Wolves, coyotes, and foxes are three common species of wild canids in North America. All of them have geographic ranges that stretch from Canada to Mexico or beyond, and they can sometimes share the same habitat.
What happens when they come across one another? Who would win a fight?
Foxes are the weakest of all three canid species. They wouldn’t stand a chance, whether they’d fight against a wolf or a coyote. Coyotes are typically smaller than wolves, but some of the largest coyotes might be able to take out a small lone wolf. Wolves are about two times larger and three times heavier than coyotes. More often, they would win against both species.
The table below shows a quick comparison between foxes, coyotes and wolves*:
|Classification (species)||Canis lupus||Canis latrans||Vulpes vulpes|
|Body size (Height)||33 inches||24 inches||16 inches|
|Body size (Length)||3.3 to 6 feet||2.6 to 3 feet||1.8 to 2.8 feet|
|Weight||50 to 150 pounds||20 to 50 pounds||10 to 18 pounds|
|Paw size||4 x 5 inches||2 x 2.5 inches||1.5 x 2 inches|
|Speed||40 mph||43 mph||30 mph|
|Jumping abilities||12 feet||3 feet||6 feet|
|Strike force||Up to 6,000 lb.-ft./s||Up to 2,150 lb.-ft./s||Up to 540 lb.-ft./s|
|Bite force||1,140 PSI||727 PSI||307 PSI|
|Geographic range||North America, Europe, Asia||North and Central America||Across the entire northern hemisphere|
|Habitat||Forests, shrublands, pastures, grasslands, rocky peaks||Open areas such as prairies and deserts||Forests, grasslands, mountains, deserts|
|Conservation Status||Least concern||Least concern||Least concern|
*Data in the table was sourced from research papers, scientific journals, magazines, and other official sources. For comparison purposes, we considered the gray wolves and red foxes, which are the most common species of wolves and foxes in North America. Strength facts and characteristics may vary for eastern or red wolves, as well as gray or arctic foxes.
Strike forces were calculated by multiplying the top speed for each species by the top weight mentioned in the table.
Table of Contents
13 Differences Between Wolf Vs. Coyote Vs. Fox
Wolves, coyotes, and foxes are various species in the Canidae family. However, only wolves and foxes are part of the same genera.
Foxes have a different taxonomy, belonging to the genus Vulpes. The red fox is scientifically called Vulpes vulpes, but there are other fox types as well. Red foxes are further divided into 45 subspecies that can be found all over the world.
Wolves and coyotes belong to the genus Canis, which also includes dingoes, jackals, and domestic dogs.
However, wolves and coyotes are not as closely related as one might believe.
According to scientists, wolves and coyotes only share 25 percent of their DNA. The remaining 75 percent is unique to coyotes, whereas wolves share almost all of their DNA (98.8 percent) with domestic dogs.
2. Body Size
Telling between red foxes and wolves or coyotes is often easy, thanks to the different fur colors. However, gray wolf and coyote furs often have similar shades, and the two could be mistaken for one another when seeing them from afar.
That’s where the body size comes in handy.
Gray wolves are the largest of all three species, the vast majority of wolves growing between 4.5 and 6 feet in length. Some females can be smaller, but most adult wolves are at least 3.3 feet long.
They also reach a typical shoulder height of 33 inches.
A distinction should be made between gray and eastern wolves (Canis lupus lycaon).
Initially considered a gray wolf subspecies, this wolf type occurs in the deciduous and mixed forests of the Great Lakes, as well as the St. Lawrence regions in Canada.
Eastern wolves are very similar to gray wolves, but they are smaller. Typically, eastern wolves measure up to 5.5 feet in length, but they can be taller than gray wolves, reaching shoulder heights up to 36 inches.
Meanwhile, coyotes are visibly smaller. They are commonly between 2.6 and 3 feet long, even though some larger males can reach lengths up to 4.5 feet (from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail). Coyotes are also shorter, with a typical shoulder height of 24 inches.
Red foxes are the smallest of all, growing to average lengths between 1.8 and 2.8 feet. Their shoulder height varies between 15 and 16 inches.
Like wolves, coyotes and red foxes are subject to sexual dimorphism: the females are visibly smaller than the males.
The weight difference between wolves, foxes, and coyotes doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the size differences.
Gray wolves are obviously the heaviest, weighing between 50 and 150 pounds on average.
It goes without saying that a higher weight also increases strength, especially the strike force.
4. Paw Size
Identifying wildlife based on appearance and size can sometimes be challenging. However, the track size can help identify the correct species.
Not only do these three mammals have different size paws, but the shape of the tracks is also slightly different.
Wolves have the largest tracks, measuring around 4 by 5 inches. The four toes are slightly spaced, with a distance between the second and third claw.
Red fox tracks are similar to those of wolves (and large dogs), but they are significantly smaller. Typically, they measure around 1.5 by 2 inches.
Coyote tracks are in-between, measuring around 2 by 2.5 inches. A noticeable difference is that the second and third toes are oriented toward one another and look closer compared to those of wolves and foxes. This gives the entire track a narrower appearance.
Because all three species are part of the canid family, they don’t have retractable claws that will always be visible in the tracks.
Statistics vary slightly when it comes to speed. While both wolves and coyotes are fast animals, coyotes are a bit faster.
Specifically, wolves typically run at speeds up to 38 miles per hour. They could sometimes sprint faster and reach 40 miles per hour, but they can only sustain this speed for short bursts.
Coyotes aren’t significantly faster, but they can reach 43 miles per hour. This could seem like nothing, but it can make a difference in a fight, enabling coyotes to escape the stronger predators.
Foxes take the last place, with a speed of up to 30 miles per hour. While they are fast enough to catch small mammals, they wouldn’t be able to outrun a coyote or wolf, leaving them vulnerable.
6. Jumping Abilities
Speed is not the only asset that can help in a fight, and all three canids can also jump quite high.
Once again, the gold medal goes to wolves, who can leap as high as 12 feet into the air. They can easily jump over fences and other obstacles and can use this ability to take down opponents or large prey.
Coyotes have a significantly lower jumping ability of around three feet high.
Surprisingly, foxes can jump higher than coyotes despite their smaller size. In fact, a red fox can jump over a 6-foot fence.
Remembering these numbers is crucial for managing wildlife in urban areas.
Gray wolves typically avoid human settlements. However, coyotes and red foxes alike live in urban areas and take advantage of human settlement proximity for easy access to
Both species can jump fences to prey on livestock, and poultry, go through garbage refuse or even kill pets, including small dogs and cats.
7. Strike Force
Although there are no specific studies about the strike forces of carnivorous mammals (canids included), the strike force can be calculated by multiplying the speed by body mass.
For comparison purposes, we considered the highest speed and highest weight for each of the species compared.
Considering the parameters, it doesn’t come as a surprise that gray wolves are the strongest, hitting with around 186 pounds of force (6,000 lb.-ft./s).
Coyotes are about three times weaker, hitting with about 66 pounds of force. Lastly, foxes can only manage around 16 pounds of force, four times weaker than coyotes and almost 12 times weaker than gray wolves.
8. Bite Force
For most biting mammals, the strike force is only important in a fight to hit the opponent and cause it to lose balance. What actually matters is the bite force, and gray wolves have plenty – according to a study that compared the bite force of most wild canids, including gray wolves, coyotes, and red foxes.
In fact, they can bite with a force up to 1,140 PSI. That’s more powerful than a grizzly bear, which has a bite force of only 975 PSI.
Coyotes are about the size of a mid-sized dog and have a narrower muzzle than wolves. The skull morphology reduces the bite force to 727 PSI.
Red foxes are the smallest, and their size is reflected in the weaker bite of all three – around 307 PSI.
Interestingly, though, foxes have stronger jaws than coyotes when compared pound-per-pound.
The bite force quotient (BFQ) is calculated based on body mass, and red foxes have a BFQ of 90. Comparatively, coyotes have a BFQ of 88, while gray wolves of 136. The only wild dog with a stronger bite than wolves is the African hunting dog, a species native to sub-Saharan Africa.
Wolves – and, up to an extent, coyotes – also have an advantage in terms of numbers.
As wild dogs, gray wolves are social animals that live in packs. Group sizes can vary, but the usual pack comprises between five and nine individuals.
A clear social hierarchy within the pack keeps wolves extremely organized. They live and hunt together effectively, being able to take down large ungulates like the caribou, bison, or wood buffalo. Despite their strength, wolves generally control the wildlife population by hunting the weak, old, and immature.
Coyotes also live in packs, but they typically hunt and forage alone.
This behavior puts them at a disadvantage compared to wolves, especially if the latter decide to steal the coyote’s prey. A coyote faced with a wolf pack will also stand no chance if the wolves decide to attack.
Red foxes are the least advantaged, as they are solitary mammals.
They typically establish independent home ranges that may overlap with those of other foxes. However, overlapping is more common during the mating season.
Like wolves and coyotes, red foxes are typically monogamous. If males mate with more females, those females can form a group and give birth in the same den. In this case, female territories generally overlap with that of their mate.
However, the group members don’t necessarily interact with one another in the way wolves or coyote packs do.
Gray wolves, coyotes, and red foxes are part of the Carnivora order, but all three of them are considered omnivores.
Gray wolves are backed by the pack power and typically go after large ungulates. Red foxes and coyotes prefer smaller prey, including rabbits, rodents, fawns, reptiles, as well as domestic animals.
Apart from fresh prey, all these mammals are also scavengers. They take advantage of carcasses and carrion, especially in periods of scarce
Leaves and fruits are also part of wolf, fox, and coyote’s diets. A difference between wolves and foxes and coyotes is that foxes and coyotes are also known for going after domestic animals or messing with the garbage cans to eat leftovers and
Wolves rarely get into yards, but they are known for killing domestic dogs. This majorly happens when the dogs trespass on the wolves’ territories in the wild. As territorial animals, wolves are usually intolerant of other canids.
11. Geographic Range
Of all three species, coyotes are the only ones that only occur in North and Central America.
Their range spans from Canada to Mexico and into Central America, but coyotes are not found in the wild elsewhere.
Gray wolves and red foxes can occur in all geographic ranges where coyotes live, but they are also found in other parts of the world, including Europe and Asia.
Wolves, coyotes, and foxes alike can be found in the same habitats, even if they have slightly different preferences.
Gray wolves typically prefer deciduous and mixed forests, as well as mountainous areas. However, they are also found in shrublands and grasslands where prey is abundant.
Coyotes and red foxes can live in forests, but these canids typically prefer open areas. Foxes are more likely to establish themselves in grasslands at the edge of deciduous or mixed forests, mountains, and deserts.
Coyotes are typically found in prairies and deserts. Both coyotes and foxes can also be found in urban parks and farmlands.
13. Conservation Status
Coyotes, gray wolves, and red foxes are some of the most common wild canids in North America. They also occur in other geographic ranges, and neither one of these species is endangered. They are all labeled as “least concerned” by IUCN.
Who Would Win A Fight?
Without a doubt, gray wolves are the winners.
Wolves are larger and heavier than both coyotes and foxes. They are a tad slower than coyotes but can generate a higher impact force.
They also have a stronger bite than both opponents, strong enough to crush bones with little effort.
Another advantage that wolves have is the support of the pack. Even if a larger coyote attacked a smaller wolf, the wolf would still win because it won’t have to fight alone.
A large coyote might win, though, when fighting against a weak, immature, or old lone wolf.
Coyotes can take out foxes without problems, however. In fact, red foxes wouldn’t stand a chance against wolves or coyotes due to their weak bite, smaller size, and generally poorer performance.