Are Wolves and Coyotes The Same Species?

Wolves and coyotes are very similar species and can interbreed with each other. However, they are anatomically and evolutionarily different species, as there are changes in their DNA but also physical and behavioral changes that might be minor, but big enough to separate the two species.

It has been known that wolves and coyotes can interbreed and thus create a “hybrid” species that’s often called a “coywolf”. This animal will carry some specifications of both wolves and coyotes.

are wolves and coyotes the same species

But even though these two species are very similar, they’re not the same species. They are very different physically and in terms of their behavior, too. Wolves are larger and have darker pelts, while coyotes are smaller and have a slightly different diet.

They tend to steer clear of one another and see each other as enemies, although when in the same territory, wolves will usually push coyotes out.

Differences Between Wolves and Coyotes

There are many differences between wolves and coyotes. Some can be observed with the naked eye as they are different in terms of their appearance. But they also have some different features when it comes to their behavior.

These are some of the main differences between wolves and coyotes that make them a separate species.

1. Wolves are Larger and Bulkier

One of the main differences that you might notice immediately is the size of these two animals. Wolves are much larger than coyotes. Wolves can grow to about 32 inches tall when fully grown, while a coyote will only reach about 24 inches at most.

Also, wolves are much heavier than coyotes and this can be down to their physiological changes. They have a larger skeleton and thicker fur, which makes them heavier. Wolves will weigh up to 150 pounds, while a coyote might only weigh around up to 50 pounds at most.

This is one of the first differences you’ll notice between coyotes and wolves, and one of the main ways how the two are distinguished.

Read Also: Do Wolves Hunt and Kill Coyotes?

2. Wolves Have Larger Heads and Paws

Then, you will also see a difference in their heads and paws.

Namely, wolves have much rounder and larger heads, while coyotes have a more triangular-shaped head that’s also significantly smaller. If the two animals are similar in size (which doesn’t happen often), then the next thing to look at is their head.

Also, wolves have much larger paws. A coyote’s track might only be around 2.5 inches long and 2 inches wide, while a wolf’s track is much larger – around 5 inches long and 4.5 inches wide.

Read Also: European vs North American Wolves (Key Differences)

3. Their DNA is Different

Wolves and dogs have a similar DNA, while some analytical reports will even go as far as to say they’re largely the same.

However, a wolf’s DNA is very different from a coyote’s. This is why these two species are intrinsically different from each other, even though it’s possible to create a hybrid species between the two, called a coywolf.

All members of the Canis genus are different genetically, and have around 78 chromosomes that are the same. This allows most species to breed with each other and create hybrid species. However, a wolf’s DNA is much closer to a dog’s DNA rather than a coyote’s.

4. They Sound Different

If you have recently heard howling at night, then you might be wondering which animal it was from. 

One of the best ways to distinguish the howls is to examine the pitch of the howl. A wolf’s howl will normally be lower-pitched and more evenly distributed, while a coyote’s howl is higher pitched.

Here’s how a coyote’s howl sounds like:

And here are some wolf howls, for comparison:

As you may hear, the differences between the two howls are quite different. A coyote’s howl sounds almost like screaming, while a wolf’s howl is much more even and perhaps a bit more pleasant to one’s ear.

5. Coyotes are Less Picky Eaters

Another difference between the two species is that coyotes are not as picky eaters as wolves are. They will eat all types of grasses and vegetables and fruits, while wolves tend to primarily focus only on meat-based foods.

Read More: Can Wolves and Foxes Mate?

Similarities Between Wolves and Coyotes

So we’ve examined the differences between the two species, but how are they similar?

Firstly, they both have a set social structure that are quite similar to each other. They prefer to live in packs with one distinct leader, who is called the alpha male. There’s also the alpha female of the pack. But both animals will also wander off on their own and might live on their own for some time, as they are capable of surviving alone.

The second similarity is that they will both hunt in packs, which allows them to target larger animals. Wolves will go after bigger animals than coyotes do, although coyotes are also perfectly capable of taking down animals that are several times larger than themselves.

Their third similarity is that they can travel several miles per day, depending on their needs and the season they found themselves in. During winter, for example, both species might have to travel a lot every day just to find food to feed themselves and their pack members.

Read More: Why do Maned Wolves have Long Legs?

Which is More Dangerous: Coyotes or Wolves?

For humans, wolves are more dangerous because they are larger and a bit more potent with their attacks, although coyotes can also inflict a lot of damage on humans if they attack in packs.

However, it’s rare that you’ll experience such an attack because they will both actively avoid humans. Coyotes, though, are much more easily scared away if you do encounter them because they’re smaller in size and thus not as confident to attack you. They prefer to go after smaller species.

In general though, the risks of wolves and coyotes attacking humans are pretty low. You’d have to surprise them for them to attack you, and both will actively avoid humans if they encounter them or if they’re aware of your presence. 

Read More: Do Moose Eat Wolves?

Final Thoughts

To conclude, wolves and coyotes might appear similar at first sight, but there are some key differences between the two that make them separate species. Wolves are larger than coyotes and also have larger heads and paws. 

On the other hand, coyotes have a different diet and higher-pitched howls than wolves. These are all differences that might not appear apparent for someone who’s never seen the two, but they become clear once you learn about them and see them in action.