Comparision: Wolves, Coyotes and Coywolves
Four North American Canine Species:
A Comparison
Use our interactive chart to compare the species.
coywolf
Photo: JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP/Getty Images
SPECIES:
Grey wolf, Timber wolf, Canis lupus lupus

ORIGIN:
The first grey wolf appeared in Eurasia about a million years ago and migrated to North America 750,000 years ago. The grey wolf and coyote survived an extinction that occurred approximately 10,000 years ago, whereas other canine species like the dire wolf did not.
RANGE:
Historically, the grey wolf occupied all of North America, north of 20N. Originally, it was the world's most widely distributed mammal. It's now extinct in most of Western Europe, USA and Mexico. The population is recovering in the northwestern USA due to grey wolf reintroduction programs in Yellowstone National Park. The population is also undergoing a natural recovery in the Great Lakes area. Canada is home to 52,000 - 60,000 wolves and is a stronghold for the species.
HABITAT:
Grey wolves live in a wide range of habitats including arctic tundra, steppe, open woodlands, forests, grasslands and arid landscapes. They require wilderness areas - from 130 to 500 square kilometres - that are big enough to support the large mammals they usually feed on.
BEHAVIOUR:
Wolves are highly social and commonly live in a family group of 7 and more wolves consisting of an alpha pair and their offspring. They're always on the move, looking for food and cover up to twenty kilometres in one day. They communicate with each other by howling, through scent and with body language.
SIZE:
Grey wolves are the largest wild member of the dog family. They have a body length between 1 and 1.5 m and they weigh between 30 and 60 kgs.
DIET:
Grey wolves are carnivores. They have strong jaws with sharp canines. When hunting in a pack they prey on large mammals like moose, caribou, American bison, elk, muskox and yak. If hunting alone they'll eat small mammals like beavers and hares. They're not particularly fast animals, with a top speed of about 45km/h. They rely on endurance rather than speed when hunting.
LIFE SPAN:
The wolf is at the top of the food chain and has no natural enemies - except humans, bears and other wolves. They live 6 - 8 years in the wild.
FUTURE:
Grey wolves are protected in Canada's national parks. Until recently they were considered an endangered species in the United States, but populations have rebounded in the last few years due to conservation and reintroduction programs. The US Government has now removed grey wolves from the Endangered Species List.

coywolf
Photo: Micheal Runtz
SPECIES:
Eastern wolf, Algonquin wolf, Canis lupus lycaon

ORIGIN:
The eastern wolf is closely related to the red wolf, a species that was once commonly found in the United States.
RANGE:
The eastern wolf can be found throughout most of central Ontario and southern Quebec. Algonquin Park is the largest protected area within it's range and the place where the largest population of eastern wolves can be now be found. According to the Ontario government, there are about 2,000 eastern wolves living across Ontario and Quebec.
HABITAT:
The eastern wolves use a wide variety of habitats but they prefer large areas of unbroken forest.
BEHAVIOUR:
Eastern wolves are generally monogamous and live in small packs consisting of a mated pair and offspring. They establish large territories (average of 150 km) and travel constantly in search of food, often up to 20 km per day. Wolves howl to communicate with each other. Eastern wolves are the only kind of wolf that can successfully breed with western coyotes to create fertile offspring.
SIZE:
Eastern wolves are smaller than grey wolves, averaging 25 - 30 kilograms. They have an average height of 60 - 90 centimetres. Males tend to be bigger than females.
DIET:
The eastern wolf is adapted to hunting large prey with powerful jaws and teeth that are identical to the grey wolf. They feed on white-tailed deer, moose, beaver and muskrats.
LIFE SPAN:
Wolves average life span in the wild is 6 - 8 years. The eastern wolf has few predators. The main threat to their existence comes from humans followed by bears and other wolves.
FUTURE:
Eastern wolves have declined dramatically in the last 100 years. The federal and Ontario government have designated it a species of Special Concern.
coywolf
Photo: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages
SPECIES:
Western coyote, Canis latrans (means barking dog)

ORIGIN:
Evidence suggests that the coyote evolved 1.8 million years ago alongside the dire wolf, which is now extinct.
RANGE:
The coyote is found throughout north and central America. Unlike wolves, their range has increased over the last 300 years with the expansion of ranching, agriculture & urbanization and the extirpation of eastern wolves in most of eastern North America. They thrive in both the countryside and in cities. There are estimated to be 2,000 coyotes living in and around the Chicago area alone. They have small territories compared to wolves which are about 20 square kilometres in rural areas and as small as 5 square kilometres in cities.
BEHAVIOUR:
Some scientists say coyotes are one of the most adaptive mammals on the planet and this behavioural plasticity has led to their successful establishment of new territories in the last 100 years.
SIZE:
Western coyotes weigh in at 10 -15 kilograms and are about a metre long. They typically are the size of a small to medium sized dog.
PHYSICAL FEATURES:
DIET:
Coyotes have a very adaptable diet. They prefer small mammals such as voles, squirrels, mice. But they will also eat snakes, lizards and any bird that nests on the ground like Canadian geese. They will also eat garbage and pet food if available.
LIFE SPAN:
Western coyotes typically live anywhere from 3-5 years in rural environments and have been found living up 13 years in urban environments. The main cause of death for western coyotes is humans through hunting and vehicle collisions.
FUTURE:
Coyote populations are currently at an all-time high.

coywolf
Photo: Kenn Leitch/CBC
SPECIES:
Coywolf, Eastern coyote, Canis latrans x Canis lupus lycaon

ORIGIN:
The coywolf originated recently. Watch a video here.
RANGE:
In Canada, coywolves (which also go by the name eastern coyotes) are flourishing in southern Ontario, Quebec and throughout the Maritime provinces. They can also be found all along the northeastern seaboard of the U.S.A. from New York State to New Hampshire and even into Rhode Island. Recent DNA analysis have also shown that this hybrid is starting to move as far as Pennsylvania. Their terrorities range from 20 - 40 square kilometres in the countryside and can be as small as 5-8 square kilometres in cities.
HABITAT:
Coywolves prefer edge habitats in agricultural, suburban and urban areas. Edge habitats provide cover and in general, a greater amount of food resources. For part of the year, coywolves live in dens. In the winter, they use their dens for refuge from the elements; summer dens are used for 6-8 weeks of the year when the pups are born. Females retreat to the dens a few days before giving birth and the young remain in or near the den for the first 6- 8 weeks of their life. Coywolves, like wolves, keep many den sites at any one time. At the least sign of disturbance they are often quick to switch from one to the other. Coywolves are very protective of their young and move them from one den site to another by carrying them in their teeth like cats do with kittens. In cities, coywolves favour den sites in natural green space like parks, ravines and stream banks and even unused portions of backyards.
BEHAVIOUR:
Eastern coyotes or coywolves, like western coyotes, are much more comfortable living in closer proximity to people than wolves are. Still, most people, whether in the city or the country, rarely see them. These phantom-like creatures have mastered the art of going about their business under the radar. We are more likely to hear them nearby. In the country the call and answer of coywolves keeping a check on each other is a common sound and in the city fire engine sirens and train whistles are known to set them howling in response. Despite being able to live near us, coywolves are wary and avoid people when ever possible. In urban areas, they tend to be nocturnal. Coywolves live in small family groups consisting of a mated pair and their young.
SIZE:
Coywolves generally weigh anywhere from 14-18 kilograms and are 120 - 150 centimetres long. Male coywolves tend to be larger than females. Their thick coats, long legs and bushy tails often give them a wolf-like appearance that causes them to be mistaken for these much larger animals.
DIET:
Coywolves are omnivores. They're opportunistic hunters who will feed on everything from berries and seeds to small mammals like mice, voles, squirrels and rabbits. Their large jaw structure allows them to hunt larger mammals like deer, which in spring, is a staple of their diet. In the city, they will feed on garbage, compost, fruit or vegtable gardens - and in some cases - small outdoor pets.
LIFE SPAN:
A wild coywolf in an urban area has a life span of 3-5 years. In a protected area, it's suspected that they can live longer but no confirmed scientific data is available. Humans through hunting, trapping and vehicle collisions pose the greatest threat to coywolf survival.
FUTURE:
Coywolf populations are thriving in urban and suburban areas. Their range expansion has shown them pushing as far south as into Pennsylvania.

-


CBC Shop

Purchase Nature of Things merchandise.

CBC Shop

Also on CBC