Thursday, November 28, 2013

Coyote vs Red Wolf

What is the Difference Between Red Wolves and Coyotes?
Red Wolves and Coyotes are very closely related and in fact share a recent common ancestor.  The two species do hybridize and produce fertile offspring.  It is usually impossible to distinguish between a Coyote – Red Wolf hybrid and a Red Wolf just by looking at it.  Wildlife Biologists that work with the only known wild population of Red Wolves at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina have to do DNA tests to be sure.

Red Wolves are a critically endangered species with only about 100 individuals existing in the wild in the world, all of them in the Alligator River NWR area of North Carolina.  Coyotes, although not found East of the Mississippi River prior to 1900, are now very common in the wild.
Red Wolves, as a species, are larger in both height and weight.  Coyotes usually weigh between 25 and 35 pounds while Red Wolves usually weigh between 50 and 80 pounds.  Red Wolves are more massive in the head, chest, legs and feet. There can be size overlap between the species.  Some Red Wolves are in fact smaller that some Coyotes.

Coyotes tend to have a longer, narrower, muzzle than Red Wolves do.
Red wolves are mostly brown and buff colored with some black along their backs; there is sometimes a reddish color behind their ears, on their muzzle, and toward the backs of their legs.  However, many Red Wolves can have the same colors as coyotes which tend to be light gray with some black on the tips of their outer hairs.

Red Wolves howls are similar to Coyotes but tend to be of longer duration and lower in pitch.  Coyotes tend to have more yapping intermixed with the howls.  Again, it can be almost impossible to tell the difference in some individuals.

It used to be believed that Coyotes didn’t hunt in packs like wolves but pack hunting coyotes have now been observed in the wild.

The Eastern Coyote is different from the Western Coyote in size, genetics and behavior.  This is due to interbreeding with wolves.  Eastern Coyotes have wolf genes and therefore are taking on wolf characteristics.  This happened when the wolf population in the Eastern United States was hunted almost to extinction and had dwindled to a small enough size that they would breed with Coyotes instead of chasing them off or killing them.

Red Wolves howls are similar to Coyotes but tend to be of longer duration and lower in pitch.  Coyotes tend to have more yapping intermixed with the howls.  Again, it can be almost impossible to tell the difference in some individuals.

If you are anywhere in Eastern North America, outside of coastal North Carolina, and observe a large wolf-like animal, it is almost certainly an Eastern Coyote or possibly a Gray Wolf  that someone had as a pet and dumped in the wild.


Some Red Wolf Facts~~~~~~~~~


Historical Range

The red wolf’s historic range covered the southeastern portion of the United States, reaching as far west as Texas and north to Illinois.

Current Range

One managed wild population of approximately 200 Red Wolves in the Outer Banks area of North Carolina covering 1.7 million acres of private and public land known as Alligator River.  Additional site at St. Vincent’s Island National Wildlife Refuge near Apalachicola, FL.

Preferred habitat is warm, moist, and densely vegetated; although they were also present in pine forest, bottom land hardwood forests, coastal prairies, and marshes.

4 - 5 feet in length from tip of nose to tip of tail; approximately 26 inches tall at the shoulder; 40 - 75 lbs

Red Wolves are mostly brown and buff colored with some black along their backs, often with a reddish, cinnamon color on their ears, head and legs.  Red wolves are smaller than gray wolves and larger than coyotes.  They have tall pointed ears and long legs with large feet.


High pitched howl, low grunts or barks. 

Eating Habits

White-tailed deer, raccoons, and smaller mammals such as rabbits, rodents, and nutria.


Breeding season is once per year, January through March.  1 - 9 pups are born 63 days later in April or May.  Their eyes open at about 10 days, and it is another few weeks before the sire and dam allow the pups to emerge from the den.  Pups remain with their parents until they find a mate of their own, usually at about 2 years of age.  Red wolves are generally monogamous, and will remain with the same mate for many years.

Life Span

7 - 8 years in the wild; Up to 15 in captivity

Interesting Facts

Some credit can be given to red wolves for control of nuisance species.  Two dietary studies show that red wolves are known to feed on deer, nutria, raccoons, marsh rabbits, and small rodents.  We can assume red wolves contribute to the control of these nuisance species with respect to crop damage by deer, rabbits and rodents; with respect to levee, road and farm equipment damage via nutria; and with respect to predation upon nesting ground birds (quail, turkey, etc.) and sea turtle nests by raccoons.

The red wolf is an umbrella species.  Ecosystems which support and conserve Red Wolves are likely ecosystems which maintain a diversity of other wildlife, plants, habitat and landscape features.  This creates a balanced ecosystem, its predators included, which means relatively healthy prey populations (deer, etc.) available for hunting, wildlife viewing and outdoor recreation, diversity and other functions on the landscape.  In the same respect, red wolves help control over-population of prey species.  There is data showing evidence that sea turtles’ hatching success increases when there are lower numbers of nest raiders like raccoons.  Duke University has a research study, in partnership with Defenders of Wildlife, evaluating “ecosystem services” - air and water purification, flood control, climate regulation and plant pollination - provided by conserving red wolf habitat in North Carolina.

The following is from a quarterly report written by David Rabon, Jr., PhD, Recovery Coordinator for the Red Wolf Recovery Program.

The Red Wolf is one of the most endangered canids in the world.  Once occurring throughout the eastern and south-central United States, Red Wolves were decimated by predator-control programs and the loss and alternation of habitats.  By the 1970s, these activities had reduced the Red Wolf population to a small area along the Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana.  To protect the species from extinction, the US Fish and Wildlife Service initiated efforts to locate and capture as many Red Wolves as possible for the purposes of establishing a program to breed the species in captivity and one day reintroduce the species into a portion of its former range.  More than 400 canids were captured in coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana, but only 17 were identified as Red Wolves.  14 of these Red Wolves would become the founding members of the captive breeding program and the ancestors of all the Red Wolves existing today.

The first litter of Red Wolves born in captivity occurred in 1977.  Within a few years Red Wolves were successfully reproducing in captivity, allowing the US Fish and Wildlife Service to consider reintroducing the species in the wild.  In 1987, four male-female pairs of Red Wolves were released in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR) in northeastern North Carolina and designated as an experimental population.  Since then, the experimental population has grown and he recovery area expanded to include 4 national wildlife refuges, a Department of Defense bombing range, state owned lands, and private lands encompassing about 1.7 million acres.  However, interbreeding with the coyote (a species not native to North Carolina) has been recognized as a threat affecting the restoration of Red Wolves.  Currently, adaptive management efforts are making progress in reducing the threat of coyotes to the Red Wolf population in northeastern North Carolina.  Other threats, such as habitat fragmentation, disease, and premature mortality, are of concern in the restoration of Red Wolves.  Efforts to reduce the threats are presently being explored.