wolf vs coyote

Wolf vs. Coyote: Similarities And Differences Explained

The canine species share a large taxonomic family known as the Canidae. A gray wolf, coyote, gray fox, and the dog family are part of the genus Canis. However, the coyote population is a different species from wolves. Learn their similarities and differences in this wolf vs. coyote post.

This article explores two species of wolves, the gray wolf or Canis Lupus1 and the red wolf or Canis Rufus2. We'll also discuss their relative, the coyote, which has the scientific name of Canis Latrans3

Related Read: Wolf Facts.

What are the differences in characteristics between wolves and coyotes? 

wolf vs coyote head closeup
Wolf, Photo by M. Zonderling on Unsplash. Coyote, Photo by Joshua Tree National Park on Flickr (Public Domain)

Coyote vs. Wolf: Facial & Body Structure 

Wolves and coyotes have different facial structures. Gray wolves look like German shepherd domestic dogs. Wolves have a larger skull structure, a broad forehead, and stronger jaws. They have a broad face, while a coyote's face is slender. 

Coyotes have a smaller nose pad when compared to wolves. Research shows it is 1 inch smaller than that of a wolf. However, wolves' nose pads are darker. 

Moreover, coyotes have a longer snout than wolves. Wolves tend to have a blocky shape, while coyotes tend to have a longer, pointy snout. Coyote ears are longer and pointed ears as opposed to the rounded ears of red and gray wolves.

There are also differences in their dental structure. The tips of a coyote's upper canine teeth extend below the anterior mental foramina when closed or open. The anterior mental foramina refers to the area below the jaw and the muscle that helps move the lower lip. 

Wolves have a heavier body structure, while coyotes are more slender. This difference in body structure allows coyotes to be faster than wolves and also maintain their speed over a longer period. 

Also, wolves have longer legs than several other canine species. Their longer legs give them more speed than other animals. They also have a larger hind footpad than coyotes. Finally, coyotes have more fur on their tails. Wolves have a furry tail, but it is not as long as a coyote's tail. 

Coyote vs. Wolf: Size & Weight 

wolf vs coyote full body running
Wolf, Photo by Jim Clark from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Public Domain). Coyote, Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Southwest Region (Public Domain)

There are major differences in the weight and size of adult wolves and adult coyotes. Male gray wolves are the largest members of the canid species. Male gray wolves weigh 66.14 lbs to 143.3 lbs, while female gray wolves weigh 59.5 lbs to 99.21 lbs. Their length, from the tip of their nose, ranges from 2.95 feet to 6 feet.

Coyotes are smaller than wolves. A male coyote weighs between 17.64 lbs and 44.09 lbs, while a female coyote weighs between 17.03 lbs and 26.52 lbs. Even the largest coyote ever recorded in history doesn't meet up with the size of a gray wolf. The largest coyote ever recorded weighed 74.8 lbs. Coyotes' total length ranges from 3.28 feet to 4.43 feet. 

The size of red wolves, another main species of wolves, is between gray wolves and coyotes. A red wolf is slightly larger than a coyote but not as big as a gray wolf. Red wolves can grow to a maximum length of 5.42 feet and weigh between 46 to 90 lbs. Female red wolves weigh between 35 to 64 lbs.

If you wonder, "Can a coyote kill a wolf?" Then, the size difference clearly shows it is highly improbable.

Coyote vs. Wolf: Habitat 

The wolf and coyote are separate species occupying different regions worldwide. Wolves are highly adaptable animals that live in various areas, including arctic regions. You will find them in Alaska, Canada, northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin, northern Idaho, northeast Oregon, and the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. 

Wolves can survive in almost all kinds of environments, like grasslands, forests, and deserts. However, wolves don't enjoy living in tropical forests. 

Coyotes are also very adaptable. They can live in all habitats, even in urban environments. They can live in urban environments because they can tolerate human activities.

However, coyotes prefer to live away from the areas wolves live in. Coyotes live in North and Central America. You'll find them specifically in the continental United States and Canada.

Coyote vs. Wolf: Vocalizations & Communication 

gray wolf closeup
Wolf. Photo by Gary Kramer from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Public Domain)

Another way to distinguish between a coyote and a wolf is their communication style. Red wolves have smooth but drawn-out howls that end on a slightly higher pitch. Also, they have a wide range of calls that sound just like the coyotes. 

A special report by Vernon Bailey to the U.S. Biological Survey states that a red wolf's voice is a deeper version of a coyote's "yap‌" and howl.

All species of the gray wolf, including the Mexican gray wolf and eastern wolves, use a series of visual, olfactory, and auditory signals to communicate. 

Wolves' vocalization includes a series of howls, growls, and barks. They have different howls that other wolves that are almost 7 miles away can hear. The howl we are all familiar with is called the lonesome howl. The lonesome howls are short, high-pitched howls made by a wolf separated from its pack.

Coyotes use visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile signals to communicate with each other. They have three distinct calls: squeaks, howl calls, and distress calls. Also, coyotes communicate with a lot of visual signals, like postures, gestures, and facial expressions. They even have a more elaborate visual communication system than most solitary canine animals.

Coyote vs. Wolf: Diet 

coyote profile
Coyote, Photo by Jay Iwasaki on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Both coyotes and wolves are meat eaters, but the type of meat they consume varies. Their method of acquiring food also differs. Wolves hunt, while coyotes are opportunistic hunters. Also, wolves hunt in packs, unlike coyotes. Coyotes are mostly lone hunters, but they sometimes hunt in groups. 

Gray wolves tend to hunt larger animals, bigger than their own size. A pack of gray wolves attacks animals in two groups: large animals weighing 529 to 1433 lbs and medium-sized animals weighing 50 to 286 lbs. They feed on larger prey like deer, elk, bison, caribou, and moose. Sometimes, they feed on smaller animals like beavers, rodents, and rabbits.

A coyote kills almost all animals for consumption, but its diet mostly contains small mammals. They eat rodents, birds, rabbits, hares, elk, moose, and deer. They also feed on lizards, snakes, fish, crustaceans, turtles, tortoises, amphibians, and insects. Coyotes eat small prey like insects, ground squirrels, voles, and kangaroo rats.

Although coyotes prefer to eat fresh meat, they mostly consume carrions. Besides eating animals, coyotes eat fruits and plants, like strawberries, sarsaparilla, leaves of balsam fir, and white cedar. Plant-based meal makes up about 10% of their diet. 

Wildlife biologists examined coyote scat and found berries, carrots, watermelons, pears, peaches, apples, and cantaloupes.

Wolves eat a lot more than coyotes do. A coyote eats about 1.5 lbs of food daily, while a wolf consumes at least 3.7 lbs. 

There are few records of red wolves preying on large animals. They mostly consume smaller animals like rodents and rabbits. Research shows that a red wolf's prey is between that of a gray wolf and a coyote.   

Coyote vs. Wolf: Social structure

Wolves are more social than their canine counterpart, coyotes. Coyotes are less social, so seeing them in a pack is less frequent. They only form a group when they want to hunt enormous animals or for reproduction and companionship. 

From observation, wildlife scientists discovered that coyotes only have a single social structure: family. Young coyotes that are 25 to 35 days old form dominant bonds with each other by having severe fights. The most dominant member of the group has less interaction with the litter mates. It also has the highest chance of leaving the group more than other coyotes. 

Dominant adult coyotes and pups have combative exchanges. They approach each other with tails at a 45° angle, stiff-legged gait, snarling, and teeth exposed. To show submission, they run away or fight head-on. Sometimes, they show passive or active submission.

Active submission requires a coyote to approach the dominant one in a low-crouch walk, with its tail tucked between its legs. In contrast, passive submission involves the submissive coyote rolling on its back, flattened ears, and a submissive grin. 

Wolves have family groups that contain at least 5 or 8 wolves. A wolf pack can contain 36 wolves. A pack usually contains the dominant pair who mates together and their young pups. The dominant couple starts an activity, takes control, and guides movement, especially during hunting sessions. 

Other wolves in the pack often have hierarchies, often reinforced by aggressiveness and displays of submission. The pack can maintain a leader over a long period but can disperse because of reduced food supplies. Groups of red wolves often come together to exchange greetings and then break off to form family groups. 

Wolf vs. Coyote: Reproduction   

coyote in flower field
Photo by James Perdue on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Adult coyotes court for 2 to 3 months before mating. Female coyotes go on heat once a year, so mating occurs during the three-month courtship period. These months usually fall in late January to late March. The gestation period lasts for 60 to 63, then they birth 1 to 19 coyote pups. Coyotes reach sexual maturity a year after their birth.  

Meanwhile, wolves' mating period falls between January to April. Their courtship lasts for days or extends into months. The gestational period lasts for 62 to 63 days. A wolf's litter usually contains an average of 6 wolf pups. Young wolves reach maturity when they are two years old and breed when they are three years old. 

Coyote vs. Wolf: Scat 

Wolf scat has a dark brown to brownish-gray color. The darkness in a wolf's poop shows high meat consumption rates. The poop length is often between 7 inches to 10 inches, with a diameter ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 inches. 

A coyote's scat is smaller and narrower than a wolf's. The color is between dark black and gray. Also, you can differentiate between a wolf and a coyote's scat by the hair tapered on the fringes of a wolf's poop. 

Coyote vs. Wolf: Tracks  

Tracks refer to the animal paw prints. Coyotes and wolves have different paw prints. Coyote tracks are bigger than domestic dogs but smaller than wolf tracks. A coyote track measures 3 in by 2 in. The average length of a coyote's stride is 1.36 feet, while a wolf's stride is 2.16 feet. 

Coyote vs. Wolf: Lifespan  

wolf and coyote
Wolf, Photo by Federico Di Dio Photography on Unsplash. Coyote, Photo by USFWS Pacific Southwest Region on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The gray wolf can live up to 8 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity. Coyotes can live up to 10 years in the wild and up to 18 years in captivity. Red wolves have a lifespan of 7 to 8 years in their natural habitats and 15 years in human care.

Conclusion  

It is often difficult to differentiate between wolves and coyotes because of how similar they look, especially when you observe these two animals from a distance. Luckily for the environment, most coyotes and wolves are not endangered species. However, it's best to identify their differences to protect yourself whenever you are in the wild.

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1

Paquet, P. C., & Carbyn, L. N. (2003). Gray wolf. Wild mammals of North America: biology, management, and conservation, 482-510.

2

Paradiso, J. L., & Nowak, R. M. (1972, November 29). Canis Rufus. Mammalian Species.

3

Bekoff, M. (1977, June 15). Canis Latrans. Mammalian Species.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Wolf, Photo by M. Zonderling on Unsplash. Coyote, Photo by Joshua Tree National Park on Flickr (Public Domain).
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