Coyotes, Business, and Biomimicry

Lessons from coyotes?

With biomimicry, even the scruffy coyote can presume to teach a class in business management! Of course, biomimicry is the study of nature and natural systems, processes, and functions for the purpose of seeking design solutions to human problems. Nature is a biological treasure chest and a ready source of inspiration, ideas, and innovation. More and more, scientists and designers are turning to nature to discover elegant, proven solutions to technical, business, or design problems.

The natural environment, just like the business environment, is constantly changing, imposing certain pressures on the plants and animals that live there. Unique and interesting solutions abound when we study the ways organisms adapt to meet environmental challenges. Case studies become particularly interesting when an environment has experienced a radical change such as a flood, volcanic eruption, or even the impacts of human activities. In times of rapid change, certain organisms have behavioral or physical traits that are favored for success. The organism that can quickly adapt will have the best chance of thriving in the new environment.

Has your business environment undergone some radical changes lately? Are there new competitors? New products on the market that threaten your market share? Have you been downsized? Is a flat economy causing poor sales? In a sense, the coyote has already faced these same pressures and is a proven winner.

To date, about 4,000 species of mammals have been described by science, and the coyote enjoys the largest “market share” of any terrestrial mammal! The coyote is a medium- sized dog that not only survives but thrives in every environment from Canada throughout the United States and all the way to Panama. Think for a moment about the diversity of environments like pine forests, jungles, deserts, and especially urban areas with high human populations. Then, take a moment and imagine how much Southern California has changed in the last 100 years. Yet the coyote has adapted, completely displaced the wolf (its nearest competitor), and thrives. So, how do they successfully conduct their “business” in such varied environments?

Here are some of the “business secrets” of the coyote. It is a medium-sized mammal and so its energy requirements are moderate. It is lean and agile and so can quickly move from one place to another. Coyotes are opportunistic predators and scavengers; they are amazingly versatile in their eating habits, competing with rats, pigs, and man for that title. They are omnivores and will eat just about anything, from vegetation and berries to birds, from rabbits to poodles! Generally, coyotes are most active at night and at twilight times, but it isn’t uncommon to see them active during the day. They keep a flex-schedule! Coyotes are fast and have been clocked at nearly 65 miles per hour (nearly as fast as the South African cheetah). They sometimes hunt in partnership with another coyote in order to exhaust the prey without spending too much of their own energy. They are efficient! Energy conservation is a law of nature and of business. Lose too much energy and you are out of business.

While wolves and coyotes are both members of the canid family, in most of North America, coyotes have totally displaced the wolves. They are clearly better competitors and more adaptive to environmental changes. Additionally, wolves compete with man while coyotes generally don’t. They avoid unnecessary conflicts.

In short, we have just viewed the coyote and business through the lens of biomimicry. Congratulations! You’ve just passed “Business Survival 101” from the Coyote School of Business Management!

Gary Priest is curator of applied behavior at the San Diego Zoo. Read a previous post about biomimicry, Kingfishers and Bullet Trains.

Click here to sign up for Conservation Beat, a monthly e-newsletter featuring the San Diego Zoo’s conservation efforts, including a special section on biomimicry.

5 Responses to Coyotes, Business, and Biomimicry

  1. Please keep writing these biomimicry articles Gary. I never realized there were so many comparisons from the animal/bird/reptile etc. kingdome to what we do. I’m starting to look at things differently now and know I am only able to see maybe 1%, if I am lucky, but I am still willing to learn.

    In the case of the coyotes have you studies them or just taken what you know about them and compared them to business?

  2. Hi Lee – Thanks for your encouraging words. Biomimicry is a really big thought for all of us! The more time we spend thinking about applications to our problems, the more natural solutions we all will come up with, which, of course, is the whole idea!

    While I’ve never had the opportunity to work with coyotes directly, I live in Southern California and see coyotes all the time. I’ve just been fascinated by them and their amazing abilities to adapt to environmental chances. So, with my questions, I did a little research, thought about the parallels between a very successful organism and our changing economy and the impacts on business. From that, some lessons we could take from this species just became obvious to me.

    I’m encouraged that you were encouraged by the story.

  3. Thanks Gary. I will await your next blog.

  4. My favorite story about Coyotes:
    The indians have said coyotes will be the last survivors on Earth. Coyotes would like to live in harmony with man, but if that is not possible, they will miss us.

    Moderator’s note: I love it–thanks for sharing, Mary!

  5. Interesting thoughts. I think the moderate energy requirement is something all businesses should learn from the coyotes.