Eastern Coyote Morphology
The eastern coyote varies from the western coyote in size, as well its as overall look. Western coyotes average 20 – 30 lbs (Beckoff, 1978). The eastern coyote averages 30 t0 50 lbs. (Beckoff, 1978; Way 2007) although popular estimates widely overestimate this – often because people compare a coyote’s relative size to a domestic dog’s. Domestic dogs are usually much heavier for their size than wild canids. Eastern coyotes have a slightly heavier, more ‘wolfish’ appearance than their western counterparts.
One reason for the discrepancy in size between eastern and western coyotes is that as coyotes moved east at the beginning to middle of the 20th century, they bred with red (Canis rufus) and eastern (Canis lycaon) wolves.* Studies into coyote genetics show wolf DNA present in eastern populations of coyotes (Beckoff, 1978; Parker, 1995). Eastern wolves (Canis lycaon), are smaller than the wolf populations in the western US (known as the gray wolf [Canis lupus]), and are now recognized to be the population of wolves that were present in northeastern North America prior to European settlement.
Coyotes vs. Wolves
Even with wolf DNA present in some coyote populations, telling coyotes apart from wolves is usually pretty straightforward. Wolves have a heavier overall appearance relative to coyotes – eastern or western – with thicker legs and muzzle, shorter ears and considerably larger feet. Wolves average in weight from approximately 60 to 130 lbs (nwf.org) and are much larger overall.
It is worth noting that the physical variations between eastern coyotes (C. latrans) and eastern wolves (C. lycaon) – smaller overall than gray wolves – is considerably smaller than the differences between western coyotes and gray wolves (C. lupus). Just to further confuse the issue, it is likely that in areas of southeastern Canada where the eastern wolf populations still exists, inbreeding takes place between eastern wolves and eastern coyotes, further reducing the distinctiveness between these two species. As it is known that individual wolves have traveled down to the northeastern US from Canada (see http://mainewolfcoalition.org/ for more info) so too can it be assumed that the eastern coyote/eastern wolf hybrids can and will do the same.
Over time we may continue to see a change in the appearance – and behavior – of eastern coyotes in New England as they and their canid cousins adapt to their changing landscape. Humans have made the eastern coyote/coywolf what it is today, and it is fascinating to watch them evolve in such a relatively short span of time.
More eastern coyote information: