What’s the Difference Between Coyotes and Wolves?

A surefire way to discern between these two canines? Check the snout and ears.
Close-up of a coyote's face
Mark Newman / Getty Images

From a distance, it can be challenging to tell a wolf from a coyote. But if you’ve seen one of these similar-looking creatures in the wild, chances are you've spotted a coyote. Widespread and plentiful, coyotes thrive in habitats where people have transformed the natural landscape.

Bigger and bulkier, wolves generally live farther from human development. In the past, people hunted wolves—some species to the brink of extinction—to prevent the killing of livestock.🐟 Their long, contentious history with humanity has understandably made wolves wary of people. 

Learn more about the physical and behavioral qualities of each of these unique species as well as their outlooks for survival.

Key Differences

  • Size: On average, wolves are taller, longer, heavier, and more muscular than coyotes.
  • Range: Coyotes span from Alberta, Canada, through every U.S. state except Hawaii, into Mexico, recently entering Panama; wolves are native to both North America and Eurasia.
  • Face Shape: Coyotes tend to have more foxlike noses with pointed ears in contrast to wolves’ more rounded ears and snouts.
  • Behavior: Wolves are expressive, social creatures whereas coyotes spend more time alone.

Wolf and Coyote Classification

Wolves are carnivores from the family Canidae and the genus Canis, with two recognized species: red wolves (Canis rufus) and gray wolves (Canis lupus). Beyond that, the number of subspecies is highly debated.

Also called the brush or prairie wolf, the coyote (Canis latrans꧙) is a fellow canine in the same family and genus as wolves, but, contrary to its colloquial name, is a separate species. 

Did You Know?

Coyotes are so closely related to wolves that they can crossbreed to produce coywolves: fertile hybrids with characteristics of both large canines.

Characteristics of Coyotes vs. Wolves

Three Timber wolves in Autumn
Wolves in the wilderness. Jim Cumming / Getty Images
Because of their stance and structure, adult coyotes are easily mistaken for medium-sized to large domestic dogs. Conversely, small adult wolves can, at a glance, look like large coyotes. 

Size and Build

Coyotes stand 20 to 22 inches at the shoulder and can weigh 25 to 45 pounds. Their streamlined build allows them to run slightly faster than wolves and maintain that speed for longer.

In contrast, wolves are powerfully built with longer tails and bodies (lending to longer strides), shorter torsos, and more elegant gaits. Wolves weigh between 50 and 100 pounds, their shoulder height ranges from 27 to 33 inches, and they're five to six feet long. Given this physical advantage, wolves tend to attack and kill coyotes in habitats where both species coexist, diminishing the coyote population over time. 

The size differential repeats itself in each animal's tracks. Wolf tracks can be five inches long and four inches wide, while coyote tracks are usually just over half that.

Face Shape

Wolves typically have block-shaped muzzles compared to coyotes’ narrower, longer snouts. In proportion to head size, coyotes’ ears are more prominent, some reaching double the size of a wolf's. Coyote ears are not only bigger; they're also pointed, different from wolves’ rounded ear tips.


Coyotes only have tan or gray fur, whereas wolves can come in black, gray, mottled white, and brown. As they age, wolves’ fur can lighten into silvery blue or white.


Two howling wolves
Two howling wolves. Andyworks / Getty Images
Both wolves and coyotes howl as a form of communication over great distances. Coyotes have higher pitched, shorter howls and tend to bark more, especially at the beginning of the cry. They also make yapping and yipping sounds. 
Wolves’ howls have a deeper tone and change pitch more smoothly. They bark—and growl—at the same lower frequency. However, wolf pups bark and howl at higher pitches with more changes in pitch. 

Family Organization and Behavior

Although they live in family groups, coyotes spend a lot of their time alone, especially while hunting and traveling, and in pairs, while breeding. They are not as aggressive as wolves, but they are mighty hunters and can be provoked if they are starving or defending their young. Still, coyotes are more feared than they are dangerous to humans—mostly because so many people mistake them for wolves.
Wolves, however, are more social creatures that live in packs year-round. Because they are territorial and fight to the death, wolves can be aggressive toward other wolves. Still, wolf attacks on humans are rare.

Conservation Status

A coyote in San Francisco.
Coyotes can thrive in urban environments, including cities like San Francisco. Markus Valek / EyeEm / Getty Images

Neither wolves💙 nor coyotes are at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future, at least in large portions of North America. Even Europe—a continent where many predators, including wolves, were virtually extinct—is witnessing a . 

After 50 years of efforts, gray wolves have been listed as a least-concern species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In 2020, the gray wolf was delisted from the U.S.’s endangered species list. Simultaneous to this conservation success story is the plight of the subspecies lobo, more commonly known as the Mexican gray wolf, now considered to be one of the most endangered mammals in North America.

Because coyotes are so well-adapted to living among humans, they are one of the few species succeeding in the Anthropocene epoch. As deforestation spreads, they too have broadened their territory, participating in the Great American Biotic Interchange—a pathway where species travel up and down the Americas. 
Frequently Asked Questions
  • How can you tell a wolf from a coyote?
    Coyotes are generally smaller, sleeker canines with gray or tan fur and more pointed facial features. Wolves are their larger, heftier, round-faced counterparts that come in an array of colors.
  • Is a coyote a dog or wolf?

    Both coyotes and wolves are members of the dog family, Canidae.

  • Which is more aggressive, a wolf or a coyote?
    Coyotes are less aggressive than wolves, but because they live closer to people, they’re often misunderstood as aggressive.
  • Are coyote and wolves the same?

    Coyotes and wolves are two different species that come from the same family (Canidae) and genus (Canis).

View Article Sources
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  4. "." Iowa Department of Natural Resources

  5. Boitani, L., M. Phillips, and Y. Jhala. "." The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018.

  6. "." U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services. 2020.

  7. "." The Wolf Conservation Center.