Coyotes can have a pretty standard appearance that makes them easy to identify. While coyotes can sometimes be mistaken for dogs or wolves from a distance, there are some tell-tell ways to decipher if you are actually looking at a coyote. Some of the features that help in identifying coyotes are pointed upright ears, a long snout, a bushy tail that hangs low, and their coat color. Coyotes are larger than most dogs and foxes but smaller than wolves, so by looking at these characteristics you should be able to recognize a coyote. But what color are coyotes?
Most coyotes appear larger than their typical weight (30-45 pounds) and length (approximately three feet) thanks in part to their fluffy fur coat that helps to insulate them against the weather and climate. While a coyotes coat is not super thick, the fur is rather long and can add to the appearance of a larger body. Coyote coat colors can range in color from gray to reddish brown and even sometimes black. The coyote’s belly is usually covered in a whitish color of fur. The legs, ears, and face of a coyote can sometimes have a more red or tawny tint to them. Coyotes have longer guard hairs that are black or darker in color. This helps break up their coat color and is a reason they are such masters at camouflaging themselves.
The eastern coyote, or tweed wolf, can be found in the northeast parts of the United States and Canada. This coyote is actually a mix between the eastern wolf and coyote and is only found in this region, unlike the smaller western coyote. The only recognizable differences between the eastern and western coyotes is that the eastern coyote has longer legs and can weigh 10 – 20 pounds more than the western coyote. Their fur color is also an indication of their differences. Eastern coyotes have a variety of coat colors ranging from a blonde color to gray-blonde and dark tan. Their coats are usually broken up by washes of black. They will also have white chins and throats as well as white bellies. These coyotes tend to endure harsher winters and will have coarser fur.
Coyotes originated in the western portions of North America and have since migrated in every direction. These western coyotes live in the southern and western regions of the United States, Canada, and parts of Mexico. The typical coat colors for the western coyote are tan, blonde, and red-ish orange color, as well as gray. They will have white fur on their belly that is either all white or a mix of white and tan. Their bushy tails are tipped with a long black fur. Because the climate is typically milder in these regions, the western coyote will not have as heavy a coat of fur as the eastern coyote. This will make the western coyote appear smaller or lankier in size than their eastern relatives.
When the seasons change, the coyote will shed or grow his coat to adapt to the environment. When the temperature is colder in fall and winter months, the coyote will grow a thicker heavier coat to protect himself from winter elements. Their hair is generally longer in length but will grow up to five inches in the cold winter months. This longer coat can also protect the coyote from freezing rains that would otherwise reach his skin and cause him to freeze to death. The coyote’s fluffy winter under coat is their true protection from the cold, and the longer coarse hairs grow past it to protect the under layers.
In warmer months starting in the spring, the coyote will start shedding his coarse winter coat. To help the process of shedding, coyotes will scratch themselves or rub up against objects like trees in order to remove the fluff from their coat. This shed will only occur once a year. The begging stages of the shedding period will begin in late spring after the breeding season and will continue into summer. It is not uncommon to see a coyote during this time that from a distance may appear to be mangy. This is just an unflattering symptom of the shedding process, and the coyote’s coat will return to normal consistency.
Coyotes that live in the desert and other arid dry places will have the shortest coats of fur and will be somewhat blondish tan in color with more distinctive red patterns on their faces and feet. The desert coyote’s coat is very important to their survival. With less cover to hide from predators and from prey while hunting, this western coyote has to be very well hidden and quick to camouflage himself.