Differences Between Wolves and Coyotes

A pack of wolves standing in the snow near a forest.
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Few animals signify the wilderness of North America like the wolf and the coyote. At first glance, these animals appear to have a great deal in common, but these distant relatives actually have many differences between them. From their physical attributes to their behavior, these similar-looking animals have qualities and habits distinct to their own species.

Size Comparison

Size represents an obvious difference between wolves and coyotes. While coyotes reach up to 66 centimeters (26 inches) in height and weight up to 25 kilograms (55 pounds) at maturity, fully grown wolves grow to a height of 81 centimeters (32 inches) and may weigh as much as 50 kilograms (110 pounds). Coyotes tend to have smaller muscle mass, and at about 6.3 centimeters (2.5 inches) in length, their paw prints are about half the size of those of wolves. The smaller size of a coyote suits its more stealthy hunting style.

Strength and Bite

With more than twice the weight of a coyote, a wolf has considerably more strength behind its movements and, especially its bite. Wolves have a biting capacity of about 106 kilograms per square centimeter (1,500 pounds per square inch). This equals almost twice the prodigious bite pressure of the German shepherd dog and as much as five times that of the average human. This tremendous bite strength can allow an adult wolf to chew through a moose femur in six to eight bites. Coyotes, by comparison, have bite pressures more similar to medium-sized dogs.

Meat-Based Diets

Virtually pure carnivores, wolves generally eat only meat. From large hoofed mammals like deer and bison to smaller animals like mice and rats, the wolf depends on meat for the bulk of its diet. Wolves will often eat carrion and may even eat wild fruit, but only in some rare instances. Coyotes, on the other hand, consume a significantly broader range of foods, from insects and berries to rabbits and other small mammals such as deer fawns. Largely adapted to life near humans, many coyotes will eat carrion, garbage, small rodents and occasionally a household cat or small dog.

Adaptive Success

With its limited diet, and its large size making it an easy target for hunters, the wolf has failed to adapt successfully to the advance of North American civilization. Wolves from the gray wolf to the red wolf have dwindled in numbers until reaching endangered status. By contrast, coyotes have spread across North America from their native habitats, following human civilization as it has spread. Their diverse diet, excellent camouflage and ability to hunt both solo and cooperatively have led to their success and even overpopulation in some areas.

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