U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (2022) 76: 141. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-022-03251-0


© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2022


Early-life experience often shapes behaviors like innovation and exploration. These behaviors are important to animals encountering novel food resources in diverse habitats, such as mesocarnivores in urban areas. To understand if early-life experiences impact later-life behavior, we examined how coyotes (Canis latrans) responded to a multi-access puzzle box at two life stages: pup (~ 7 weeks) and dispersal (~ 10 months). We first exposed pups, still living with their parents and littermates, to a baited puzzle box. At dispersal age, we again tested both these pups and an age-matched control group that was not exposed to the puzzle box as pups, both as individuals and with their pair-mate. We quantified problem-solving capability, latency to approach, and time spent in proximity to the puzzle box. Most pup litters solved two of the three access points, but no dispersal-age coyotes solved any access point. The amount of time dispersal-age coyotes spent near the box during pair-testing increased with (1) more time spent near the box during single-testing, (2) more time their pair-mate spent near the box during pair-testing, and (3) if their pair-mate came from a litter that previously solved the box. These results suggest that early-life experience and social interactions influence exploratory behavior at dispersal age, but coyotes exhibit increased avoidance behavior at this life stage, which corresponds with the life stage that overall survivorship decreases. Our study provides insight into how early-life experiences shape adult behavior in mesocarnivores.