Wolf or Coyote?
How do we differentiate a grey wolf or gray wolf (Canis lupus) from a coyote (Canis latrans)? Firstly, thanks to the colour of the fur. That of the coyote is generally a greyish-yellow colour. Its forelegs, muzzle and the back of its ears are tawny in colour. Frequently, the tip of the coyote’s tail is black. Its belly as well as its throat is white. Meanwhile, the grey wolf generally has, as its name indicates, a grey fur, though it can fluctuate between white and black.
Next, there is a notable difference in regard to their size. The coyote is smaller and skinnier than the grey wolf and it has pointier ears. Its muzzle is narrow whereas that of the wolf is wider. When it runs, the coyote keeps its tail rather low. When the wolf runs, it generally holds its tail quite high. Regarding the weight and length, the wolf is more massive and longer than the coyote. In fact, the weight of the coyote varies between 9 and 23 kg, while that of the wolf fluctuates between 18 and 42 kg. Regarding the total length, it situates between 1140 and 1410 mm for the coyote and between 1590 and 1650 mm for the grey wolf.
There are also several significant differences with respect to their lifestyle. The grey wolf generally lives in a pack, whereas the coyote has a tendency to live alone, though it can sometimes live in a family band. Furthermore, the vital range of the wolf, that is to say the territory which it needs to respond to its vital needs, can be considerably greater than that of the coyote. In fact, the vital area of the coyote extends between 7 and 80 km2, whereas that of the wolf fluctuates between 39 and 13 000 km2.
Regarding their diet, both mammals also differ by the size of their prey, the wolf feeding on animals of greater size. About the coyote, it nourishes principally on small mammals, like the vole, the common groundhog (Marmota monax), the American hare (Lepus americanus), the raccoon (Procyon lotor), and sometimes the White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). It also eats fish, birds, amphibians, insects, fruit, carrion as well as crustaceans. As for the grey wolf, it principally attacks large mammals, like the White-tailed deer, the moose (Alces alces) and the Woodland caribou (Rangifier tarandus). We must understand that the grey wolf often hunts in a pack whereas the coyote is rather a solitary predator.
The coyote and the wolf have a point in common, however, they are carnivores. Carnivores have a set of teeth that is well adapted to their lifestyle. Their incisors are small and pointy. Their canines, which are long, conical and curved, are very efficient to bite and catch their prey. Carnivores also have teeth that are said to be “carnivorous” which herbivores don’t posses. We easily distinguish them because they have sharp edges that fit in each other to tear the meat well. Of course, regarding the skull, that of the wolf is larger than that of the coyote.
Although you do not have the chance to observe the grey wolf in its natural state in the Gaspésie, you do have the opportunity to observe it in semi-liberty at the Bioparc of the Gaspésie. The luckier ones, who will participate in the “Full Moon” and the “All-nighter and Nocturnal Fauna” activities, run the chance of hearing the wolves howling as the night falls and to sleep a few feet from three adult grey wolves. Something to give you goose bumps...
By Cindy Gagné
Biologist and Guide Coordinator
Bioparc de la Gaspésie
Translation by Cynthia Lepoidvin