Coyote vs Wolf: The 6 Key Differences Explained

coyote vs wolf

Written by Heather Ross

Updated: October 10, 2023

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You saw a large, grey, furry animal streak across the road or down the forest path in front of you. Or, you heard eerie howls in the darkness. Was it a coyote? Was it a wolf?

Both canines hold special importance to legend and lore. Their presence symbolizes different elements like strength, wisdom, and foreboding peril. What is it about them that makes them beautiful and a little frightening at the same time?

Wolves and coyotes have many similarities, but there are evident differences when you compare them side by side. Keep reading to learn how to compare the face, silhouettes, and other differences between these two amazing animals.

Coyote vs Wolf

Wolves and coyotes sport many similarities in appearance. They are both medium to large-sized doglike animals. They have primarily grey coats with occasional patches of black, white, red, or brown. They are both carnivores that hunt in packs and communicate via yaps, barks, and howls.

Those are the similarities. What are the differences? When you compare wolves and coyotes side by side, you will find that the wolf is considerably larger than the coyote. The wolf is taller, longer, and heavier, with a wider face and larger feet.

There are also differences in the sound of the two species’ calls. And, where the sighting occurred is important, as the coyotes’ range is more limited than the wolves’ natural habitat.

Comparing Coyotes vs Wolves

We’ve assembled the below chart as an easy reference for distinguishing between wolves and coyotes.

Please note that there are a number of canid species around the world called “wolves,” but here we are referring to the gray wolf, Canis lupus. The coyote is classified as Canis latrans. Wolves, coyotes, domestic dogs, and several other canine species share a common ancestor.

Gray WolfCoyote
FaceBroader, larger nose padNarrower, smaller nose pad
Silhouette26 to 32 inches shoulder height, 4.5 to 6.5-foot length21 to 24 inches shoulder height, 3.5 to 4.5-foot length
Weight70 to 150 pounds15 to 50 pounds
CallsLong, low howlsShort, high-pitched howls
with yips
TracksMin. 4 by 3.75 inchesMax. 2.75 by 2.5 inches
LocationNorth America, Asia, and EuropeNorth America

The 6 Key Differences Between Wolves and Coyotes

Some of the following differences may be difficult to determine at a distance but will allow you to easily identify each of these two species.

Coyote vs Wolf: Face

When you compare a wolf and a coyote side by side, the wolf will have a broader face, and the coyote a slender face by comparison. The dark nose pad is larger on the wolf. The wolf’s ears will be shorter and rounded in shape, while the coyotes are taller and pointy.

Wolf Howling at the Moon

Wolves are larger and heavier than coyotes.


Coyote vs Wolf: Silhouette

The silhouette, or overall body shape and outline, of the wolf, is larger than that of the coyote. At the shoulder, grey wolves average a height of 26 to 32 inches. Even the smaller end of the adult range is larger than that of the coyote, which averages 21 to 24 inches at the shoulder.

The same is true of the length measured from the nose to the tip of the tail. Coyotes max out at about 4.5 feet, while wolves average 4.5 to 6.5 feet in length.

Coyotes often have a lankier, skinnier overall silhouette than wolves. This can vary, however, depending on food resources and other conditions.

Exotic Pet Ownership coyote

Coyotes are smaller and lankier than wolves.

©Jukka Jantunen/

Coyote vs Wolf: Weight

The average gray wolf weighs between 70 and 150 pounds, rivaling the German shepherd. Coyotes, on the other hand, are more comparable to small to medium-sized dogs, ranging in weight from 15 to 50 pounds.

Coyote vs Wolf: Calls

Wolves are known for their haunting vocalizations – long, low-pitched, drawn-out howls. Wolves also growl and bark. Wolves are often thought to howl at the moon, but that’s not the case. Their howls are their way of communicating with other wolves over a long distance, and wolves are most active at night, so it would be easy to assume they have an affinity for the moon. Their howls can be used to keep a pack together if danger is sensed, to protect their young, or guard a kill site. And some howls are used to locate others.

Coyotes also howl, but their voices are higher pitched than their larger cousins. The howling vocalizations of a coyote pack are often punctuated with barks, yaps, yips, and yodels.

Coyote Tracks - Comparison vs Bear and Wolf

You can see that the wolf’s tracks are larger than a coyote’s in the above illustration.


Coyote vs Wolf: Tracks

Determining the exact size of a specimen can be difficult when observing from a safe distance. But you can measure a track or pawprint! Coyote footprints are generally 2.25 to 2.75 inches long and 1.75 to 2.5 inches wide. Wolf prints are much larger – 4 to 5.5 inches long and 3.75 to 5 inches wide. If it is about the size of your handprint, it’s probably a wolf!

Coyote vs Wolf: Location

Coyotes can be found in North and Central America, specifically Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Grey wolves share this range, but they can also be found across Europe, Asia, and rarely, Northern Africa. If you see a large grey canine outside of North America, you can rule out the coyote.

Bonus: Why Do You See Coyotes Everywhere Now?

Sign warning about coyotes in a suburban neighborhood

Coyotes have become a common sight in neighborhoods all over the country.


Not that long ago, a coyote was synonymous with the prairies and deserts of the great American West along with cowboys and wagon trains. Now, they are everywhere – in cities, neighborhoods, and land all across the United States. Coyotes thrive in urban areas because they take advantage of any little patch of habitat and they will eat anything – garbage, pet food – even pets themselves.

How have they expanded their range so quickly and thoroughly? Coyotes have been on the move since the 1800s – when European settlers transformed the native landscape through logging and agricultural development. This created more open habitats in eastern states – and the coyotes moved in as land opened up. This happened as humans attempted to exterminate wolves and cougars, which decreased competition for coyotes. They took advantage of every opportunity.

Coyotes are highly adaptable and seem to like golf courses and parks. They aren’t picky about where they sleep at night – often just sleeping out in the open or under a shrub in someone’s yard. Experts have no idea how many coyotes there are – estimates range from one to 10 million in North America. There are just too many to count with their number increasing.

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About the Author

Heather Ross is a secondary English teacher and mother of 2 humans, 2 tuxedo cats, and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing about all the animals!

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