Coyotes, Opossums, and Rabbits: Nuisances or Not?

An adult opossum in a tree with its babies.


An adult opossum in a tree with it’s babies.

Katie Arnoult, Staff Writer

The coyote, opossum, and wild rabbit are urban wild animals that most people have seen or heard of, but some may still wonder if these creatures are actually nuisances, or if they are misunderstood by humans.  

Contrary to popular belief, coyotes are much more than wild dogs. Larger than foxes, but slightly smaller than wolves, coyotes are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. “Coyotes have adapted to human encroachment to the point where there are [vast] populations of urban coyotes,” states ThoughtCo, a reference site dedicated to answering educational questions. This means that coyotes have been able to adapt to human activity, so the population of coyotes has grown over the years. They can survive in habitats ranging from high mountains to parched deserts.

Coyotes can also live in cities and towns, where cars and buses speed down roads and people go about their day-to-day lives. According to Erin Kellogg, a naturalist at El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach, coyotes are “sly animals.” She explained that since coyotes coexist with humans, there can be fewer coyote predators in urban environments and coyotes can build a larger population. 

As misunderstood animals, there are numerous “urban myths” about coyotes. Kellogg shared a myth that coyotes want to attack pets and people. As with most coyote myths, this is not true. Kellogg added on that coyote attacks are infrequent. The wild dogs have no intention to harm us unless it is necessary. Humans and coyotes peacefully live together, and the more people know about these intriguing animals, the more they can protect them. 

Another misconception is that opossums are no more than ugly “giant rats.” Kellogg divulged that, in her opinion, they are “so cute!” Opossums are marsupials, meaning they carry their babies in pouches similar to kangaroos. Equivalent to the coyote, opossums are also omnivorous. According to the Progressive Animal Welfare Society, “They eat just about everything including fruits, nuts, grains, insects, slugs, snakes, frogs, birds, eggs, shellfish, mice and carrion.” Carrion is something that is already dead. Kellogg continues that opossums like to eat things that humans don’t want, such as rotten fruit or bugs. According to the National Wildlife Federation Blog, opossums “are a benefit to ecosystems and a healthy environment beyond eradicating ticks. They will catch and eat cockroaches, rats, and mice- in addition to consuming dead animals (also known as carrion).”

Furthermore, when threatened, opossums use a unique trick by playing dead to avoid predators. No, they don’t actually die. The maneuver is designed to make predators lose interest in attacking the opossum because it shuts off the predator’s instincts. Opossums can be a human’s neighbor and helping hand by catching the things unwelcome in houses or backyards. 

In addition, when one sees a wild rabbit, they might say, “Oh! Look at that cute bunny!” The fascinating thing is, there is no such thing! Kellogg reveals that, scientifically, there is no such thing as a bunny. She explains that people generally use the term “bunny” or “bunnies” as an alternative to “rabbit,” because of how cute the animal can be. 

There are various species of wild rabbits, such as the cottontail rabbit, but they all have similar features and adaptations. Wild rabbits have long ears, which Kellogg shares can be used to release heat from the body. Rabbits have long legs for running fast to escape predators. If a wild rabbit doesn’t run away, they will freeze in place to blend in with their surroundings. Kellogg explains that a rabbit’s fur is very much colored like the ground. This is called camouflage, and it is a strategy that animals use to escape predators. Because wild rabbits are prey to many animals, including coyotes, owls and hawks, they have evolved to have many defensive characteristics and features. 

Wild rabbits like to eat vegetables and flowers, such as the kinds people grow in gardens. This is why rabbits are seen as a nuisance, but people have invented ways to keep them out of  gardens in a manner that is safe for the animals. 

Wild rabbits are seen regularly, especially in urban areas with parks. According to Kellogg, rabbits, and coyotes, are “crepuscular,” meaning that they come out at dawn and dusk, unlike the mostly nocturnal opossum, who comes out at night. She commented that rabbits are frequent at El Dorado Nature Center, where she works. 

Wild rabbits, coyotes, and opossums have struck the hearts of many who want to protect and learn more about them. However, the debate still remains whether these animals are truly nuisances….or not.