Have you ever seen a wolf in Yosemite National Park? The canine creature with the bushy tail you saw on the side of the road or trotting along the trail was not a wolf – it was a coyote. Though gray wolves once ranged throughout the continent, it is uncertain whether they ever lived in the area of the Sierra Nevada that is now designated as Yosemite National Park. The California range of the gray wolf in historic times is poorly understood, and there are currently no wolves living in the state, despite the visits of Oregon wolf OR7 who wandered into California from Oregon for a short period of time in the winter of 2011. Mountain coyotes, on the other hand, live all over California and thrive in Yosemite National Park.
What is the difference between a wolf and a coyote? Canids share many common dog-like characteristics, but wolves and coyotes differ in a number of ways, starting with their overall size. Wolves are much larger than coyotes and if you ever have the good fortune to spot a wolf in the wild, you will never mistake a coyote for a wolf again. Wolves can be up to six feet long versus coyotes’ average length of four feet. Wolves also stand almost three feet at the shoulder while coyotes only measure around a foot and a half. Wolves have rounded ears and a squared muzzle, while coyotes have distinctive pointed ears and muzzle. Though wolves today are found in very few places in the United States, coyotes are common in developed areas and can become comfortable surrounded by the everyday activities of humans. Please remember to respect the nature of this wild animal and do not feed any coyote that approaches you in Yosemite or anywhere else. Keep a respectful distance from any wildlife in the park and enjoy sighting these magnificent creatures in this beautiful natural setting.