The howl of the wild grows louder in Maryland as coyotes -- nocturnal predators that were once restricted to the West -- move into the state's rural outposts from neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Their population is unknown, but the number of coyote sightings and carcasses reported to state officials grows each year, said Peter Jayne, supervisor of the upland game and furbearer program of the state Department of Natural Resources.
"The list of sightings goes on for six pages," Mr. Jayne said. "Some of them are accurate. Some probably aren't. We have no idea on the population. There are probably dozens of animals that are residents."
The areas where coyotes have been most active are along the Susquehanna River in Cecil and Harford counties; along the Monocacy River in Frederick County; and Dans Mountain in Allegany County, he said. Coyotes are believed to inhabit all of the Maryland counties that border Pennsylvania.
The animals range in color and size. When fully grown, the vTC typical eastern coyote weighs 30 to 35 pounds. Its pelt color is brown mixed with highlights of rust and black. The ears are large and pointed; the snout is long and narrow.
Although coyotes have become increasingly visible to residents, they pose no danger to humans, Mr. Jayne said.
But as their population grows, coyotes will pose threats to some wildlife and domestic and farm animals, Mr. Jayne said. Maryland has no laws protecting coyotes and has made no efforts to control their growth, he said.
"They have been known to kill livestock," Mr. Jayne said. "They eat sheep. Maryland is not a big sheep-producing state. Our stance now is that it could be a localized problem. But we don't expect major industry problems."
Taking a wait-and-see attitude is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Damage Control office in Annapolis.
Les Terry, state director, said there are no records of coyotes killing livestock in Maryland. But Mr. Terry said he expects problems as the state's coyote population grows.
"In other areas where the population has grown -- in Virginia and West Virginia -- coyotes have killed newborn lambs or young lambs," he said. "They're capable of eating young calves, too."
Their two preferred foods, Mr. Jayne said, are groundhogs and house cats.
"They are extremely bold at taking house cats," he said. "There are cases in Maryland where they have literally come on porches to take house cats and small dogs."
One of those cases is that of Royd R. Smith, a former state lawmaker who leases portions of his 130-acre farm east of Frederick, near the Monocacy River, for farming. Last fall, coyotes swiped kittens from his porch and killed several geese.
"We were shocked," Mr. Smith said. "We couldn't believe they were that brazen to come up on the porch and get the kittens. They have all kinds of nerve. They're sly as the dickens."
Mr. Smith, who rises early, said he eventually killed three coyotes one morning while making the rounds of his farm.
"You could hear them howling late at night and early in the morning," he said. "They seem to be nocturnal. I used to see them along the fence rows early in the morning. I think I've scared them away from here."
Of greater concern, Mr. Jayne said, is the coyote's impact on the state's red fox population. Traditionally, coyotes and red foxes have not existed together. As the coyote population grows, Mr. Jayne said, the red fox is almost certain to move out.
"Red foxes are an important resource in Maryland because there are a number of user groups, such as fox chasers, who use them," he said. "They will be sorely missed."
Coyotes also are known to eat deer, which Mr. Jayne said could be beneficial in controlling Maryland's growing deer population.
At the turn of the century, coyotes were restricted to west of the Mississippi River. Now they occupy all Eastern states except Delaware and all the Canadian provinces. Maryland is one of the last states to see coyotes move in, he said.
"It's important to recognize that coyotes are not indigenous to Maryland," he said. "It's a new animal moving in. It's not a wild turkey we're restoring in Maryland. It's coming in on its own."
Mr. Jayne said the best theory for the migration here is the extinction in the East of the wolf, another animal with which the coyote does not co-exist.
"The last wolves were killed around the turn of the century, and that's when we saw coyotes moving eastward," he said. "But it could be coincidental."
The first coyote recovered in the state was in Montgomery County in 1921. State officials believe the animal was released here. The next one was found in Cecil County in 1961. It is believed the coyote migrated into the state.
In recent years, coyotes have migrated into Maryland from Pennsylvania, which first began seeing the animals in the 1930s, and to a lesser extent from Virginia, Mr. Jayne said.
Although Mr. Jayne finds the coyote fascinating, he has mixed emotions about its presence in Maryland.