Coyotes are a common canid species in North and Central America. However, not all coyotes are the same.
While most subspecies have similar characteristics, there is a notable difference between the eastern and western Canis latrans populations.
The eastern coyote is generally larger and heavier than the western one. This size difference gives eastern coyotes an edge in fights, making them stronger than western coyotes. Eastern coyotes also have a more intense color compared to the eastern species. Lastly, the two subspecies live in different geographical ranges and have different territory sizes, even if they prefer the same habitats.
The table below shows a quick comparison between western coyote vs. eastern coyote subspecies:
|Characteristic||Eastern Coyote||Western Coyote|
|Length||4 to 5 feet||3.3 to 4.3 feet|
|Shoulder height||22 to 25 inches||15 to 20 inches|
|Weight||30 to 50 pounds||20 to 30 pounds|
|Color||Silver gray to grizzled brownish red||Tawny gray and tan|
|Food habits||Opportunistic omnivores||Opportunistic omnivores|
|Geographic range||East of Great Lakes||Central & Western North America|
|Habitat||Variety of habitats||Variety of habitats|
|Territory size||5 to 25 square miles||3 to 17 square miles|
|Longevity||Up to 14 years||Up to 14 years|
Eastern Coyote Vs. Western Coyote: Key Differences And Similarities
For a long time, scientists believed that all coyote subspecies had similar features regardless of where they lived.
However, researchers concluded that there are some crucial differences between western and eastern coyotes, as detailed below.
One of the main differences people notice when comparing eastern and western coyotes is that the former are larger.
Typically, a western coyote measures around 3.3 to 4.3 in length. This is the “standard” coyote length range cited by numerous sources, mostly because the western coyote population occupies a larger geographic range and are easier to come by.
However, eastern coyotes are noticeably larger, measuring between 4 to 5 feet in length.
The shoulder height is also different between the two subtypes.
Eastern coyotes can grow up to 25 inches tall at the shoulder, whereas western coyotes are shorter, with heights ranging from 15 to about 20 inches.
That western coyotes are lighter than the eastern ones doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the difference in size.
In a study comparing the body mass of coyotes living in Eastern and Western North America, researchers concluded that western coyotes weigh between 20 and 30 pounds.
Eastern coyotes are a lot heavier, weighing between 30 and 50 pounds.
According to the study, not only are male eastern coyotes bigger and heavier than all western coyotes, but female coyotes living on the eastern side of the continent are also heavier than all male and female coyotes in the west.
Males in the northeast are the largest coyotes in the world, thanks to sexual dimorphism – female coyotes are generally smaller than males.
Coyotes are generally easy to distinguish from wolves, not only for their smaller size but thanks for their color, too.
In fact, there aren’t major color differences between eastern and western coyotes. The most noticeable difference is the intensity of the color.
Most eastern coyotes have grizzled brownish red fur, darker on the back and lighter under the chin, chest, and paws. However, some eastern coyote packs have silver gray and even black fur.
Western coyotes’ color is similar to the grizzled brownish red, but the actual shade is more of a tawny gray and tan. The hues are generally duller compared to eastern coyotes.
There aren’t major behavior differences between eastern and western coyote behaviors. However, the former tend to mate for life.
Western coyotes are also monogamous and mate with the same partner for several years. However, they do not mate for life and can mate with several partners throughout their lives.
An exception seems to be coyotes living in urban habitats. According to a study, coyotes in urban areas tend to mate for life.
Eastern and western coyotes alike are social mammals, but they don’t form packs in the way wolves do.
Coyote packs are mostly family groups consisting of a mated (and breeding) pair and their offspring. They breed once a year, typically from January to March.
Both parents are equally involved in raising the dependent pups, and older offspring may also be involved in pup care.
However, even if coyotes aren’t solitary, they prefer hunting and foraging alone. A pack may come together to kill larger prey, but these instances are rare.
5. Food Habits
Like most species in the Canidae family, coyotes are predators and carnivores. However, they don’t eat meat exclusively and are generally described as opportunistic omnivores.
Again, there isn’t a true difference between eastern and western coyotes.
Both subspecies prefer smaller prey that is easy to catch. Common choices include rodents, rabbits, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Even if coyotes prefer fresh meat, they are also scavengers that take advantage of carcasses and carrion.
All coyotes supplement their diets with fruits and other plant materials. Moreover, all coyotes living near human settlements may take advantage of garbage refuse or go after livestock, smaller pets (including cats and dogs), and poultry.
6. Geographic Range
As one could expect, eastern and western coyotes live in different geographic ranges – and their names are clear indicators of where each coyote lives.
Eastern coyotes inhabit the entire east coast, stretching as far west as Ohio. They are also found in Canada, especially in the Nova Scotia region; however, all coyotes in Central America are western coyotes.
Western coyotes inhabit the west coast and are divided into two separate subspecies: California Valley and Northwest Coast coyotes.
California Valley coyotes are generally smaller than those inhabiting the Northwest Coast. Their geographic range includes the Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley.
Northwest Coast coyotes are larger and more brightly colored than the California Valley ones, but they are still duller in the shade and smaller than eastern coyotes. They occupy the northern areas near the Pacific Coast and stretch all the way to British Columbia.
Western coyotes also inhabit the central portion of the United States, from the Pacific Coast to Ohio.
All coyotes are very adaptable creatures living in a variety of habitats. The habitat choice is mostly based on the territory morphology rather than any type of preference.
Coyotes can be found in forests and scrublands, grasslands, plains, swamps, and even in deserts. They also live in urban and suburban parks.
8. Territory size
Eastern and western coyotes have similar habitat preferences and behavior, but their home ranges differ greatly in size.
While eastern coyotes are increasingly common, western coyotes are much more common. A lower population enables eastern coyotes to claim larger home ranges, which can vary in size from about five to 25 square miles.
Western coyotes, especially those living in urban areas, have smaller home ranges. A pack usually occupies an area between three and 17 square miles.
Studies concluded that resident coyotes usually have smaller home ranges compared to transient coyotes who may move from one place to another or look for a new home range.
All coyotes have similar lifespan expectancies of up to 14 years. In truth, however, most coyotes have a much shorter life expectancy in the wild – about five to six years. In captivity, coyotes can live for up to 20 years.
Despite their short lifespan in the wild, coyotes are an abundant species with a “least concerned” conservation status.
Depending on local laws and regulations, the coyote hunting season can be open year-round.
Eastern coyotes and western coyotes are similar in many aspects, but the eastern ones are larger and heavier than western coyotes. They also have more brightly colored fur, and their colors include silver gray and black.
Both species are opportunistic omnivores with similar prey preferences and behaviors. If it would come to a fight, though, an eastern coyote would likely take out the western one.
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