Fox vs Coyote – The 5 Key Differences

Fox vs Coyote
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Written by Heather Hall

Published: June 10, 2024

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If you’ve ever caught a small glimpse of a wild canine roaming around your neighborhood, it is most likely a fox or, depending on where you live, a coyote. The coyote is a specific species of wild canine within the genus Canis; it is closely related to wolves, dogs, and jackals. The fox, on the other hand, is defined as any species within a few different genera, including Vulpes, Lycalopex, and Urocyon.

The coyote is fairly uniform in shape and color, while the fox has a much greater degree of physical variability. These variations encompass everything from the all-white Arctic fox to the big-eared desert-dwelling Fennec fox.

A sharp-eyed person should be able to distinguish a fox and a coyote fairly easily. You just have to know which features to look out for.

wild fox stalking prey

The red fox has five toes on its forepaws and only four toes on the back!

©Jackie Connelly-Fornuff/Shutterstock.com

Five Cool Facts About Fox vs Coyote

Foxes and coyotes are both members of the Canidae family, but despite some similarities, they have many unique characteristics that set them apart.

Here are five cool facts about foxes and coyotes:

  1. Coyotes are wild canines whereas foxes are within the genus Vulpes.
  2. Coyotes are larger and taller than foxes.
  3. Both foxes and coyotes have non-retractable claws that are well-adapted to their hunting and survival needs.
  4. Both foxes and coyotes are skilled hunters, but they have different strategies. Foxes are opportunistic predators and will eat a variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, and insects. Coyotes, on the other hand, are more specialized and prefer to hunt larger prey, such as deer and rabbits.
  5. Foxes are known for their cleverness and problem-solving skills. They have been observed using tools, such as pushing balls of snow down hills to create a diversion and catch prey. Coyotes are also intelligent and adaptable, but not in the same way as foxes.

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Comparing Fox vs Coyote

Here’s a quick breakdown of the main differences between the fox and the coyote.

ComparingFoxCoyote
Length1 to 3 ft (5 ft with tail included)3 to 4.5 ft (more than 5 ft with tail included)
Weight2 to 30 lbs. (1 to 14 kg)15 to 50 lbs. (7 to 23 kg)
ColorRed, gray, brown, black, white, silver, etc.Reddish-brown or gray
DistributionWorldwideNorth America
BodyLong body, short legs, and big ears relative to the sizeMuscular body, shorter legs, and ears relative to the total size

The 5 Key Differences between Foxes and Coyotes

How can a layman with no particular wildlife training tell the difference between a fox and a coyote? Location is generally the easiest way. If you’re living outside of North America, then you’re almost certainly dealing with a fox, because coyotes have a restricted range. But if you’re living in North America, then identification becomes a lot trickier. You can usually rely on these five basic physical characteristics or behaviors to tell the difference.

Beautiful photo of a wild coyote out in nature

Coyotes usually exceed 3 feet in length and 2 feet in height, out-measuring foxes.

©graphicphoto/iStock via Getty Images

Fox vs Coyote: Body Size

On account of its wolf-like heritage, the coyote is, on average, much larger and more muscular than the fox. It usually exceeds 3 feet in length and 2 feet in height. Even the largest species of fox, the red fox, cannot quite measure up to the full size of an adult coyote. Its body is less than 3 feet in length and 20 inches in height. The fox also has much shorter legs and a more tube-shaped body. Many fox species aren’t much larger than your typical house cat, although the thick fur usually makes them appear larger than they really are.

Fox vs Coyote: Coat Color

The coyote usually comes in various shades of gray, interspersed with red around the flanks. The coat color of the fox, by contrast, always varies by species. The most common coat colors are red, gray, silver, and yellowish-brown.

While you might be tempted to believe that the red fox is easy to identify by the rusty red coat color, you should keep in mind that this species also has several different color morphs, including gray, silver, and blackish-brown. The gray color morph of the red fox and the gray fox (a completely separate species from the red fox) are probably the easiest to accidentally mistake for the coyote.

Fox vs Coyote: Tail

The fox has a long, bushy tail, almost as long as the body itself. It is sometimes capped off with a white or black tip. You may notice that the tail has the tendency to hang in the air when the fox runs. The coyote has a shorter tail, relative to body size, and it tends to hang down when the coyote runs. It’s also not quite as bushy as the fox tail.

Cute Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes in fall forest. Beautiful animal in the nature habitat. Wildlife scene from the wild nature. Red fox running in orange autumn leaves.

The fox has a longer, bushier tail than a coyote.

©Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Fox vs Coyote: Living Arrangements and Social Behavior

The coyote, while not quite as social and gregarious as the wolf, is also a pack animal that lives together with several other family members and even sometimes non-family members. Mating season is the only time the coyote will voluntarily use a den.

Otherwise, they sleep and rest above ground. The fox, by contrast, is a solitary animal outside of the breeding season, sometimes sharing its territory with other members of its immediate family. It lives in a den or burrows with a tunnel network and defined chambers.

Fox vs Coyote: Vocalizations

Coyotes are among the most vocal of all wild canines in the world. They can be identified by their long, plaintive, wolf-like howls, rising and falling in pitch, sometimes interspersed with yips, yelps, and barks. The fox, by contrast, does make some howling noises, but it’s most easily identified by the high-pitched whining or yelping sound. They sound very little like a wolf or dog.

Do Coyotes Hunt in Packs

Coyotes in the wild have a much longer lifespan than foxes, but in captivity, both animals live about 14 to 15 years.

©iStock.com/GatorDawg

Fox vs Coyote: Lifespan

The lifespan of foxes and coyotes can vary depending on several factors, including species, habitat, and overall health. In general, foxes have a shorter lifespan than coyotes, with most foxes living for 2-4 years in the wild and up to 14 years in captivity, while coyotes can live for up to 14 years in the wild and up to 15 years in captivity.

However, it is important to note that both foxes and coyotes face numerous threats in the wild, including predators, disease, and human activity, which can impact their overall lifespan.

Can a Coyote be Mistaken for a Fox?

Coyotes are frequently mistaken for domesticated dogs, foxes, and gray wolves. In terms of size, they fall between foxes and gray wolves, typically weighing between 10 to 35 pounds and measuring 18 to 23 inches in shoulder height.

Their coat typically displays a blend of brown, gray, and tan shades, often with black streaks.

Furthermore, the maned wolf, South America’s largest canid, possesses a fox-like appearance and a name that suggests a wolf but is actually not closely related to either.

Summary Table of Key Differences Between Foxes and Coyotes

Here are the key differences between these two species of animals:

RankKey DifferencesFox CharacteristicsCoyote Characteristics
1Body Size3 ft 2 inches3 ft 20 inches – 4 ft
2Coat ColorVaries by species (most commonly red)Brown and tan
3TailLong and busy tailShorter tail that matches body size
4Living Arrangements and Social BehaviorSocial animals living in densSocial animals that live in dens
5VocalizationsHigh-pitched whiningHowling and yipping with a lower tone
6Lifespan2-4 years in the wild14 years in the wild


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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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