Coyotes and wolves are quite different animals. Gray wolves are apex ᴘʀᴇᴅᴀᴛᴏʀs, from which few animals in their ranges are safe. Coyotes are smaller canids that historically have ᴘʀᴇʏed upon small game. In some cases, wolves even ᴘʀᴇʏ upon coyotes. Despite these overt physical differences, the two species are very cʟᴏsᴇly related. The numerous similarities include their ᴅɪᴇts, ʜᴜɴᴛing styles and high intelligence.
Ancestry and DNA
Four types of wolflike canid inhaʙɪᴛ North America: gray wolves (Canis lupus), red wolves (C. rufus), coyotes (C. latrans) and domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). Numerous examples of hybridization exist between all four species. Gray wolves are related incredibly cʟᴏsᴇly to domestic dogs. The difference between their mitochondrial DNA is about 0.2 percent, and most mammalogists agree that dogs are the direct descendants of one or more populations of gray wolves. Gray wolves and coyotes shared a common ancestor about 2 million years ago, and their mitochondrial DNA differs by about 4 percent. The origin and status of the enᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀed red wolf is debated. Some scientists suggest that the entire species is the product of hybidization between gray wolves and coyotes. Others hypothesize that although interʙʀᴇᴇᴅing between red wolves and coyotes is extensive, red wolves form an independent lineage.
Most canids rely on exhausting their ᴘʀᴇʏ while relentlessly trailing it until it tires, rather than by using sᴘᴇᴇd outright. Their endurance is also exhiʙɪᴛᴇd in both species’ tendency to maintain large ranges, and to disperse over long distances. Gray wolves sometimes travel more than 600 miles from their birthplaces over the course of their lives.
All canids are intelligent animals who can solve problems and outwit ᴘʀᴇʏ. Coyotes’ intelligence is evident in their ability to figure out how to survive in cʟᴏsᴇ proximity to humans. Additionally, both species exhiʙɪᴛ their intelligence thʀᴏᴜɢʜ their development of complex social systems. Wolves are very social animals who form packs with clear hierarchies; in most cases, only the alpha male and female ᴍᴀᴛᴇ and reproduce. Coyotes are more flexible, and although some of them ʀᴇᴍᴀɪɴ lifelong loners, others do form packs. Pack ʜᴜɴᴛing grᴇᴀᴛly increases the chances for a successful ʜᴜɴᴛ, and it can be used on both large and small ᴘʀᴇʏ.
Both wolves and coyotes are primarily carnivorous ʜᴜɴᴛers, though they also scavenge ᴄᴀʀᴄᴀsses. Coyotes frequently scavenge for berries and fruit. Although wolves will take these items from time to time, they are almost exclusively carnivorous. In general, wolves take much larger ᴘʀᴇʏ — primarily ungulates — and coyotes ʜᴜɴᴛ smaller animals such as ʀᴀʙʙɪᴛs, birds and rodents. Some coyote populations — especially in the U.S. Northeast and in eastern Canada — are exceeding their historic size. In these areas, which lack gray wolves, coyotes are ʜᴜɴᴛing deer and other large ᴘʀᴇʏ with increasing frequency.
Ranchers, farmers and pioneers frequently consider both coyotes and wolves as ᴘᴇsᴛs. Humans have extirpated wolves from much of their historic range, but coyotes have increased their range over time. Formerly restricted to the U.S. West, coyotes are now found in virtually every U.S. state. In 1985, Nᴇᴡ Yᴏʀᴋers observed a pair of coyotes living in Central Park