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Jackal vs Coyote: The Main Differences Exposed

Jackals and coyotes are two intriguing members of the Canidae family, known for their adaptability and diverse habitats. 

While they share some similarities, such as their distinctive howls and omnivorous diets, several key differences set them apart. In this jackal vs coyote review, we will delve into the characteristics that differentiate jackals from coyotes, shedding light on their behaviors, habitats, and physical traits.

Main Differences Between Jackal vs Coyote

The main differences between jackal vs coyote are:

  • Jackals belong to the subgenus Lupulella, whereas coyotes are in the subgenus Canis. 
  • Jackals are in Africa and some parts of Southeast Asia, whereas the geographical range of coyotes is in North and Central America. 
  • Adult coyotes have longer legs, a more robust build, grizzled grayish-brown coat, and weigh between 20 and 50 pounds, whereas jackals have a sandy or yellowish-brown coat with lighter underparts and weigh 15 to 35 pounds.
  • Jackals have strong social bonds and often live in small family groups, whereas coyotes are more solitary animals but can form loose packs, especially during the breeding season. 
  • Jackals primarily feed on small mammals, birds, insects, and fruits, whereas coyotes have a broader diet, including reptiles and vegetation.

Understanding the Differences Between Jackals and Coyotes

Taxonomy and Classification

Jackals belong to the genus Canis, which encompasses a variety of canid species, including wolves, domestic dogs, and other wild canids. Within the genus Canis, jackals are under the subgenus Lupulella, a taxonomic grouping that sets them apart from their close relatives.

The term jackal itself isn’t specific to a single species but rather represents a group of several 

closely related species within the subgenus Lupulella. These species include the golden jackal (Canis aureus), the black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas), and the side-striped jackal (Canis adustus). 

Each exhibits unique characteristics, behaviors, and geographic distributions.

Although coyotes are also in the family Canidae, like the African wild dog, red fox, golden jackal, and Arctic fox, they’re in a different subgenus. 

As such, they only share some characteristics with jackals and others like the gray wolf (Canis lupus), the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris), the African golden wolf (Canis lupaster or Canis anthus), the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), and red wolf (Canis rufus). 

Geographic Range 

The coyote, scientifically known as Canis latrans, is a highly adaptable and resilient species native to North and Central America. It’s now likely to be in South America. Its vast geographical range encompasses various ecosystems, from pristine wilderness to urban landscapes, making it one of the most widely distributed canids on the continent.

In North America, the coyote’s range extends from the Arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada to the southern regions of Mexico. Coyotes in colder northern areas have developed thick, insulating fur and a robust physique to withstand harsh winters. 

In Africa, jackals are in countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt in North Africa. This wild animal’s range extends into East African countries like Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, where it thrives in savannas, grasslands, and open woodlands.

Ethiopia is a hotspot for jackal diversity, with various subspecies adapted to the specific ecological niches of this region.

In the southern part of the continent, jackals thrive in arid landscapes and desert regions, showcasing their adaptability to harsh environments. Jackals are particularly abundant in the Kalahari Desert, where they’ve mastered the art of survival in the challenging ecosystem.

In Southeast Asia, a distinct population of jackals inhabits parts of India and Sri Lanka, where they adopt other names like the Indian jackal (Canis aureus indicus) and Sri Lankan jackal (Canis aureus naria).

Physical Characteristics

One of the most notable aspects of a jackal’s physical appearance is its size and build. Jackals typically exhibit a slender and agile body structure. They’re not as robust as some other canids like wolves or coyotes. 

As such, adult jackals generally weigh between 15 and 35 pounds, which places them in the medium-sized category among canids. This moderate size is advantageous for survival in diverse habitats.

In contrast, a coyote’s size is a defining feature. It typically measures between 32 and 37 inches long, with an additional 16 to 20 inches of tail. Adult coyotes usually weigh between 20 to 50 pounds, though there can be some regional variation. This size places them in the middle ground between smaller canids like foxes and larger ones like wolves.

Jackals possess a unique and well-adapted coat that aids in their camouflage and thermoregulation. Their fur is often sandy or yellowish-brown, which helps them blend into the arid and grassy landscapes they inhabit. 

Another distinctive feature of jackals is their prominent ears. These canids have relatively large, pointed ears that serve multiple functions. 

Coyotes also have large, upright, and pointed ears. The head is relatively small in proportion to its body. They have sharp teeth designed for various diets and long, slender legs for agility and speed. 

Their paws have retractable claws, allowing them to grip the ground efficiently, especially when chasing prey. This agility and dexterity also aid in digging burrows or dens for shelter and rearing their young.

A striking aspect of the coyote’s appearance is its coat, which serves both practical and aesthetic purposes.

The fur is typically a grizzled grayish-brown, with variations depending on the specific region and habitat. The coloring provides excellent camouflage in the various environments coyotes call home, helping them blend into the surrounding vegetation and terrain. 

In addition to the grayish-brown tones, coyotes often exhibit a creamy or white throat and belly, which provides further camouflage while hunting or avoiding predators.

Behavior and Habitat

Coyotes are known for their resourcefulness and adaptability, as they’re primarily crepuscular and nocturnal animals, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. This behavior helps them avoid direct competition with larger predators like wolves and cougars. Their activity patterns also coincide with when many small mammals and other prey species are most active.

In contrast, jackals are primarily nocturnal, meaning they’re most active during the night. This behavior helps them avoid the scorching daytime heat in many of the arid regions they inhabit. Their sharp senses, including excellent night vision and acute hearing, make them well-suited for nighttime activities like hunting.

Socially, coyotes exhibit a flexible range of behaviors. While they’re generally solitary animals, they can also form loose family groups. A typical family group consists of a breeding pair, their pups from the current year, and sometimes young adults from previous litters.

These family groups work together to hunt, defend territory, and raise their young. The cooperation within these groups can increase their chances of survival and successful pup-rearing.

In comparison, jackals are often found in small family groups, typically consisting of a monogamous pair and their offspring. This social structure allows them to cooperate in hunting, rearing young, and defending their territory. 

These family units are cohesive and work together to increase their chances of survival in the wild. The bonds within jackal families are strong, and they often communicate through vocalizations such as howls, yelps, and barks.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Jackals are opportunistic feeders, which means they can adjust their diet based on the availability of food sources in their environment. As such, a jackal’s menu has rodents, birds, and insects. Their acute senses of smell and hearing aid them in locating potential food sources.

In addition to hunting, jackals are proficient scavengers. They feed on carrion, which is the flesh of dead animals. 

They supplement their diet with plant material like fruits, berries, and other vegetation when other food sources are scarce. 

The coyote is also a highly adaptable and opportunistic predator with feeding habits that vary depending on its geographic location and the availability of food sources.

They’re skilled hunters, targeting rabbits, ground-dwelling birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. 

Coyotes aren’t strictly carnivorous; they also incorporate plant material into their diet. In urban and suburban areas, they may raid garbage cans, search for discarded food, or prey on small domestic animals, such as cats and small dogs. Although they’re solitary hunters, they can form loose packs, especially during the breeding season. 


While jackals and coyotes share common characteristics as members of the Canidae family, they have distinct taxonomic classifications, geographic ranges, physical features, behaviors, and dietary preferences. 

For example, they inhabit different sides of the world, with jackals in Africa and parts of Asia and coyotes in the Americas. Further, coyotes are larger and heavier than jackals. 


Are coyotes bigger than jackals?

Generally, coyotes are larger than jackals, with adult coyotes weighing between 20 and 50 pounds, while jackals typically weigh between 15 and 35 pounds.

Is a coyote a wolf or a dog?

Coyotes are more closely related to wolves than dogs, as they share a more recent common ancestor with wolves within the Canidae family.

Are jackals and coyotes related to domestic dogs? 

Yes, jackals and coyotes are part of the same family (Canidae) as domestic dogs. As such, they share a common ancestor with domestic dogs.

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