Wolf or coyote: what’s the difference?

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Many a rancher will be able to tell you whether you've got a wolf or a coyote at a second's glance. But as we become more urbanized in Western society, fewer interactions with these animals means we're less likely to recognize which is which. 

Both are canines. In fact, they are one another's closest relatives among the species. You may even have heard of a hybrid coyote-wolf interspecies, popularly called a coywolf, that carries both coyote and wolf genes. (Scientists have clarified that this is not a new species, however, just a sub-variant canine mix.)

So you'd be forgiven for being confused. But knowing the difference can come in handy on the trails or out in the bush. So let's look at what sets the two apart. 

Tell the difference between Wolf and Coyote 

1. Size 
The first key difference to look for when identifying if an animal is a wolf or coyote is the size. Coyotes are much smaller than wolves, weighing in between 15-50 pounds where wolves weigh 70-150 pounds.

2. Height
Coyotes will stand 21-24 inches tall and can be up to 4.5 feet long where wolves will stand 26-32 inches tall and range from 4.5 - 6.5 feet long, a noticeable size difference.
 


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3. Face, ears and paws
A few other key differences are the snouts, ears, and feet. Wolves have broad snouts with round ears and coyotes have narrow snouts and pointed ears. Lastly the feet, wolves have much bigger paws, a quick, easy thing to spot.


Which is wolf, which is coyote?

Can you tell the difference now:

  • Coyote standing in a field
    Notice the narrower snout and face profile, with long ears, marking the coyote.
  • Wolf looking between two trees
    The wolf's facial profile is more rounded, as are the ears.


Staying safe around wolves and coyotes

Of course, if you come across one of these beautiful creatures in the wild, you will want to be cautious.

Human encounters with wolf and coyote are relatively rare, however, hungry or threatened animals can always turn aggressive.

Be sure to keep your distance and stay together as a group. Both the wolf and coyote hunt in packs, tending to single out weaker animals from the herd. They are unlikely to attack a group of humans. 


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