updating the collection to provide specimens  that visitors and students can view to learn more about current research and local wildlife.

According to the NC Wildlife Commission, the coyote is native only in North America and, of all wild canine species, the coyote has the widest range in this country. The coyote is arguably the hardiest and most adaptable species on this continent. Coyotes in North Carolina look similar to red wolves, but coyotes are smaller, have pointed and erect ears, and long slender snouts. The tail is long, bushy and black-tipped and is usually carried pointing down. The coyote is classified as a carnivore, but it is an opportunistic feeder, meaning it will feed on a variety of food sources, depending on what is most readily available and easy to obtain. Cindy remarked that visitors frequently have questions about coyotes, ask for identification, and inquire about their relationship to wolves.

Coyote Mount

Coyote mounted in the Naturalist Center.


Situated across from the Naturalist Center is the Biodiversity Lab.  The scientists in the lab study plants, animals and microbes to learn more about the array of organisms that inhabit our planet. Lab Director Dr. Roland Kays studies the coyote’s evolution and ecology. Kays’ research has shown that coyotes are new immigrants to the area, and that they hybridized with wolves before they moved east, which helped them rapidly evolve larger skulls, and that may help them be more efficient deer hunters. Another study, focusing on genetics, showed that modern Eastern coyotes are actually a well mixed collection of genes from Western coyotes (84%), wolves (8%), as well as domestic dogs (8%).

By studying coyotes researchers can begin to understand how other mid-sized predators respond when larger carnivores are wiped out of a specific habitat. Kays and other scientists use several different research methods, including camera traps and GPS collars to track their movements and capture their behaviors. By providing specimens and real-time research in one space, the Museum strives to help visitors make connections between the furry dog-like creatures they may see in their backyard and the science behind why they are there.

For more information on coyotes visit:


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