Wildlife frequently gathers around my house, and I often hear the sounds of both coyotes and wolves. Although both are members of the Canidae family, there are several differences between them. These include not only their appearance but also their behaviors and characteristics.
Coyotes are smaller than wolves, with a darker coat and a pointed muzzle. Coyotes make high-pitched howls, barks, and yelps, while wolves have a lower howl, whine, and bark. Coyotes can be seen in urban areas, whereas wolves usually stay away from humans.
There are many differences between coyotes and wolves. Please read on so you can tell the difference next time you see one.
|Tan, brown, gray, |
black (relatively common)
|Tan, brown, gray, white (very rare),|
black (very rare)
|26 – 38” tall||23 – 26” tall|
|40 – 175 lbs.||20 – 40 lbs.|
|Squared muzzle||Pointed muzzle|
|Rounded, relatively short ears||Pointed, rather long ears|
|Very long legged||Legs of normal length|
|Huge feet||Normal size|
Size and Weight
Coyotes are significantly smaller than wolves. While coyotes have an average weight of 25 to 45 pounds, gray wolves range from 50 to 100 pounds. Red wolves are equally large, with a weight of up to 100 pounds. In addition to their weight, coyotes tend to be more nimble compared to wolves. They have a more streamlined body than wolves.
A difference in these species can be identified from the color of their coat. Coyote fur tends to be brown and pale yellow, while gray wolves feature pale grey fur and dark skin. Most gray wolves have dark gray to black hair.
Red wolves have reddish-brown fur with intricate hues. Their bodies also have several yellow and white patches, especially on their limbs, faces, and chests.
Coyote Snout: Coyotes typically have a more slender and narrow snout compared to wolves. Their snouts are adapted for a more omnivorous diet, which includes a variety of foods such as small mammals, insects, fruits, and vegetation. Coyotes have a relatively elongated snout that aids in capturing smaller prey and accessing various food sources. The snout of a coyote can give it a fox-like appearance.
Wolf Snout: Wolves generally have broader and more robust snouts compared to coyotes. Their snouts are designed to handle a carnivorous diet, which primarily consists of larger prey like ungulates (hoofed animals) such as deer and elk. The broader snout provides a larger surface area for the attachment of powerful jaw muscles, allowing them to exert greater force when hunting and consuming larger animals.
Coyotes have adapted to live in forests, urban environments, suburbs, and lush meadows, despite being native to the prairies.
Coyotes have also adapted themselves to be comfortable around people because they are likely to find a constant food source.
Wolves are not usually seen around people, preferring to stay out of their way. Red wolves reside in forests, marshy areas, and lowlands near water. Unlike coyotes, wolves prefer living in more open spaces.
The environments that wolves and coyotes live in are also different. Gray wolves tend to be more restricted in where they can live compared to coyotes. They live along woodlands and remote tundra.
Difference In The Range of Coyotes and Wolves
Wolves and coyotes vary in terms of range. Coyotes are able to adapt to a wide range of environments, including urban and rural areas.
Although native to the western US, coyotes have almost successfully covered North America’s entire continent. This range also includes significant portions of Canada and Alaska. Some species of coyotes have also stretched along Mexico and down to Central America, being found as far as Panama.
While wolves historically ranged throughout North America’s top parts, they are now only found in some northern states of the US, the famous Yellowstone National Park, and parts of Canada.
As predators, wolves and coyotes compete for similar habitats and foods. The range of coyotes has expanded primarily due to the decrease in the overall population of wolves.
Where there are plenty of wolves, there are often less coyotes. When a new set of wolves were introduced in Yellowstone National Park, the coyote population saw a drastic decline.
Differences In Diet
There are many differences in the diets of wolves and coyotes. As coyotes inhabit areas with human settlements, they are more adaptable to food.
Coyotes are carnivores and eat meat. However, unlike wolves, they often survive on smaller animals. Most coyotes eat a meal of rabbits, mice, rats, and other small mammals. Because they have back molars with a large chewing surface, coyotes also eat fruit, insects, and grass.
Unlike coyotes, who survive on both meat and vegetation, wolves only eat meat. Gray wolves survive on massive, hooved mammals like elk, buffalos, deer, and moose. They will also eat beaver, hare, and other small mammals and birds for food.
Wolves are also known to prey on domesticated livestock and feed on carrion when a new meat source is no longer available.
Do Coyotes And Wolves Sound Alike?
The howls of coyotes and wolves are very different. Coyotes make high-pitched howls, barks, and yelps, similar to the sound of a playful pack of terriers. Their cries range from short, mid-pitched tones to higher-pitched barks that often sound like a scream or a high-pitched human laugh.
Coyotes also bark a lot. These howls and barks are an aspect of their pack behavior. A higher-pitched howl indicates that the entire pack is together.
Wolves sound different to coyotes. Wolves whine and growl, and can also be heard barking, similar to an anxious dog. These sounds can also resemble the sound of a dog begging for something.
The whines of wolves can be playful, anticipatory, or intimate. A high-pitched whine can suggest that the wolf is preparing for an impending attack. These high-pitched whines are usually combined with shorter howls.
Every sound made by the wolf is distinctly different from coyotes. While coyotes have higher pitches, the howls of wolves are usually lower-pitched.
A wolf howling is long, low, and filled with harmonics, and one male can pass through a whole octave.
Wolves can also be heard whimpering softly. This sound is used to greet other wolves and can also be heard when submitting to an alpha wolf.
Wolves do not yelp like coyotes. They also won’t continue barking, unlike the coyote. If they cannot relay their message with a few barks, they will either attack or retreat without making any other sound.
How To Tell The Difference Between Coyote And Wolf Tracks
- Coyote tracks typically consist of four toe pads and a triangular-shaped heel pad at the back.
- The tracks are usually more elongated than those of domestic dogs due to the coyote’s narrower and more streamlined foot structure.
- The size of coyote tracks can vary, but they’re generally around 2.5 to 3.5 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide.
- The toes on a coyote track are usually oval in shape and relatively compact. The inner toes (digits 2, 3, and 4) are aligned close together, while the outer toe (digit 1, the dewclaw) is set higher up and slightly behind the others.
- The arrangement of the toes can resemble the shape of an “X,” with the two inner toes forming the upper part of the “X” and the outer toe positioned at the bottom.
- The heel pad is located behind the toe pads and is larger and more pronounced than those of many domestic dog tracks.
- The heel pad often has a distinct triangular shape, with the point of the triangle pointing forward and the base of the triangle forming the back of the track.
- Coyote tracks might show claw marks, particularly in harder surfaces like mud or snow. These claw marks are often more evident in the front tracks and may not always be visible in the rear tracks.
- When coyotes walk, their tracks are usually in a straight line, with the front and rear tracks in line with each other. This creates a single-file track pattern.
- Wolf tracks consist of four toe pads and a large, triangular-shaped heel pad at the back.
- The tracks are relatively large compared to domestic dog tracks, with adult wolf tracks often measuring around 4.5 to 5.5 inches long and 3.5 to 5 inches wide.
- The toes on a wolf track are larger and more robust than those of domestic dogs. They are usually oval in shape and well-spaced.
- The inner toes (digits 2, 3, and 4) are aligned more closely together, while the outer toe (digit 1) is positioned higher up and slightly behind the others.
- The heel pad is large and prominent, making it a distinguishing feature of wolf tracks.
- The heel pad is typically triangular in shape, with the base forming the back of the track and the point pointing forward.
- Wolf tracks often show claw marks, especially in softer surfaces like mud or snow. These claw marks can be more visible in the front tracks.
- Wolves usually walk in a straight line, with the front and rear tracks in line with each other. This creates a single-file track pattern.
- Wolves have a long stride, and their tracks are spaced relatively far apart.
- Depending on the substrate and conditions, wolf tracks might appear differently. In soft surfaces like snow, their tracks can be deep and well-defined, while in harder surfaces, they may appear more shallow and less distinct.
Difference In Societal Structure
A wolf’s social structure is different from coyotes. Wolves are social creatures who prefer living and hunting in packs. These packs are organized in a rigid and hierarchical structure.
While the size of packs tends to vary, a typical group comprises up to ten members. The alpha male and his partner lead the pack, while other members raise the pups.
Coyotes are also social, but where wolves often hunt together, coyotes will usually hunt alone. This is often due to their reliance on smaller animals.
Are Wolves Or Coyotes More Dangerous?
Wolves are thought to be more dangerous than coyotes. This is especially true for gray wolves. Owing to their massive size and aggressive nature, wolves qualify as one of North America’s most dangerous animals. Coyotes, however, although wild animals, can generally be scared off.
Unlike coyotes, which are omnivores, gray wolves are carnivores. Wolves can easily take down most animals that cross their path.
Coyotes use vegetables and grasses as secondary food sources, so they are less dangerous than wolves.
Differences In The Life Expectancy Of Wolves and Coyotes
Coyotes can survive up to 13 to 15 years in the wild. However, most of them tend to die even before they reach three years of age. The oldest reported wild coyote is an 11-year-old alpha female.
Coyote pups usually die during the first few months away from home. The survival rate depends on the season, with most dying in the winter.
Wolves can survive for 6 to 8 years in the wild, but die sooner than those in captivity. The mortality rate among wolf pups is about 60%, with one of the most common reasons for death being starvation.
Other causes include aggressive fights with larger animals and other wolves, resulting in injury. Individual wolves also die due to ailments, with humans being a major risk when they cross paths.
Differences In Mating Habits
The mating habits of coyotes and wolves are different. Coyotes tend to mate during February, and this is only done by the alpha pair. Other coyotes in the group will raise the newborn, and this keeps the number of coyotes down.
Coyotes are monogamous, and bonds between the pair have been seen to last a lifetime. In April, the female, while pregnant, starts hunting for a new den after a gestation period of 62 to 65 days.
Pup season is perhaps the only instance when coyotes use dens voluntarily. At other times, they prefer sleeping on the ground in cover or in the open.
Dens can be hollowed tree stumps, outcrops from rocks, or a burrow made by raccoons and other animals. However, coyotes prefer to build their den themselves.
They usually look to have some protective cover along with the den. This can be a bush, tree, or a form of drainage.
It is common for coyotes to move their pups from one den to another, in order to protect them. Coyotes choose secluded zones for their den, but if living in urban areas, they will relocate to buildings or even make their den in a parking lot.
The litter of a coyote usually contains between four to seven pups. The litter size tends to vary, with the largest den holding 11 pups. Coyotes can easily change the size of the holes depending on the population and the abundance of food.
Due to an excellent food supply in urban areas, the litter is often much larger than in more secluded areas. Pups stay in their dens for the first six weeks, before they start traveling small distances with the adults.
Only the alpha male and female mate in wolf packs, ranging from January to March. Wolves start breeding at 2 or 3 years old and are monogamous for their entire lives.
Upon reaching sexual maturity, most wolves leave their original pack to find a new territory and to join new groups. This is different than coyotes.
Wolves leaving the pack can be seen to roam up to 40 to 70 miles. In some instances, this can be over 100 miles. The distance covered depends on their gender, current habitat, and what other packs are in the area.
After a gestation period of 63 days, the alpha female gives birth to a pack of blind pups. The size of their litter ranges from 4 to 7 pups, and for the first three weeks, the packs nurse their pups every 4 hours to ensure their body temperature is stable. The mother usually stays with them, feeding them with the food brought by other pack members.
Weaning of a wolf pup is usually completed after they reach eight weeks of age and they can eat semi-solid substances. After they start eating solids, the pack members move them to another site where they learn how to hunt throughout the summer. By 6 to 8 months, they start traveling with other members and participating in hunts.
Difference Between Scat
- Coyote scat is often cylindrical or slightly twisted in shape.
- It can vary in size, typically ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length and about 0.5 to 1 inch in diameter.
- The color of coyote scat can change based on their diet, but it often appears dark brown or black when fresh.
- Coyote scat can contain a variety of materials, including fur, bone fragments, and plant matter.
- The presence of hair and bone fragments is a result of the coyote’s carnivorous diet, which may include small mammals, birds, and insects.
- Plant matter, such as seeds, may also be present if the coyote has consumed fruits or vegetation.
Scat Analysis: Wildlife researchers and trackers often analyze scat to gather information about an animal’s diet, behavior, and health. By examining the contents of coyote scat, experts can determine the types of animals and plants the coyotes have been consuming. This can provide insights into their role in the ecosystem, their preferred food sources, and even potential interactions with other animals.
Coyote scat can also reveal clues about the coyote’s territory and movement patterns. The location of scat can indicate where coyotes are active, and the presence of multiple scat piles in a certain area might suggest a territorial marking behavior.
- Wolf scat is typically larger and more robust compared to smaller animals like coyotes.
- It commonly has a cylindrical or slightly twisted shape.
- The size of wolf scat varies depending on the wolf’s diet and the size of its prey. It typically ranges from 4 to 7 inches in length and about 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter.
- Fresh wolf scat often appears dark brown or black.
- Wolf scat contains a mix of materials, including fur, bone fragments, and plant matter.
- Due to their carnivorous diet, wolf scat may include significant amounts of hair and bone fragments from the animals they prey on. This can encompass larger prey like ungulates (hoofed animals), small mammals, and even birds.
- Depending on the region and season, wolf scat might also include plant matter if wolves have consumed fruits or vegetation.
- Wildlife experts analyze wolf scat to gather insights into their diet, behavior, and health. The contents of the scat help identify the types of animals and plants wolves have been consuming.
- Analyzing scat can provide valuable data about the wolf’s role in the ecosystem, preferred prey species, and potential interactions with other animals.
- The presence of scat in certain areas can indicate wolf activity and movement patterns, contributing to understanding their territory and behavior.
References And Further Reading
- Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History” by Dan Flores This book explores the history, biology, and behavior of coyotes in North America, including comparisons with wolves and their distinct roles in ecosystems.
- “Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation” edited by L. David Mech and Luigi Boitani Although primarily focused on wolves, this comprehensive book covers various aspects of wolf behavior and ecology, which can help highlight the differences between wolves and coyotes.
- “Coyotes: Biology, Behavior, and Management” edited by Marc Bekoff, Michael L. Phillips, and Stephen M. Krebs This book delves into the biology and behavior of coyotes, offering insights into how they differ from wolves and other canids.
- “Canids of the World: Wolves, Wild Dogs, Foxes, Jackals, Coyotes, and Their Relatives” by José R. Castelló This book provides a detailed look at various canid species, including coyotes and wolves, covering their biology, behavior, and differences.
- “The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates” by Richard Estes While focused on African mammals, this book can offer insights into the behaviors and characteristics of different mammal species, which can be useful for understanding the distinctions between coyotes and wolves.
- “A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast” by Linda J. Spielman and Roland W. Kays Although focused on tracking, this guide includes information about the tracks and signs of various mammals, including wolves and coyotes, which can help in identifying differences.