Wolf vs Coyote: Differences and Similarities

Carly Brasseux // June 10

As a wildlife enthusiast, I have always been fascinated by the unique characteristics of wolves and coyotes. Both belong to the same family, Canidae, and share many physical and behavioral traits. However, there are some notable differences that set them apart.

The gray wolf, also known as Canis lupus, is the largest member of the Canidae family and is found in many parts of the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia. On the other hand, the coyote, or Canis latrans, is smaller and predominantly found in North America. While wolves are known for their pack behavior and hunting skills, coyotes are more solitary and opportunistic in their hunting habits.

In this article, I will delve deeper into the similarities and differences between wolves and coyotes. From their physical characteristics to their social behavior and hunting strategies, we will explore what makes each of these canids unique and how they have adapted to survive in their respective environments.

Wolf vs Coyote: Differences and Similarities

Physical Characteristics

Size and Build

As a general rule, wolves are larger and more powerfully built than coyotes. Gray wolves, for example, typically weigh between 70 and 150 pounds, while coyotes typically weigh between 20 and 50 pounds. Wolves are also taller and longer than coyotes, with longer legs and larger paws. This size difference gives wolves an advantage when it comes to taking down larger prey.

Color and Coat

Wolves and coyotes both come in a variety of colors, including gray, white, and brown. However, wolves tend to have thicker and more luxurious coats than coyotes, which helps them survive in colder climates. Coyotes, on the other hand, have thinner coats that are better suited to warmer environments. In addition, wolves tend to have more distinctive markings on their faces and bodies, while coyotes are often more plain in appearance.

Facial Features and Appendages

Wolves and coyotes have similar facial features, including pointed ears and a snout. However, wolves have larger and more powerful jaws than coyotes, which allows them to take down larger prey. Wolves also have bushier tails and thicker fur on their feet, which helps them stay warm and navigate through snow and other difficult terrain.

Overall, while wolves and coyotes share many physical characteristics, there are some key differences in size, build, and appearance that set them apart. Understanding these differences can help us better appreciate the unique qualities of each species.

Behavioral Traits

Social Structure and Communication

Both wolves and coyotes are social animals that live in family groups. Wolves live in packs, which consist of a dominant breeding pair and their offspring. Coyotes, on the other hand, live in smaller family groups that consist of a breeding pair and their young.

Both species communicate using a variety of vocalizations, including howls, growls, and barks. Wolves are known for their distinctive howls, which they use to communicate with other members of their pack over long distances. Coyotes also howl, but their howls are generally shorter and higher-pitched than those of wolves. Both species also use body language, such as tail wagging and ear positioning, to communicate with each other.

Hunting and Diet

Wolves and coyotes are both carnivores that hunt for their food. Wolves are apex predators that hunt large prey, such as deer, elk, and bison, while coyotes are opportunistic predators that will eat a wide range of prey, including rabbits, squirrels, mice, and birds.

Wolves hunt in packs, using their superior strength and teamwork to take down large prey. Coyotes usually hunt alone or in pairs, and they are also known to scavenge for food.

Habitat and Range

Wolves and coyotes both inhabit North and Central America. Wolves are found in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, while coyotes are found throughout North and Central America.

Wolves prefer to live in forested areas, while coyotes are more adaptable and can live in a variety of habitats, including urban areas. Both species have come into conflict with humans due to their predation on livestock and pets, and their presence in urban areas. However, coyotes are generally more adaptable to living in close proximity to humans than wolves.

Comparative Analysis

Physical Differences

When comparing wolves and coyotes, one of the most apparent differences is their physical appearance. Wolves are larger and have a more robust build than coyotes. On average, wolves weigh between 70 and 120 pounds, while coyotes weigh between 20 and 50 pounds. Wolves have longer legs, larger paws, and a broader head than coyotes. Additionally, wolves have a thicker coat of fur, which helps them to survive in colder climates.

Vocalization and Sound

Both wolves and coyotes are known for their distinct vocalizations. Wolves have a deeper, more resonant howl than coyotes, which is often used to communicate with other members of their pack over long distances. Coyotes, on the other hand, have a higher-pitched howl and are known for their yips, barks, and growls.

Adaptation and Survival

Wolves and coyotes have adapted to survive in different environments. Wolves are social animals that live in packs and rely on their strength in numbers to hunt large prey such as elk and moose. Coyotes, on the other hand, are more solitary and opportunistic hunters, often preying on smaller animals such as rodents and rabbits. Coyotes have also adapted to living in urban environments and can be found in cities and suburbs across North America.

In terms of survival, both wolves and coyotes face threats from human activity, including hunting and habitat destruction. However, coyotes have been able to thrive in many areas, including those where wolves have been extirpated. This is due in part to their ability to adapt to changing environments and to their high reproductive rate.

Overall, while wolves and coyotes may share some similarities, they are distinct species with unique physical and behavioral characteristics. Understanding these differences is crucial for their conservation and management.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you differentiate between a wolf and a coyote based on size?

Size is one of the most significant factors in differentiating between wolves and coyotes. Wolves are generally larger and heavier than coyotes. A typical adult wolf weighs between 70-120 pounds, whereas a coyote weighs between 20-50 pounds.

What are the distinguishing features between wolves and coyotes when compared side by side?

When compared side by side, wolves have a broader head, a larger and more robust body, and longer legs than coyotes. Coyotes, on the other hand, have a narrow head, a slender body, and shorter legs. Wolves also have a more prominent snout and a bushier tail than coyotes.

Are there notable differences in the tails of wolves and coyotes?

Yes, there are notable differences in the tails of wolves and coyotes. Wolves have a bushy tail, which they hold horizontally when they are relaxed or walking. Coyotes, on the other hand, have a slender tail with a black tip, which they hold downwards when they are relaxed or walking.

In an encounter, which is likely to be dominant: a wolf or a coyote?

In an encounter, it is likely that a wolf would be dominant over a coyote. Wolves are pack animals and are inherently more aggressive than coyotes, which are solitary animals. However, it is important to note that each encounter is unique and may have different outcomes.

How do the vocalizations of wolves and coyotes differ?

Wolves and coyotes have distinct vocalizations. Wolves howl to communicate with their pack members over long distances, while coyotes howl to communicate with other coyotes. Wolves also growl and bark, while coyotes yip and bark.

Is it possible for wolves and coyotes to interbreed successfully?

Yes, it is possible for wolves and coyotes to interbreed successfully. The offspring of a wolf and a coyote is known as a “coywolf” or “wolfdog.” However, interbreeding between wolves and coyotes is relatively rare, as wolves and coyotes have different mating habits and habitats.

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About the Author

Carly Brasseux

Carly Brasseux is a determined and passionate freelance outdoor writer, published author, business owner and social media/marketing consultant based in Texas. In a world where women are the fastest growing segment of the hunting population, she is a major proponent of those women wanting to learn more about the outdoors and hunting. Her handle, Miss Pursuit, is an expression of her enthusiasm for all things outdoors, from educating women through her experiences learning to hunt over the last decade, to getting out with her kids to explore the wild. Her expertise in social media and marketing, as well as her vast network of people in the outdoor industry, have given her the influence to make an impact for years to come. Member of the Mule Deer Foundation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Stewards of the Wild and the Texas Wildlife Association.