Do Wolves Eat Coyotes? Do They, Can They?

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Coyotes are not a typical part of the wolf’s diet, but if starving, threatened, or victimized, the wolf will not hesitate to kill and sometimes even eat a coyote.

Why isn’t the coyote a natural part of the wolf’s diet? It comes down to:

  • Food preference.
  • Energy spent vs. food gained.
  • Practicality. 

Territory Range

 

There are four wolf subspecies within the grey and red wolf species that roam in North America.

 

Northwestern Wolf

The Northwestern wolf is also called the Alaskan wolf, the Mackenzie Valley wolf, and the Rocky Mountain wolf. This subspecies of the gray wolf roams throughout the Northern Rocky Mountains and Alaska. The average territory span of the Northwestern wolf is 1991.32- 3702.79 sq. ft. (185-344 sq. m.)

 

Eastern Wolf

The Eastern wolf is also called the Algonquian wolf and the timber wolf. This subspecies is native to the Great Lakes area and southeastern Canada. The average territory span of the Eastern wolf is 3745.8-6458.3 sq. ft. (348-600 sq. m.)

 

Mexican Wolf

The Mexican wolf is one of the rarest endangered mammals worldwide, with around 186 animals throughout New Mexico and Arizona. The average territory span of the Mexican wolf is 538 -4305.5 sq. ft. (50-400 sq. m.)

 

Red Wolf

Coyotes are widespread throughout North America and are virtually anywhere in the country. The average coyote territory span  spans 21.5-6458.3 sq. ft. (2-30 sq. m.)

 

The Coyote Habitat

 

The coyote is widespread throughout North America and is found virtually anywhere in the country. The average territory span of the coyote is 21.5-6458.3 sq. ft. (2-30 sq. m.)

 

Overlapping Territory

 

Wolves and coyotes have a unique relationship, with wolves taking on the apex predator role and coyotes adjusting their behavior to coexist. This behavioral change in coyotes happens most often when humans reintroduce wolves to areas as part of a species conservation effort and when seasonal changes make food scarcer.

As the two species begin to share more territory, they must either compete for the same food sources, target each other as prey, or adjust their diet and behavior accordingly so that they can coexist.

The apex predator in the coyote-wolf power couple is the wolf; however, a coyote still benefits the most from having such a close neighbor. For example, a coyote usually eats rabbits, fruits, birds, flowers, and snakes, but the wolf prefers large, hoofed mammals. When sharing territory with the wolf, the coyote also incorporates hoofed mammals as a mainstay of their diet.

The coyote’s behavioral change is simply because:  

  1. Coyotes are scavengers, and with wolves to kill for them, the coyotes have access to more ungulate carcasses. Keep in mind that wolves consume at least 90% of their kills, so there is not too much left!
  2. As wolves chase prey, they drive herds into coyote territory giving coyotes more opportunity to get a fresh meal.

What does the wolf get out of this environment, though? The truth is – very little.

Wolves are exceptionally territorial animals and, they do not tolerate scavengers coming to their territory and stealing food or competing for limited resources. So, for the wolf, the coyote is an inconvenience.

There is, however, one benefit of having coyotes close by – when food is scarce and the wolf pack is starving, coyotes offer the option of a quick meal.

 

Why Doesn’t The Wolf Eat More Coyote?

 

Like most animals, the wolf has a preferred food source – ungulates or hooved animals. Ungulates have a lot of flesh and good fat stores – they make prime targets for wolves because of how calorie-rich they are.

In stark contrast to ungulates, the coyote has a slim frame, high muscle definition, and little fat. Having such little meat and fat on their body makes coyote meat tough and much less favorable.

Coyote meat poses an additional challenge for the wolfpack, too – coyotes travel and hunt alone or in loose pairs despite living in groups/families. Wolves, however, live, travel and hunt strategically as a wolfpack with the average pack consisting of between six and ten individuals.

So to hunt a single coyote or a group of two coyotes, the full wolfpack must assemble to hunt.

And, with as little meat as the coyote offers, the wolf pack would have to bring down close to one coyote for each adult wolf in the wolf pack, and feeding each pack member would mean tracking and killing multiple coyotes. The amount of hunting it would take to find enough coyote meat to feed a pack of wolves would expend far too much energy for extraordinarily little return.

 

Will A Wolf Befriend the Coyote?

 

If the wolf will not eat a coyote, would it ever befriend it? There are certainly some unlikely friendships between different animal species, but most of these friendships occur between animals only after human interference. For the most part, though, the coyote is nothing but competition for the wolf.

If a wolfpack hears, sees, or smells a coyote in their territory, they will chase them out of the area. The coyote, outnumbered by the pack, will turn tail and run. If the coyote puts up any resistance, the wolfpack will display dominance to chase it away.

If a display of dominance does not work, and the coyote stands their ground, the wolfpack will attack, and if the coyote does not escape, the pack will kill it. Even though coyote meat is not preferable, the wolfpack will not let it go to waste, and wolves will eat the coyote body.

 

Conclusion / Summary

 

Wolf and coyote territory often border each other, meaning that both carnivores compete for the same resources. While the more dominant of the two species is the wolf, a wolfpack is more likely to chase away the coyote than kill and eat it.

Although the wolf is not prone to eating coyote meat, they will if the opportunity arises. For example, a starving wolf will eat coyote meat before it allows itself to die from starvation, and the body of a coyote killed by the pack for crossing into pack territory will rarely go to waste.  

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