Two canine species in Yellowstone are coyotes and wolves. These carnivores may look similar, but since they compete for prey, they can be arch enemies.
In fact, wolves are notorious for running coyotes away from their kills and sometimes attack and kill coyotes in their territory. Wolves typically hunt larger prey than coyotes do and can take down animals as large as bison and moose. But their prey of preference in Yellowstone is elk. Coyotes like to eat large prey too but can survive on small prey like mice and voles if necessary.
Both coyotes and wolves typically live in packs in the park. And they both have thick fur, especially in winter.
Though there is a vast difference in the size of a coyote and a wolf, coyotes are sometimes mistaken for gray wolves. Gray wolves can actually be black, white or gray. If you see a white or black canine, it’s a wolf. But the grey ones can be more difficult to identify. A rusty hue (or tan/brown?) is more typical of a coyote around here.
The biggest difference is size. A wolf is three times larger than a coyote and can weigh from 80 to 130 pounds. Usually our coyotes are much less than 40 pounds. A wolf stands 3 feet high and often people are surprised at how big they are if they see one at a close range. When an animal is far away from you, however, its size can be hard to determine.
Look for the other differences in appearance. Coyotes have a pointier snout and ears compared to the blockier, more rounded head of a wolf. Coyotes sport more dainty feet and ankles. They leave a 2 ½ inch footprint while a wolf leaves a 4 ½ inch track—closer to the size of an adult human hand.
Although wolves have longer legs than coyotes and stand much taller, they have a stockier, more solid appearance since coyotes’ legs are much thinner toward their feet. Coyotes almost look dainty in comparison.
The howl of the wolf is distinctly different from that of coyotes as well. Wolves have a low, deep mournful-sounding howl compared to the coyote’s higher pitched howl that is usually infused with lots of yipping.
If you are fortunate enough to spot one of these canines in the park, try to correctly identify it by its size, appearance, or howl. See if you can make any comparisons between the wild ‘dogs’ of Yellowstone and their domesticated cousins you may have at home.