A wildlife camera took these photographs of these animals. These are the only pictures my camera collected of them. This picture was taken in the central interior of British Columbia, Canada. The distance from the camera to the subject is a few meters, and the height of the camera off the ground was probably about 50 cm.

I think they're too small to be wolves, and they don't appear to be any of the dogs I've seen in the area. My intuition strongly points to them being coyotes based on pictures, videos, and occassionally seeing them in the light of day. However, I'm hoping that someone can explain why my intuition is right, if it is right.

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The small coniferous tree beside the road (left of center) is about 50 cm tall.

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    $\begingroup$ They look like coyotes to me. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Apr 27 '20 at 7:41
  • $\begingroup$ Could you see if there are any footprints in that path? It maybe would be clarifying. $\endgroup$ – Héctor Apr 28 '20 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ That would definitely be useful information, but unfortunately I don't have it $\endgroup$ – Galen Apr 28 '20 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ @John I can go back and measure that plant. I'll update the post and tag you when I have that info'. $\endgroup$ – Galen Apr 28 '20 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ That makes them barely over 2ft probably less with perspective, that is pretty solidly in coyote size range. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 29 '20 at 2:24

Short Answer

Yes, these are likely coyotes.

Long Answer

Your options of dog-like carnivores (i.e., Canidae) in BC include the following:

Let's start ruling out the unlikely options:

[I'm not trying to be comprehensive, but rather just pointing out the easiest evidence we can see]

  • Dogs: Many of these might look wolf or coyote like, but it is very unlikely that any of these domestic breeds would be forming wild packs (as is indicated by your image containing multiple specimens). (In fact, it's unlikely you'll even see half of those breeds in BC to begin with!). I'll leave it to you to peruse the links I provided if you insist on examining and comparing their anatomies/morphologies to your specimens.

  • Fox: Although the largest of the true foxes, this is still a relatively small canine; they typically are less than 20 inches high and 35 inches long [source]. Without some measure of scale, we can't be sure, but your specimens certainly look larger than that relative to the tree in the background. More definitely, however, is that V. vulpes has a tail that is typically half or more of its own body length. The tail also rests nearly to the ground. The length of tail on your specimens do not match either of these length characteristics. Further, the very bushy, white-tipped tail of the fox is not represented by your specimens' only-somewhat bushy, dark-tipped tails. Red fox are also typically solitary hunters (source; unlike your shot of multiple specimens).

I know what you're thinking: "duh, get to the wolves vs coyotes already!!"

See here for a guide to differentiating wolves, coyotes, and dogs

  • British Columbia Wolf (C. lupus columbianus): According to Goldman (1941)3 and here, this subspecies of wolf is large with a dark (black with some cinnamon brown color) coat. No mention of a light ventral region is mentioned, which is apparent even in your night-camera shots!

  • Northwestern wolf (C. lupus occidentalis):

    • Their color does not rule them out -- This wolf subspecies is quite variable in color and can range from all dark, to mottled grey to all white. (see here for visual comparison of some wolf colorations).
    • This is potentially the largest of wolf subspecies (27-36+ inches tall at shoulder [source] and 4.5 - 7 feet long (nose to tail tip)! [source:i, ii). Your specimen's do not look this large, but they could be juveniles. It would be great to get a height estimate of that plant in your picture or diameter estimate of that tree...
    • This site suggests that the average pack size is 6-12 wolves, which is significantly more than showed up on your camera (though, obviously this could be coincidence and not a definitive way to rule out this wolf).

This leaves the coyote:

  • Size: Between the size of the fox and grey wolf: 21-24 inches at shoulder; 3.5 - 4.5 feet long (nose to tail tip) [source].

  • Color: Gray (or reddish brown), often grizzled, often with whitish/paler throat, chest, and/or belly. Black patches may be seen on the tips of tails on on feet. [[sources: Bekoff (1977)4 and CDFW].

  • Anatomy/morphology: Bekoff (1977)4 and CDFW compare coyotes to wolves. The snouts are thinner with smaller nose pad on coyote vs wolf, and a coyote's ears are taller and more pointed. Your images, unfortunately, don't really allow us to differentiate adequately.

  • Behavior: typically less social than wolves and will rarely travel in groups larger than their immediate family. Even still, they often keep their distance and practice more asynchronous activity. However, coyotes are most often observed as lone individuals or in pairs (especially during breeding season)4. This matches your camera's image.

    Coyotes are most active in the early evening, but their activity can be variable. Many coyote have become quite nocturnal (especially near humans), but they are known to also be sporadically active throughout the day and showing peaks of activity at dawn and dusk. [sources: Bekoff (1977)4 and Wikipedia. Wolves, though, are also active during evening and night...


So, based on the the few number of individuals, coloration, and perceived relative size of your specimens, it seems most likely that these are coyote. If you can get us estimates of height and diameter of the foliage in the background, this could be stated more definitively.

You could always go back to the site and photograph and compare the tracks, too (try starting here and here to compare)....


Though of course, it could always be a "coywolf" (also see here) :p.


1. Nowak, R. M. (1995). Another look at wolf taxonomy. In Carbyn, L. N.; Fritts, S. H.; D. R. Seip (eds.). Ecology and conservation of wolves in a changing world: proceedings of the second North American symposium on wolves. Edmonton, Canada: Canadian Circumpolar Institute, University of Alberta. pp. 375–397. [see map on p 376 here]

2. Goldman, E. A. (1941). Three new Wolves from North America. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 54: 109–113. [See HERE for a map]

3. Goldman, E.A. (1941). Three new wolves from North America. Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash, 54: 109-13. [available here]

4. Bekoff, M. (1977). The coyote Canis latrans. Mammal. Spec, 79:1-9.[see here]


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