How to tell the difference between a wolf and a coyote

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – One of the most frequent questions Game and Fish is asked concerns the difference between a wolf and a coyote—particularly if the animal in question is a juvenile gray-colored wolf.

Wyoming Game and Fish Large Carnivore Biologist Ken Mills says there are a few key differences you should be looking for.

  • Habitat: Gray wolves primarily inhabit forested mountain regions in northwest Wyoming whereas coyotes can be found in all habitats throughout the state.
  • Size: Wyoming gray wolves weigh around 100 pounds, stand 2-3 feet tall, and have larger and more robust bodies than coyotes. Coyotes usually weigh around 30 pounds and stand less than 2 feet at the shoulder.  In the dog world, wolves would be similar to a streamlined Saint Bernard while coyotes would be more comparable to a border collie in body size.
  • Coloring: Most wolves are either light grayish or black, and can lighten toward white or even “blue” when older (5-8 years old).  Coyotes are exclusively gray or tan in color.
  • Tracks: Tracks are more commonly observed than the creatures themselves, and can be distinguished by size.  Wolf tracks are large, usually exceeding 4 inches from front to back (larger than an adult human’s palm) whereas coyote tracks are usually less than 3 inches long.
  • Gait: When moving, wolves tend to “trot” with a smoother gait and longer stride. Coyotes tend to have a bouncier, punctuated trot due to their shorter stature.
  • Sound: Both species use howling for long-distance communication. Wolf howls are deeper in tone and smoother in pitch change, except for pups that bark and have higher-pitched undulating howls.  Coyotes tend to interject more barking (often at the initiation of the howl), have higher-pitched howls, and hold each howl for shorter durations.
  • Life History: Wolves also organize in family groups called packs on a year-round basis whereas coyotes are more likely to be solitary or in pairs except while rearing pups.

Whether you saw a gray wolf or a coyote, both species add to Wyoming’s rich wildlife diversity and play a significant role as carnivores in their respective environments.

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