Coyote vs Wolf: The 6 Key Differences Explained

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Updated: July 23, 2021
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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?

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, silhouette, and other differences of these two amazing animals.

Coyote vs Wolf

Wolves and coyotes sport many similarities of 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 length 3.521 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 coyote’s are taller and pointy.

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.

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.

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 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.

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About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Which Is More Dangerous, a Coyote or a Wolf?

Despite what the fairy tales say, wolf attacks are extremely rare. During the twentieth century, wolves did not kill a single person in North America. Coyote attacks are equally rare. According to the Humane Society of the United States, “More people are killed by errant golf balls and flying champagne corks each year than are bitten by coyotes.”

Can a Coyote Kill a Wolf?

Adult coyotes are considerably smaller than full-grown wolves in both weight and overall size. It is therefore unlikely that a single coyote could kill a healthy adult wolf.

However, there are circumstances in which a coyote or pack of coyotes could take down a member of the larger species:

  • If a coyote or coyotes encountered a sick or severely injured wolf.
  • If a coyote or coyote pack came upon wolf pups.
  • If a very determined pack of coyotes faced a lone wolf, perhaps contending for rights to a carcass.

What Is the Difference Between a Wolf and a Coyote?

Wolves and coyotes are closely related members of the dog family. The primary differences are in size and silhouette. Wolves are larger – longer, taller, and heavier than coyotes. Wolves also have wider faces and shorter, more rounded ears when compared side by side.

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