Fox vs Coyote – The 5 Key Differences

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: September 26, 2023
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Key Points:

  • Coyotes are wild canines while foxes are within the genus Vulpes, encompassing fewer species.
  • Various coloration patterns, body shapes, and sizes of foxes exist, while coyotes are generally uniform in appearance.
  • Generally, coyotes are much larger and more muscular than foxes.

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.

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

©Jackie Connelly-Fornuff/

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.

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Think You Can?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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
Do Coyotes Hunt in Packs


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.

Summary 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

Jackals: Fox/Coyote Offspring?

If you’ve ever seen a jackal or even a picture of one, you know that these animals look exactly like a coyote and a fox had offspring. However, jackals are not the product of these two animals mating and are different than either a fox or coyote. In the canine family, jackals are closely related to coyotes. While coyotes live in North and Central America, jackals make their home throughout the Old World.

Summary: Fox vs Coyote

Body Size3 ft long
20 in high
Short legs, tube-shaped body
3 ft long
2 ft high
Dog-like, long legs
Coat ColorRed, gray, white, silver, yellow-brownVarious grays, some red on hind legs
TailThe long, bushy tail
Trails behind as fox runs
Shorter tail
Hangs when coyote runs
BehaviorSolitary except during the breeding season
May share territory with immediate family
Dens/burrows to live
Pack animals with family and non-family
Dens when mating
VocalizationsHowls, whines, yelpsVarious

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.

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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am surrounded by nature. When I go for my daily runs I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I am owned by two dogs who take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How do you tell the difference between a fox vs. a coyote?

The easiest way to identify them is their size and body shape. The coyote has a much larger size, longer legs, a more muscular body, and a thinner tail. The fox, by contrast, has shorter legs, a smaller body, and a bushy tail. It also exhibits a much wider range of coat colors, including white, silver, gray, yellowish-brown, and a strong orange-red coat. In terms of their behavior, foxes are more solitary. They tend to live in dens more often and make a high-pitched yipping sound. Finally, if all else fails, location is a good indicator. Coyotes do not live outside of North America.

Which is heavier, a fox or a coyote?

The coyote is much heavier than the fox. The typical coyote weighs up to 50 pounds. The heaviest ever known specimen weighed some 75 pounds. By contrast, most foxes weigh between 10 to 20 pounds. The heaviest fox ever known was about 38 pounds.

How do you tell apart fox poop vs. coyote poop?

Coyote poop is generally large, smooth, and may taper at one end. It can also contain small bone fragments or hairs of larger prey.

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