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Wolf Vs Coyote (5 Key differences)

When the comparing the wolf vs coyote, it’s often because they are two of just a handful of wild dogs in North America. You can see how they might look similar to each other, especially to someone who doesn’t know the differences between the two animals.

In this article we compare wolves and coyotes by looking at some of the main differences between them, as well as a few similarities. But first, let’s define what these animals are in a bit more detail.

What are wolves?

Gray wolf in the woods | Image by Christel SAGNIEZ from Pixabay

Wolves are the largest non-domestic members of the dog family and are the ancestors of all domesticated dogs. These large, carnivorous predators eat prey ranging from large animals like deer, elk, and bison to smaller animals like rabbits, birds, and mice. An adult male wolf typically weighs between 75 and 120 pounds, while females are a bit smaller, weighing between 60 and 95 pounds.

There are three different species of the wolf:

  • Grey wolf – Canis lupus
  • Red wolf – Canis rufus
  • Abyssinian wolf – Canis simensis

Of these three species, only the grey wolf and the red wolf live in North America. The grey wolf is larger and can be found in the Northeastern portion of the United States and Canada, and the smaller red wolf is found in the southeastern United States. Either of these wolves has a lifespan somewhere between 10 and 16 years.

What are coyotes?

Coyotes, or Canis latrans, are medium-sized members of the non-domesticated dog family. Adult male coyotes weigh between 34 and 47 pounds, while adult female coyotes weigh between 33 and 40 pounds.

These carnivorous predators prey primarily on small animals such as mice, rabbits, and squirrels. While they prefer fresh meat, they will also eat the rotting flesh of already dead animals.

Coyotes can be found in every state in the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico.  They are about the size of a medium to large dog and may even be mistaken for a beloved pet if seen from a distance. A coyote’s lifespan is between 13 and 15 years.

Wolf Vs Coyote – 5 Key Differences

Key Differences

  • Size: Coyotes are significantly smaller than wolves.
  • Appearance: Coyotes have a longer, more narrow snout than wolves.
  • Vocalization: Wolves have deeper vocalizations than coyotes.
  • Hunting behavior: Wolves hunt in packs, but coyotes do not.

1. Size

As stated in the key differences section, coyotes are significantly smaller than wolves. An adult male coyote weighs up to 47 pounds, but an adult male wolf can weigh up to 120 pounds.

Adult coyotes can stand as tall as 24 inches at the shoulder, while an adult wolf can stand as tall as 32 inches at the shoulder. As far as length goes, a coyote can grow to be 4.5 feet long, but a wolf can grow up to 6.5 feet long. The wolf outranks the coyote in height, weight, and length.

2. Appearance

In addition to being much larger, wolves have a different appearance than coyotes. Wolves have rounder, broader faces, while coyotes have pointier, longer, and more narrow snouts.

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Alpha Wolf Male
Wolf | Image by Ron Porter from Pixabay

A coyote’s face more closely resembles a fox than a wolf’s. Coyotes also have longer, pointier ears than wolves, and coyotes typically have lighter fur than wolves.

3. Vocalization

A key difference between a wolf and a coyote is the pitch of their vocalization. Both animals howl, growl, and bark but have different vocal ranges.

Coyotes are known for their high-pitched yips, barks, and whines. Wolves have a deeper form of vocalization that is often more drawn out.

4. Hunting Behavior

Wolves are pack animals. They hunt in groups which allows them to take down prey much bigger than them, such as bison. Coyotes hunt by themselves or in pairs, and while they will attempt to hunt prey bigger than they are, they typically stick to smaller animals.

coyote pouncing on prey

Coyotes will also eat carrion, or rotting flesh, while wolves typically stick with hunting fresh meat. Coyotes are often referred to as scavengers because of their preference for eating animals that are already dead.

5. Who would win in a fight?

Many people may wonder who would win if a coyote and a wolf found themselves face to face in a fight. Wolves are much bigger and more powerful than coyotes, so it isn’t really a fair fight.

Wolves also tend to run in packs, while coyotes are typically are loners, so the odds of it being a one-on-one fight aren’t great. A coyote can run slightly faster than a wolf, and for longer periods of time, so a coyote may be able to run away from the fight to survive. If it isn’t able to escape, it doesn’t really stand much of a chance against the mighty wolf.

male gray wolf | image by Raed Mansour via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

How are they the same?

Wolves and coyotes are both members of the Canis family, so it only stands to reason that they have some similarities. While wolves are much bigger, they have very similar body structures to coyotes.

While coyotes are typically lighter in color, they still have gray, black, or brown fur like a wolf. Both animals have thick fur, long tails, and sharp teeth. Coyotes and wolves both have a primarily carnivorous diet.

Conclusion

Wolves and coyotes have some similarities but, for the most part, are very different. Seen by themselves, it may be a little difficult to tell if it is a wolf or a coyote since they have similar body structures and color, but if they were standing side-by-side, it would be easy to spot the differences. The most significant difference is size. They may not be that different in height, but wolves are much heavier and longer.

While both are carnivores, wolves hunt in packs and prefer fresh kills, and coyotes tend to hunt solo and prefer to scavenge for food when they can. Another big difference is their vocalization. Coyotes are yappier with a high-pitched vocal range than their low-pitched relatives.