Coyotes and red wolves are two canid species in North America. The former has a wider range, but the two can sometimes share a habitat.
What happens when they come together? If they were to fight, who would win the battle?
Red wolves are larger, heavier, and more powerful than coyotes. They have longer teeth and a stronger bite. Thus, in a one-on-one, a red wolf would almost always win the fight. Coyotes would only stand a chance if a pack came across a lone red wolf. However, coyotes are faster, and in a one-on-one, they could outrun the aggressors.
The table below shows a quick overview of red wolves vs. coyotes*:
|3.3 to 4.3 feet
|4.0 to 5.5 feet
|2 x 2.5 inches
|3 x 4.5 inches
|Gray tan or brown
|Reddish brown or buff
|20 to 50 pounds
|45 to 80 pounds
|Up to 2,150 lb.-ft./s
|Up to 2,400 lb.-ft./s
|North & Central America
|Southeastern United States
*Coyote data in the table above is generic and refers to coyote averages. There could be variations in size and strength between various coyote subspecies.
Strike forces in the table were calculated by multiplying the top speed by the max weight each species can reach.
Coyote Vs. Red Wolf: Key Differences And Similarities
Red wolves and coyotes are two species in the Canidae family. They look so similar that some argue that red wolves aren’t actually wolves but a hybrid coyote subspecies.
While this isn’t true – a separate, more recent study revealed that red wolves are actually a distinct wolf species – they still share a lot of traits with coyotes.
However, there are also important differences that can help you identify the species correctly.
1. Body Size
The first noticeable difference between red wolves and coyotes is their size.
Measuring between 4 and 5.5 feet in length, red wolves are larger than coyotes. In fact, coyotes grow to lengths between 3.3 and 4.3 feet.
Red wolves typically have a shoulder height of about 26 inches, whereas coyotes are about two inches shorter, with an average shoulder height of 24 inches.
While these differences may seem minimal in the wild, you should remember that coyote-lookalikes that are bigger than average coyotes can be red wolves.
This distinction is particularly important when hunting coyotes in the Southeastern USA, where they could share a habitat with red wolves.
Red wolves are a critically endangered and protected species that can’t be hunted.
2. Paw Size
Bigger bodies are almost always synonymous with larger paws, and the red wolf-coyote comparison confirms this hypothesis.
On average, coyotes have a paw size between 1.5 and 2 inches wide and about 2.5 inches long. Red wolves also have a rectangular paw shape, but its size is about 3 inches in width and 4.5 inches in length.
The larger paws of red wolves give them an advantage in a fight, but knowing their size also comes in handy when you want to identify the species based on paw traces on the ground.
By comparison, gray wolves have even larger paws, usually exceeding 4.5 inches in length.
Another way to tell the difference between coyotes and red wolves is by paying attention to the fur color.
Coyotes are generally grayish tan or brown, sometimes mixed with some white.
Red wolves are a reddish brown or buff with white on the lower jaw and chest. The muzzle is also reddish, and they have some black strikes along the spine.
Red wolves also have an advantage when it comes to weight – they usually have a heft of between 45 and 80 pounds.
Coyotes are a lot lighter, only weighing between 20 and 50 pounds. The lower heft comes as an advantage as far as speed is concerned; however, the lower body mass and size actually make coyotes weaker than red wolves and other wolf species.
As we mentioned, coyotes gain points when it comes to speed. They can sprint at top speeds up to 43 miles per hour. Red wolves are a lot slower, only managing to pull off around 30 miles per hour at top speed.
Their faster nature helps coyotes gain momentum and increases their impact force. However, it still doesn’t make them strong enough to fight red wolves.
6. Teeth Length
Another difference that gains red wolves some points is the size of their teeth.
Both coyotes and red wolves have a similar skull shape and dental formulas. However, when comparing the two, coyote skulls look like miniature wolf skulls. Not only are they smaller, but the teeth are also shorter.
Talking about numbers, coyotes’ canine teeth generally grow up to 1.45 inches long.
Comparatively, red wolves’ canines can reach 2.5 inches in length. This gives them an advantage both during hunting and when defending themselves or fighting off competitors for food and resources.
7. Bite Force
Larger skulls and jaws don’t necessarily mean a stronger bite force. However, in the case of coyotes and red wolves, the latter actually has a stronger bite.
Red wolves have weaker jaws compared to gray wolves and a bite force quotient of 99.17. That turns out to be around 957 PSI.
Coyotes have even weaker jaws, their bite force not exceeding 727 PSI.
To put things into perspective, coyotes can chew bones and tear the flesh off of them without trouble, but red wolves can actually crush bones with a single bite.
8. Strike Force
There are very few studies on the strike force of wolves and coyotes. However, the impact force is easy to calculate by multiplying the speed at the moment of the impact by mass.
Since both speed and mass can vary from one individual to another, each red wolf and coyote will have a different strike force.
For the purpose of this comparison, however, we considered the maximum weight and top speed each species can reach.
Based on these factors, coyotes have a strike force of about 2,150 lb.-ft./s or 66 pounds of force. Red wolves are slower, but they are a lot heavier. Their impact force can reach 2,400 lb.-ft./s, which is about 75 pounds of force.
Coyotes and red wolves are members of the same family, and they have similar behavior. Both species are social, even though coyotes prefer hunting and foraging on their own rather than in groups. However, they form packs, too.
Coyotes and red wolves alike are monogamous, and packs are typically formed by a mated pair and their offspring.
Within the pack, only the alpha pair mates and produces offspring. However, the subordinates help raise the young – this is true for both red wolves and coyotes.
Breeding seasons vary from January to March for red wolves and coyotes alike. Both species produce an average of six pups per litter, and both species have a gestation period of around 60 to 65 days.
Another similarity between red wolves and coyotes is the diet. Both species have similar preferences, and they are both omnivores, even though red wolves have a more carnivorous-oriented diet compared to coyotes.
Like grey wolves, red wolves are primarily hunters and eat prey they kill themselves. Main prey includes ungulates, rabbits, pigs, and rodents. Generally, red wolves hunt in a particular area for up to 10 days at a time, then change range.
They can turn into scavengers in periods of scarce food availability and supplement their diets with fruits.
Coyotes are much more opportunistic than red wolves and consume large amounts of carrion. However, they still prefer fresh meat and are agile hunters.
A difference is that coyotes mostly go after small prey, such as rabbits and rodents. Birds, snakes, and invertebrates are other common foods.
The main reason coyotes go after smaller prey is that they rarely hunt in packs.
Like red wolves, they supplement their diets with fruits and other plant materials and even take advantage of their proximity to human settlements, going after livestock and pets and digging for food scraps in the garbage.
Coyotes and red wolves can sometimes share a habitat.
Coyotes are a widespread species inhabiting North and Central America, from Canada all the way to Mexico and Panama. They are extremely adaptable, and their habitat varies from deserts and dunes to grasslands, forests, and suburban areas.
Red wolves live in the Southeastern United States. Originally, their habitat included mountains, wetlands, and lowland forests.
However, red wolves are now almost extinct in the wild, and they are slowly reintroduced in inaccessible swamplands and mountainous areas.
12. Conservation Status
Red wolves and coyotes may be similar in many ways, but their conservation status couldn’t be more different.
Coyotes are one of the most common species of wild canids in North America. They are easy to come by and have a least concerned status on the IUCN Red List.
Red wolves have a critically endangered status on the same list.
Unlike coyotes, there are very few adult red wolves left in the wild, their estimated population counting only 20 to 30 individuals. The situation isn’t much better for red wolves in captivity, their numbers not exceeding 250 individuals.
According to current data, red wolves could become extinct in less than 10 years. Nevertheless, scientists and environmentalists are working together to reverse the extinction process.
Who Would Win A Fight?
Coyotes and red wolves are similar in many ways. The two species share DNA and can live in the same geographic ranges and habitats.
These species could come across one another, and clashes could arise if both wolves and coyotes start competing for food. In almost all situations, red wolves would come out victorious.
Like most wild canids, both red wolves and coyotes form packs. However, coyotes usually hunt or forage alone, whereas red wolves hunt in packs. Red wolves are also larger and stronger than coyotes.
A single red wolf could take out a coyote without effort, and a coyote faced with a pack of red wolves has little chance of success. The coyote could escape alive, though, using its speed to get away from the larger competitors.
The only situation where coyotes may come out victorious is when a coyote pack comes across a lone red wolf.
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