photo by Tom Pepe
Thesis shows coyotes living comfortably in local area
By Dan Champagne
Record-Journal staff October 14, 2006
MERIDEN â€” It took Tom Pepe a year and a half to capture his first coyote. Day after day he baited
traps with meat from road kill and played a tape of coyote sounds through a weatherproof speaker near
the trap. When he finally caught one in the spring of 2001, his hands-on research officially began.
Pepe, a 32-year-old Meriden resident, recently finished about eight years of research on the ecology of
coyotes in Connecticut. He wrote a thesis paper for his masterâ€™s degree in wildlife biology from
Southern Connecticut State University and was awarded a fellowship grant for $10,000 to continue his
work â€œThis is just a lot of fun for me,â€� said Pepe, a 1992 Platt High School graduate. â€œI love
being out in the wilderness and doing some research on these fascinating animals that people around here
donâ€™t know too much about. Itâ€™s amazing to watch how they live and survive, and think about if
we as humans would be able to do the same thing.â€�
Pepe, a chemistry, biology and general science teacher at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, began his
research in 1998 by talking to hunters and farm owners about their experiences with coyotes before he set
out to capture them in 2001. He said his fascination with wildlife dates back to his childhood, when he
would visit family in Vermont nearly every weekend and during his summer vacations.
From the spring of 2001 to the spring of 2002, Pepe captured seven coyotes using various trapping
methods and equipped four of them with radio collars, which allowed him to track their movement. He had
permits through the state Department of Environmental Protection to capture the coyotes. He found the
coyotes at places such as the Meriden-Markham Airport, the woods next to Hubbard Park and near
North Farms Reservoir in Wallingford.
His father has his pilotâ€™s license and the pair would take a plane equipped with a tracking device from
Meriden-Markham Airport to survey the coyotesâ€™ movement.
His study area encompassed 1,217.3 square kilometers around Central Connecticut, including Meriden,
Wallingford, Cheshire and Southington.
â€œThese things are everywhere around here,â€� he said. â€œItâ€™s really a great environment for
them here because of the food availability with lots of deer, as well as the terrain they are comfortable with.
Pepe found that coyotes in Central Connecticut typically occupy small territories and said he believed
there are more coyotes per square mile in Connecticut than in northern New England, although he was
unable to guess how many are now living in Connecticut.
â€œHeâ€™s done an awful lot of work on his own, with a focus on their behavior and activities,â€� said
Dwight Smith, Pepeâ€™s advisor and chairman of the biology department at Southern Connecticut State
University. â€œHeâ€™s basically very good at self-starting and has been very good on this coyote
project. I think everyone knew they were here, but nobody knew exactly where they were and what they
Before collaring the coyotes with a tracking device, Pepe anesthetized them and took blood samples to
check their DNA for wolf hybridization and ran tests for heartworm and Lyme Disease. The samples were
run through the East Side Veterinary Clinic in Meriden.
He also learned through his research that a typical litter is about seven pups, although only four usually
survive the first year. The coyotes usually eat rabbits, deer and wild turkeys, but could survive on fruits and
Some of the pups survive that first difficult year by raiding trash cans or eating cats, he said.
â€œTheyâ€™re very common throughout Connecticut because theyâ€™re very adaptable animals,â€�
said Paul Rego, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Environmental Protection. â€œThey use all
types of habitats, from forest to wetlands, and theyâ€™ll eat a variety of foods. Theyâ€™re growing more
adaptable every year.â€�
Pepe hopes his thesis paper will get published and plans to submit it to local universities and the
Department of Environmental Protection. He said he would love to continue researching coyotes and has
helped form a group at his high schoolâ€”the E.O. Smith Wildlife Societyâ€”to help with that research.
Three of the four collared coyotes were still in the area as of late August and he wants students in the
school group to help gather information on them.
â€œI absolutely love doing this and I like to share that with other people,â€� Pepe said. â€œIâ€™d do
this my whole life if people keep letting me.â€�
Facts about coyotes
Some findings from Tom Pepeâ€™s thesis on the ecology of coyotes in Connecticut:
- Coyotes came to the state from Canada because of the abundance of food, including a large deer population.
- Average weight of coyotes in Connecticut is about 35 pounds and could go up to around 60 pounds.
- Average life span of coyotes in Connecticut is 2 to 5 years.
- Average litter is seven pups, although only four typically make it through the first year.
- The DNA makeup of coyotes in Connecticut is 15 to 20 percent gray wolf.
- When a female coyote is pregnant, she and her mate will often build a den in the spring six to eight feet
Tom Pepe at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center, 10/23/07