What Is The Difference Between a Coyote and a Wolf?


Something has been howling very close to my house recently, and I wasn’t sure if it was a wolf or a coyote.  I went looking for a sign of what it was and found some prints and scat.  I did some research to find out what it was and thought this might be helpful for you.

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 will usually stay away from humans. 

There are many differences between the coyote and the wolf.  Please read on to find out some further information so you can tell the difference next time you are looking at one of these fantastic animals.

WolfCoyote
General BuildLargeMedium-sized
ColorTan, brown, gray,
white (uncommon),
black (relatively common)
Tan, brown, gray, white (very rare),
black (very rare)
Height26 – 38”23 – 26”
Height40 – 175 lbs.20 – 40 lbs.
MuzzleSquaredPointed
EarsRounded, relatively shortPointed, relatively long
LegsVery long leggedLegs of normal length
FeetVery largeNormal size

Size and Weight

Coyotes are usually 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 100 pounds. In addition to the weight, coyotes also tend to be nimble when compared to wolves. They have a more streamlined body than that of wolves.

Coat

A difference in these species can be identified from the coloration on their coat. The fur of the coyote tends to brown and pale yellow. While gray wolves do feature pale grey fur, their fur tends to be on the darker side.  Most grey wolves have dark gray to black hair. 

Red wolves have intricate, reddish-brown fur.  Their bodies can also have several yellow and white patches, with these patches being most apparent on their limbs, face, and chest. 

Snout

Coyote and wolf snout
Coyote (left) have longer, thinner noses than wolves (right).

The third significant difference lies in the snout of a wolf or coyote. Whilst coyotes have slender and angular snouts; both red and grey wolves tend to have broader noses. 

Habitat

The most significant difference between wolves and coyotes lies in their habitat and interaction with humans. Coyotes have adapted to live in forests, urban environments, suburbs, and lush meadows, despite being native to the prairies. 

They have also adapted themselves to be comfortable around people because they are likely to find a constant source of food. 

Wolves are not usually seen around people as they prefer staying in the forest covers.

Differences In Diet Between Coyotes and Wolves?

There are many differences in the food habits of wolves and coyotes. As coyotes inhabit areas with human settlement proves that they are more adaptable in terms of food. 

Coyotes are carnivores and therefore eat meat. However, unlike wolves, they thrive and survive on smaller animals. Most coyotes eat a meal of rabbit, mice, rat, and other small mammals. 

Since they also have black molars with a huge chewing surface, it is simpler for them to thrive on fruit, insects, and grass.

Unlike coyotes who thrive on both meat and vegetation, wolves are entirely meat-eaters. Gray wolves, found along with the continental parts of the US, survive on massive, hooved mammals like elk, buffalos, deer and even moose.  For secondary food, they prefer beaver, hare, other small mammals, and birds. 

These species also prey on domesticated livestock and will feed on already killed animals, when a new source of meat is no longer available. 

If you would like more details on what a coyote eats, I have written a full article, which you can find here.

Differences In Sounds of Wolves and Coyotes?

The howls of coyotes and wolves are entirely different. Upon close observation, you’d notice that coyotes tend to make high-pitched howls, barks, and yelps. This sound is also similar to the sound of a playful pack of terriers. Their howls range from short, mid-pitched tones to higher-pitched barks that often sounds like a scream or a high-pitched human laugh. 

In general, coyotes also tend to bark a lot. These howls and barks are an aspect of their pack behavior.  If you find the howling to be on a higher note, it is a sign indicating for the pack to be together. 

A typical coyote pack may contain half a dozen coyotes in a single pack, whereas most wolf packs will have six or seven animals.

The howl and bark of wolves are much different from coyotes.  Wolves whine, growl, and bark from time to time. Their sound is similar to an anxious dog. The sounds can also resemble the sound of a dog when they are begging for something.  

The whines of wolves can be either playful, anticipatory, or intimate. There is one, specific high-pitched whine which suggests the wolf is preparing for an impending attack. These high-pitched whines are usually combined with shorter howls. 

Other than the whine, every other sound made by the wolf is distinctively different from the coyote. Unlike the higher-pitched tones of a coyote, the howls of wolves are usually lower-pitched. 

They are long, low, and filled with harmonics.  One individual male howl can pass through a whole octave.  

Wolves can also whimper in soft notes. The sound is done to greet other wolves but is also used to submit 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 further sound. 

How To Tell The Difference Between Coyote And Wolf Tracks? 

The tracks of coyote and wolves are also distinctively different.  The track of a coyote is usually 2.5 inches long and 2 inches wide.  The tracks of a wolf can be as large as an adult, human palm. They are 5 inches in length and almost 4 inches in width. 

The edges of these tracks are also different, with the tracks of the coyote tending to have crisper edges. On the other hand, the tracks of wolves tend to have a fluffier pattern. These differences are more noticeable and relevant in winter as they have more significant and longer hair along their feet. 

Difference in societal structure Between Coyotes And Wolves 

The societal structure of wolves varies mostly from that of coyotes.  Unlike coyotes, wolves tend to be social creatures who prefer living and hunting in packs. The packs are further organized in a stringent and hierarchical structure.

While the size of packs tends to vary, a typical group comprises of 10 members. The pack is lead by the alpha male and his partner, although other members assist in raising the pups. 

Coyotes too are quite social, and their packs comprise more members than that of wolves. Since these species tend to prey on small mammals, when they hunt, they do this alone.

Which is more dangerous among wolves and coyotes?

Wolves are more dangerous than coyotes. This is especially true for the gray wolves. Owing to their massive size and aggressive nature, wolves qualify as one of the most dangerous animals in North America. Coyotes, however, although wild animals can generally be scared off with hazing.

Unlike coyotes that are omnivorous, gray wolves are carnivorous. Amid tense situations, wolves can easily tear apart most animals that cross their path. 

As coyotes use vegetables and grasses as a secondary source of food, they are less dangerous than wolves.

It is always better to maintain a distance from both these species as both of them are capable of harming us. 

Are there any Differences in the Life Expectancy of Wolves and Coyotes?

The life expectancy of wolves and coyote are different. Unlike wolves, coyotes aren’t an endangered species, and they 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 coyote is an 11-year-old alpha female. 

Coyote pups usually die during the first few months away from home. The rate of survival tends to be consistent depending on the season. 

Wolves can survive for 6 to 8 years in the wild. They die relatively sooner than their captive counterparts.  The mortality rate among wolf pups is usually 60%.  One of the most common reasons for death is starvation. 

Other causes include fights with larger animals and other wolves. These aggressive fights often result in mortal injuries. Individual wolves also die due to ailments. The risk to their life is significantly increased when humans tend to encroach in their habitats. 

Are there any Differences in their Habitats?

In addition to physical features and other differences already explained, the living environments of wolves and coyotes are also different.  Coyotes live along diverse ranges. These ranges include forests, desert lands, lofty mountains, sites for farming, cities, and meadows. 

Gray wolves tend to be more restricted. They live along woodlands and the more remote tundra. 

Red wolves reside in forests, marshy areas, and the lowlands in proximity to water.  Unlike coyotes, wolfs prefer living in more open spaces. 

Are There Any Differences in The Mating Habits of Coyotes and Wolves?

Coyotes

The mating habits of coyotes and wolves have minor differences.  Coyotes tend to mate during February.  At this point, only the alpha pair from the packmates, while the subordinates assist in raising the newborn.

Coyotes are incredibly monogamous, and bonds between the pairs have been seen to last a lifetime.  During April, after a gestation period of 62 to 65 days, the female starts hunting for a new den.  

Pup season is perhaps the only instance when coyotes are seen to use dens voluntarily. Otherwise, they prefer sleeping on the ground either amid cover or in the open. 

Dens can be a hollowed-tree stump, outcrops from rocks, or a burrow made by raccoons and other animals.  However, the coyote does prefer to build their den themselves. 

They usually look to have some protective cover along with the den. This protection can be a bush, tree, or any other form of drainage. 

It is common for the coyote to move their pups from one den to another. The relocation is completed in a bid to protect them.  Individual coyotes choose secluded zones for the den. However, others prefer residing in urban areas. Coyotes can relocate to buildings or even make their den in a parking lot. 

The litters of a coyote usually contain between four to seven pups. The size of the litter tends to vary with the most significant reported litter holding 11 pups in a single den. Coyotes can easily tweak the size of the dens depending on the population and the abundance of food. 

Although it is difficult to ascertain the proper size of their litter in urban spots, most estimates state that their litter sizes are more significant than usual.  This could be due to the excellent food supply. Pups stay in their dens for at least six weeks, after which they start traveling small distances with the adults. 

Wolves

In wolf packs, only the alpha male and female start mating, with their time for mating ranging between January to March.  Wolves start breeding from the age of 2 or 3, and they generally mate for their entire lifetime. 

Upon reaching sexual maturity, the majority of the wolves leave their original pack in a bid to find a new territory.  They may also do this to join new packs.  Coyotes, however, do not follow this habit. 

The dispersing wolves are seen to roam up to 40 to 70 miles. In some instances, they may also cross 100 miles.  The distance covered entirely depends on their gender, current habitat, and the availability of other packs in the area. 

After a gestation period of 63 days, the alpha female gives birth to a pack of blind pups.  Coyotes are born with sight.  The size of their litter ranges from 4 to 7 pups.  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 her pup, and she alone feeds the child with the food brought by other pack members. 

Weaning of a wolf pup is usually completed after they reach eight weeks of age or when they are capable of eating semi-solid substances. After they start eating solids, the pack members move them to another site where they learn throughout the summer how to hunt.  By 6 to 8 months, they start traveling with other members and participating in hunts. 

What is the difference between the scat of wolves and coyotes?

The scat of wolves and coyotes is radically different.  Coyotes have a smooth and shiny scat that is less than an inch in the diameter.  The scat can contain ungulate hair.  They may also have small bone fragments of smaller rodents like mice and rabbits. The scat tapers at the end.

Coyote scat.

Wolves have a relatively rough scat. The diameter of this scat is between 0.5 to 1.5 inches. Usually, it is more than 1 inch.  Unlike the scat of coyotes, the scat of a wolf appears cord-like. It can also contain small bone fragments and ungulate hair. They also have a tapered end.

Wolf scat.

Are there any differences in the Range of Coyotes and Wolves?

Wolves and coyotes tend to vary in terms of range.  Coyotes have exhibited an excellent ability for adapting to a wide range of environments. These environments include both urban and rural areas. 

Although they were native to the western US, coyotes have now almost successfully covered the entire continent of North America.  This range also includes significant portions of Canada and Alaska. Some species of Coyotes have also stretched along Mexico and down to Central America going as far as Panama. 

While wolves historically ranged throughout the maximum parts of North America, they are now only found in Canada, some northern states of the US, and the famous Yellowstone National Park. 

Being massive predators, wolves and coyotes are often found to compete for similar habitats and foods. The range of coyotes has expanded primarily due to the decrease in the overall population of wolves. 

In spots where the population of wolves is more plentiful, coyotes tend to be lesser in number. When a new set of wolves were introduced in the Yellowstone national park, this park witnessed a subsequent reduction in the overall population of coyotes.
If you would like more details on either of these fantastic mammals, I have written a complete guide on both.

You can find the complete guide to coyotes here.

You can find the complete guide to the gray wolf here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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