Fox vs. Coyote – 7 Key Differences Explained in Depth

You may mistake foxes and coyotes as the same wild land-roaming animals but anatomically, physically, socially, and behaviorally, these creatures surprisingly have quite a few definitive differences. Both foxes and coyotes fall under the categorization of canines, which means that they are genetically related to wolves and domesticated dogs.

You most definitely will mix up the two as a casual observer. The next time you see one of these animals running across your garden or backyard and are confused as to which canine you are currently witnessing ruining your freshly manicured grass, do not worry. After reading this article, you will definitely know how to tell them apart. We have all the key differences in their appearance and behavior and other details that we guarantee you will find intriguing. 

1.) Fox vs. Coyote: Overview

Coyotes appear “sleeker” than the average domesticated dogs, with a flatter forehead and a more pointed snout. On the other hand, foxes tend to be slender, long-legged animals with long muzzles, bushy tails, and erect pointed ears. Coyotes have longer legs than domesticated dogs, while dogs have deeper chests. Therefore, foxes are more closely similar in appearance to domestic dogs and wolves than coyotes.

2.) Fox vs. Coyote: Classification

Foxes are mammals that belong to several genera of the family Canidae. They are believed to have evolved into their species about 7 million years ago after diverging from their common progenitor, the dog. Although dogs and foxes diverged from the same lineage, they have evolved into vastly different species and cannot cross-breed.

According to newly identified fossil remains, the oldest ancestor of foxes, called Vulpes qiuzhudingi, lived 3.60 to 5.08 million years ago. They are the oldest Arctic fox remains ever found from the Pliocene period. This makes them the earliest known ancestor of today’s Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). The first true foxes appeared in North America late in the Miocene (around 9 mya) and were represented by a small Californian species known as Vulpes kernensis.

Coyotes are also referred to as prairie wolves or brush wolves. The evolutionary history of this remarkably adaptable species began about 43 million years ago when its ancestors, the caniforms (dogs, bears, weasels, skunks, and raccoons), diverged from the feliforms (cats, hyenas, mongoose, and civets). Morphological and genetic evidence suggest that coyotes evolved from a wolf-like canid in North America almost 2 million years ago.

Coyotes and dogs are genetically related and are biologically capable of producing hybrid litters called Coydogs. Hybrid offspring of coyotes and wolves are known as Coywolfs.

COYOTE VS FOX – Who Will Win?

3.) Fox vs. Coyote: Geographic Range and Habitat 

Foxes are found throughout most of North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, as well as parts of North Africa. One of their species, the Red Fox, has the widest geographical range of any member of the order Carnivora. The 11 species of foxes around the globe are known to thrive in the harshest extreme weather condition and climates – from scorching deserts to the icy Arctic. Foxes are found in diverse habitats and are tolerant of living near people. 

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Generally, foxes are most commonly found in agricultural landscapes and are known to do well with a mix of forests and fields. Urban and semi-urban dwellings, gardens, rivers and wetlands, coastal marshland, and woodlands are a few other places where you will be able to spot a fox. Coyotes are predators of foxes but they tend to be warier of people. This is why foxes prefer living near people to avoid falling prey to coyotes.

Coyotes are native to the Nearctic region and have a wide distribution throughout North America, Mexico, and Central America. Before the 1700s, the geographical range of coyotes was restricted to the prairies and desert areas of Mexico and central North America. Since then, this versatile species has stretched as far as Panama to Canada.

The coyote, whose name is derived from the Aztec coyotl, can inhabit more or less any landscape but usually prefers open areas including deserts and prairies. Being one of the most adaptable canines on the planet, they can be found in a wide variety of habitats, which includes: sagebrush-steppe, woodlands, oak savannas, subalpine forests, alpine meadows, pine forests, and temperate rainforests.

In addition to occurring in natural areas, over the years, coyotes have also adapted to living in human-populated areas, including rural farms, suburban neighborhoods, large urban parks, and cities. 

4.) Fox vs. Coyote: Appearance

The most apparent difference between foxes and coyotes, apart from their fur coat color, is their size. Foxes are small to medium-sized but generally are twice as small as any other members of their family like coyotes, wolves, and most domestic dogs. The average size of an adult fox is 15 to 16 inches tall at the shoulder. They are about 3 feet in length and weigh up to 31 pounds but may appear heavier.

Wild Coyote hunting in a roadside meadow in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta Canada

Since foxes inhabit such a wide geographic range with varying climates, the variation in their fur coats can be attributed to their habitats. In winter, the fur of the Arctic Fox in the north morphs into the iconic, thick white coating. In summer, their coats shed to reveal shorter, thinner fur coats in different colors like dark and light grey, charcoal brown, and bluish brown.

Coyotes have much longer limbs, ears, and snouts, giving them a dog-like face. They are overall taller and larger in size than any fox. These canines are 48 to 60 inches long from nose to tail and weigh between 30 to 50 pounds. They stand about 20 to 22 inches tall at the shoulder.

Coyotes have pointed muzzles and long, brushy tails. Their coats are usually a mixture of tan, black, and gray but can range from black to strawberry blonde. Coyotes are typically a greyish brown with reddish tinges behind the ears and around the face but their coloration can vary from silver-gray to black. Their throat and bellies tend to be buff or white colored, while their forelegs, sides of the head, muzzle, and paws are reddish-brown. Their tail usually has a black tip.

5.) Fox vs. Coyote: Strength, Speed, & Senses

True to the phrase “quick like a fox,” these canines can run up to speeds of 42 mph. The proof of their agile nature is that they can leap as high as 6 ft. They can strike with a force of up to 540 lb.-ft./s which is equivalent to about 16.7 pounds of force.

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Foxes have an excellent sight at close-range but do not have good color vision. They have problems with long-distance vision, especially with seeing static objects. These canines have remarkable hearing abilities as their ears can rotate 150 degrees in one direction to pinpoint prey. Their low-frequency hearing allows them to hear their prey scuttling around. Foxes use their incredible sense of smell to find food and communicate. They have wet noses, which increases the amount of moisture and scent particles they inhale.  

An adult coyote in pursuit can run up to speeds of 35 to 43 mph and can jump a distance of over 4 meters. Coyotes have a strong bite, capable of generating a bite force of 88 PSI, and their narrower lower jaw usually delivers a powerful punch to their prey or attacker. Coyotes are much larger and more muscular than foxes.

Their more prominent size as well as long, large legs provide more strength to coyotes. The sense of smell of a coyote is highly developed and used to detect prey. Their hearing is extremely sensitive and used for tracing the whereabouts of their prey and avoiding danger. This canine can hear sound cues at a distance of up to 9000 yards and can distinguish up to 200 million smells. The vision of a coyote is closer to 20/70 vision, meaning a coyote can see at 20 feet what a human sees at 70 feet. 

6.) Fox vs Coyote: Diet

Foxes are omnivorous mammals that may not be as muscular as the rest of their canine family but are very strong and can take prey more than three times their weight. The diet of these expert hunters includes rabbits, rodents, birds, frogs, earthworms, and carrion. They also enjoy dining on berries and fruit. An average fox usually eats between 1 and 2 pounds each day.

Coyotes are primarily nocturnal and very opportunistic hunters. Coyotes are omnivorous mammals that feed on rabbits, rodents, and insects, but they also eat carrion, lizards, snakes, fruit, vegetable matter, and even fish. Their strong jaws and nature to hunt in packs give them more strength in taking down prey. Their hunting techniques generally include stalking, pouncing, or running their prey into another pack member. A coyote needs about 1.3 pounds of food each day.

7.) Fox vs. Coyote: Predators

Foxes fall prey to eagles and coyotes. They also face attacks by larger animals, including bears, wolves, leopards, bobcats, and mountain lions. Foxes protect themselves from predators by either fighting back or running away. Arctic foxes have sharp teeth and claws that prove effective during their fight against predators. Red foxes build dens in grassland to protect themselves.

Due to their size, speed, and ferociousness, the coyote has only a few natural predators in the wild. Some of their predators are wolves, golden eagles, cougars, alligators, and grizzly bears. Their ability to run up to 40 km/h allows them to outrun and escape predatory attacks.

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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!

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