Most people, especially beginners and non-hunters, confuse coyotes for wolves (or the other way around). We put together this article to enlighten hunters and avoid confusing these predators with each other. We listed the most common ways to tell a wolf from a coyote visually as well as the difference between their tracks, habitats, and social behaviors! Let’s get right to it!
How To Tell A Wolf From A Coyote Visually
Let’s get into how to tell a wolf from a coyote visually. For most people, the first time you notice a predator will be visually.
Overall Size and Weight
First of all, wolves are much bigger than coyotes. A wolf is 2 to 3 feet tall, 5 to 6 feet long, and weighs 80 to 175 pounds. While a coyote is medium-sized (1.5 to 2 feet tall, 4 feet long) and only weighs 20 to 50 pounds.
Wolves have square and broad snouts and their ears are rounded and relatively short.
While coyotes have pointed, narrow snouts and sharp, long ears.
Another way to tell a wolf from a coyote is through their coat’s color. Coyotes’ fur is mostly pale yellow and brown, while most gray wolves’ furs are dark gray to black. Some also have pale gray fur with darker shades on the side. Red wolves have reddish-brown fur with several white and yellow patches on their face, chest, and limbs.
Wolves prefer hunting and living in tight packs and observe a hierarchical social structure. A pack typically consists of 6 to 10 members but every pack varies in size. Each pack is led by the alpha male and female. A group of baby wolves is called a litter and usually has 4 to 6 pups. Other adult members of the pack are assigned to take care of and raise the pups.
Coyotes, on the other hand, have packs with more members. And unlike wolves, they prey on smaller animals so they hunt alone. Baby coyotes are also called pups and a litter consists of 4 to 7 pups or more. Coyote packs are also led by the alpha male and female. Since the beta coyotes or other adult members of the pack aren’t allowed to reproduce, they’re the ones that tend to the alphas’ pups.
Behavior Around Humans
Wolves avoid humans all the time. They are very cautious and are easily agitated around people. As for coyotes, they’re more at ease around humans. Although their native habitat was the prairies, they’ve learned to move comfortably around humans as that’s where they can find food consistently.
How To Tell Wolf Tracks From Coyote Tracks
Aside from being able to tell their differences visually, it’s also important to know the differences between their tracks. This will be of great help when stalking and tracking your game. Good thing their tracks have distinctive traits.
A wolf’s paw size is about 4 to 5 inches long and 4 inches wide (almost as big as an adult’s hand!), while a coyote’s paw is 2 to 2.5 inches long and 2 inches wide.
A wolf’s track is soft and fluffy-looking, particularly during winter time when their fur is thicker, while a coyote’s track is firmer on the edges.
How To Tell a Wolf from a Coyote Using Other Factors
Habitat and Range
Wolves stick to more open spaces. Gray wolves are more restricted to living in more remote tundra and woodlands. Red wolves prefer living in forests and marshy areas.
Unlike wolves, coyotes can easily adapt anywhere, from forests, meadows, desert lands, mountains, and prairies, to urban and suburban areas.
Both wolves and coyotes are carnivores. Wolves only eat meat. They prey primarily on ungulates or large-hoofed animals such as elk, moose, buffalos, and deer. They also feed on small animals such as rabbits, beavers, or livestock. They prefer eating fresh meat but can also feed on animal carcasses if left with no other options.
Coyotes hunt small animals such as mice, rats, and rabbits. They also hunt deer on occasion. Despite being native carnivores, coyotes are less picky eaters compared to wolves. They’ve also adapted to eating food from urban areas such as leftover food from garbage cans, as well as fruits, grass, and insects. Their back molars with large chewing surfaces allow them to eat diverse types of food.
Wolves and coyotes also have different howls. Their howls are longer and are lower-pitched compared to coyotes. Their howls have different meanings as well. Wolves produce a defensive bark-howl sound whenever they need to keep the pack together and warn strangers to stay away from their territory. They also make a social howl to locate and communicate with each other.
Coyotes, on the other hand, produce shorter and higher-pitched howls compared to wolves. Their howls resemble that of a scream or a human laughing in a high-pitched manner. A coyote howls to call for other coyotes after hunting alone. Like wolves, coyotes also produce a howling sound to defend their territory.
Wolf scats are rough-looking and are usually 1 inch or more in diameter. Wolf scat looks like a long cord with a tapered end with bits of small bones and hair from their previous meal.
While coyote scats are shiny, smooth, and smaller than wolf scats with only less than one inch in diameter. Their scat also contains small bone fragments and hair of small rodents such as mice and rabbits.
Coyotes have long lives and can survive in the wild for 13 to 15 years. However, they don’t last that long and most coyotes die before three years old. During their first few months away from home, coyote pups have low rates of survival.
Wolves are endangered species and can only survive 6 to 8 years in the wild. Like coyote pups, most wolf pups also die young, usually from starvation. Wolf mortality rates have gone up because of humans endangering their habitats. Another cause of death in wolves is fatal injuries acquired from fights.
In wolf packs, only the alpha male and female can mate, and they mate for a lifetime. Wolves start to breed at the age of 2 or 3, and the mating season is between January to March. Once a wolf reaches sexual maturity, it leaves its original pack to find new territory or join a new pack. The gestation period is usually 63 days, and wolf pups are born blind.
Coyote mating season is during February. Like wolves, only the alpha male and female can mate, and they mate for a lifetime. The coyote gestation period lasts 62 to 65 days. Coyotes prefer sleeping on the ground, but once the alpha female gives birth, they build dens to protect the pups. A coyote litter contains 4 to 7 pups, and unlike wolves, coyote pups aren’t born blind.
Types Of Wild Canids In North America
Gray wolves (Canis lupus) weigh from 70 to 120 lbs and are the largest among the wild canines. Their eyes are slanted and are usually colored yellow to deep amber. The color of their fur varies from black to gray to white. Their heads are also larger than other canines. They also have narrow chests and elbows set together that help them move efficiently while hunting and traveling. Wolves also have large fur-webbed paws that help them move swiftly through snow and mud. Wolves hunt, live and travel in packs. They work together to take down large prey such as moose and elks.
Red wolves (Canis rufus) are reddish in color and are smaller than gray wolves. They’re also less common than gray wolves.
Coyotes (Canis latrans) have dark brown and tan-colored furs and are smaller than wolves. Their face is also more pointed and narrow than that of wolves that are broader and squared. Their ears are also longer and more pointed. Unlike wolves, coyotes hunt and travel independently despite being members of a pack. Because of that, they only prey on smaller animals such as hares and mice.
Eastern coyotes (also known as northeastern coyotes, coywolf, and southern tweed wolves) are wolf-coyote hybrids that originated in the Great Lakes. They’re larger and have longer legs than western coyotes. Eastern and western coyote pups have similar physical traits. One distinctive difference, however, is that eastern coyotes reach sexual maturity later than western coyotes.
Eastern coyotes are smaller than eastern wolves and hold smaller territories. They hunt almost anything that’s easy to kill. They also thrive on berries and insects. The animals that they usually prey on are “rabbits, hares, and deer in the winter and small mammals, wild berries, birds, amphibians, and grasshoppers in the summer.”
Unlike wolves and coyotes, domestic dogs walk in irregular patterns, and their tracks are spread out. Even though dogs are direct descendants of gray wolves, they’re smaller in size, have smaller teeth, and have shorter muzzles.
Now you know the difference between coyotes and wolves. They’re very easy to distinguish once you’ve gotten used to hunting them. Also, keep in mind that finding the most efficient tools such as the best hunting bow or air rifle plays a critical part in a successful hunt. Have a great hunt!