Arf or Awoo? Distinguishing Wolves from Coyotes

Wolves have been the subject of conservation efforts in the United States since their alarming decline in the 1900s brought on by intensive predator control programs. Following this decline, conservation efforts were made to restore wolf populations; the Endangered Species Act (ESA), for instance, granted to wolves in 1974 helped elevate their population count in various states.

However, an accidental killing of a nursing red wolf just this past year arose concern in environmentalists while coyote hunting contests in some states stirred up more tensions between conservationists and hunters. Sparks of disagreement are clearly in the air, with one of the main stances being that some wolves might be killed during the coyote hunting contests. Therefore, this article will strive to tackle how to distinguish wolves from coyotes in the wild.

For visual reference, here is an image detailing differences between a wolf—a grey wolf, in particular—to a coyote:

A visual reference summarizing the major differences between a grey wolf and a coyote.

A visual reference summarizing the major differences between a grey wolf and a coyote. [Image:]

The grey wolf is the most common wolf in North America. Wolves have a variety of colors; the grey wolf, specifically, ranges from light grey to black with some cream-colored wolves, similar to Arctic wolves, among the pack as well.

A lone gray wolf happily running through a snowfield.

A lone grey wolf happily traversing through a snowy field. [Image:]

The grey wolf is the largest wolf subspecies in its family. Running up to 2.5 feet tall, it can grow to five to six feet long, with males averaging from 95–99 pounds and females 79–85 pounds. They are generally the ones found throughout North America and Eurasia. They also have a broader snout and less pointed features when compared to the red wolf.

The red wolf can also be easily confused with coyotes, seen with the recent incident involving the accidental shooting of a red wolf mistaken as a coyote. The red wolves are also commonly known as Florida wolves or Mississippi Valley wolves. They have been the subject of legal battles between nature conservancies due to their continually dwindling numbers and critically threatened conservation status.

A visual reference of the Red Wolf (Canis rufus) vs. a Coyote (Canis Latrans) showing differences between the two species.

A visual reference of the red wolf (Canis rufus) vs. a coyote (Canis Latrans), showing differences between the two species. [Image:]

Red wolves are about 26 inches up to the shoulders, have a length of 4.5–5.5 feet long, and weigh about 50–80 pounds at maturity. They are much longer and more slender than the grey wolf, and their fur is grey-black with a reddish or tawny cast.

Red wolves.

A pack of three red wolves curiously watching their observers. [Image:

The coyotes, on the other hand, are much smaller in comparison to wolves, with body lengths averaging from 3–4.2 feet. Large coyotes are present, but rare, with the largest one recorded at 5.3 feet. Their fur color is a rich, fulvous red, usually interspersed with black, white, and light grey. It is much smaller than the grey wolf, with its defining characteristics being longer, pointier ears and a thinner frame, face, and muzzle.

A coyote is easily distinguishable through its much smaller and slender frame, long snout, and pointed ears.

A coyote is easily distinguishable through its much smaller and slender frame, long snout, and pointed ears. [Image:]

The vocalizations are also a give-away between wolves and coyotes. Wolves generally communicate through howls while coyotes communicate through yips, yaps, growls, yelps, and high-frequency whines. There isn’t much of a common ground between these two species. Wolves are pack hunters and considered to be apex predators—that is, predators that are at the top of the food chain in their habitat. Powerful muscles run through their broad bodies, like oiled machines that operate with an alpha pair and young pups. Perhaps the more common objections raised by farmers are because wolves can, at times, prey on livestock, although this happens somewhat rarely as wolves in large eat deer, boar, and caribou. Exceedingly territorial, wolves do not treat coyotes kindly, particularly when they are caught overstepping wolf boundaries or trying to take advantage of a wolf kill.

Grey wolf pack.

A beautiful grey wolf pack posing like well-versed models. These creatures are even more majestic in real life, but don’t confuse their tame appearance in this photo for a weakness—this pack will delightfully tear their prey apart if given the slightest chance! [Image:]

At the moment, the wolves’ conservation status is still embroiled in a heated discussion on whether or not they should be kept on the endangered species list. It has been an on-and-off status battle between endangered and threatened since its first status assignment in 1974. The wolves play an important role in the ecosystem, with sufficient research finding that an introduction of wolf population regulates, and even is a cause of, declining coyote populations.

Wolves are generally aversive to humans due to a long-standing history of hunting. As such, due not only to their protected status but also to the history between wolves and humans, wolf sightings are generally uncommon except in designated wolf recovery areas. One of these more popular recovery areas is Yellowstone, which has about 95 wolves in the park alone and approximately 450 wolves in the entire Yellowstone ecosystem. If you wish to view these wondrous creatures in the wild, more information can be gathered by visiting Yellowstone’s website or the United States Fish & Wildlife’s page on wolf preservation efforts.

Don’t forget to utilize your Pocket Ranger® Rules & Regulations for related information on these wolves in your own state parks! Stay informed, and happy hunting!

Every Kid in a Park

Two fourth graders show off their park passes, good for a year and any National Park, monument, forest, or wildlife area in the United States. [Image:]

Two fourth graders show off their park passes, which are good for a year at any national park, monument, forest, or wildlife area in the United States. [Image:]

Last year, President Obama signed an initiative called Every Kid in a Park. The initiative, which took effect in the fall, makes it possible for any fourth grader in the U.S. to receive and use an annual pass from the National Park Service at any of the NPS parks, monuments, waterways, forests, or wildlife refuges. And while the initiative conveniently coincides with the National Park Service’s centennial year, the initiative looks past 2016 as it seeks to help young people develop an understanding of and respect for nature and everything our parks grant us. Its goal is to help preserve the parks’ integrity through future generations.

Some junior-rangers-in-training learn the ropes from a park ranger in Florida. [Image:]

Some Junior Rangers-in-training learn the ropes from a park ranger in Florida. [Image:]

Even though the Every Kid in a Park initiative is for fourth graders and their families, there are many ways that kids of all ages can get involved at their nearest state and national parks. Perhaps the coolest among the numerous options (volunteering, anyone?) are the various Junior Ranger programs at state and national parks for kids as young as five and up. The Junior Ranger programs center on instilling general ranger qualities, like knowledge of the natural and human history preserved in our parks or how to experience nature without impacting the animals and plants that live there all the time. There are also more specific Junior Ranger programs that are dependent on the regional history of the parks they focus on. A kid can learn how to be a Junior Archaeologist in the Southeast, a Wilderness Explorer anywhere there’s a national wilderness to explore, or a Night Explorer pretty much anywhere it gets dark enough to see the stars.

you might not get a hat out of your Junior Ranger study, but a park ranger just might tip theirs at you. [Image:]

You might not get a hat out of your Junior Ranger study, but a park ranger just might tip theirs at you in that slow knowing way. [Image:]

According to the NPS, more than 800,000 children have completed their workbooks and become Junior Rangers in just the last year, and every day more kids become familiar with the “Explore, Learn, and Protect!” motto. With these teachings, they learn about the diversity, extremes, and importance of our national lands and waterways as well as our history, environment, anthropology, and ecological impact. It’s great that there’s a program that puts kids in touch with the rich cultural significance of our shared lands and of those that have been here for millennia, whether human or not.

If travel to a national park during this time of year is too much hassle, but you want to get going on your Junior Ranger passport, don’t worry! The NPS offers the WebRanger program with lots of fun interpretive and educational activities to enjoy from your computer, perhaps while you await or plan your next trip to a national or state park. And as always, look to our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps for your next state park adventure!

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Every time rumors of a snowstorm circulate, children (and even some adults, if we’re being totally honest here) across the afflicted areas have one collective thought: “Let’s build a snowman!” It’s an activity that crosses oceans, demolishes language barriers, and completely disregards age. We’ve pretty much been seeing an onslaught of snowmen since Thanksgiving in the States, so we’re used to their quirky carrot noses, round button noses, and adorable top hats by now. But where exactly did this fun snowy tradition come from?


Now that’s a well-made snowman! [Image:]

It’s hard to track when the first snowman was first crafted, but author of “The History of the Snowman,” Bob Eckstein, found documentation of snowmen dating back to medieval times. The earliest depiction he found was from 1380 and was a marginal drawing from a piece called, “Book of Hours.”

There’s also plenty of proof showing that people were building snowmen since the Middle Ages where they were searching for an outlet for creative expression. And what better way to show off your artistic skills than crafting a temporary human sculpture! Couples often took a chilly stroll to see what new creations sprouted up overnight, a tour de snowperson, if you will. There were even snowmen created by some famous artists, like the time that Michelangelo commissioned a snowman in Florence’s ruler’s mansion courtyard in 1494.


Watch out for the snowman army—coming to your neighborhood this snow day. [Image:]

Snowmen have also popped up during plenty of historical events. During the Winter of Death, a period of six weeks of subzero temperatures in Brussels, they saw what came to be known as the Miracle of 1511. Snowmen took over the city, and they even had their own personalities to go along with their presences with some designed in a political way while others were a bit raunchier.

Many years later, history saw another sighting of snow art when a pair of snowmen guards stood watch in Fort Schenectady as the actual guards fled inside to avoid the blizzard. This event became known as the Schenectady Massacre of 1690, as the snowmen did not do too good of a job warding off the French Canadian and Native American forces that had already braved three weeks of traveling through the snow.

Upside down snowman.

Who said there was a formula to snowman building? [Image:]

So whether you’re looking forward to impending snowstorms as a way to get outside and let some of your inner-creativity out, or you’d rather hunker down and preoccupy yourself indoors, our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps are the best aid for whatever adventure you choose. With whichever option you go with, just make sure you have fun doing it!

Hiking To Twin Falls in a Torrential Downpour

Contributed by Grant Thomas

A few days ago, my friend Andrew and I set out to explore Olallie State Park in Snoqualmie Pass, Washington. We planned on hiking to Talapus and Olallie Lakes, located off Exit 48 on Highway I-90, but as we got closer to the trailhead, we quickly realized we would need to come up with a new plan—the snowstorm that was passing throughout Snoqualmie Pass and most of Western Washington hit harder than expected. We briefly pulled over to assess the situation, and as we watched the snow continue to come down harder and harder, we decided to turn around. Not wanting to get snowed in, Andrew and I opted for a lower elevation hike at Twin Falls in order to escape the foot of snow that was predicted to fall within the next few hours. Fortunately, Twin Falls is also located in Olallie State Park, and the trailhead was just a few miles away off Exit 38.

We arrived at the trailhead a little after 10:00 a.m. With the torrential downpour that was taking place (the snow had turned to rain now that we were no longer in Snoqualmie Pass), it wasn’t a surprise to us that there was only one other car in the parking lot. I placed my Discover Pass (if you do not already have one, you can pay the $10 fee for a single day pass) on my dash, and we set off.

The trail started out with very little elevation gain as it meandered along the South Fork Snoqualmie River. Oftentimes you can find people fishing this river during the spring and summer months, but being that it was winter, the river was empty. After hiking alongside the river for about a half mile, we began to gain some elevation. After another half mile of hiking, we reached a viewpoint of the falls. There are two benches where you can sit and rest your legs while taking in the beautiful waterfall.

Lower Twin Falls

Lower Twin Falls as viewed from the second viewing area. [Image: Grant Thomas]

After a brief rest on the benches, Andrew and I ventured the last half mile to the second viewing area of the Lower Twin Falls. This section of the trail is much steeper than the first, and one should take caution as it can be slippery during the rainy season.

Lower Twin Falls and the pool the waterfall feeds into

Lower Twin Falls and the pool the waterfall feeds into. [Image: Grant Thomas]

The second viewing area can be accessed via steps that lead down to a platform. This is the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of the incredible 150-foot waterfall and take pictures before hiking to the Upper Twin Falls. After taking a few shots of our own, Andrew and I walked a few hundred yards to a wooden footbridge that was perfect for viewing the Upper Twin Falls.

Upper Twin Falls as viewed from the bridge above the Lower Twin Falls

Upper Twin Falls as viewed from the bridge above the Lower Twin Falls. [Image: Grant Thomas]

After Andrew and I took in the sights and sounds of both the upper and lower falls, we began our descent back to the car. We proceeded carefully and made sure not to slip on roots and rocks along the trail. We only passed two groups of hikers on our way back.

Overall, despite the weather that caused us to change our plans at the last minute, we had a fantastic morning exploring Twin Falls and the South Fork Snoqualmie River. Hopefully I will be able to get to Olallie and Talapus Lakes in the next couple of weeks once the snow has melted and the road to the trailhead is clear.

Tips for Staying Warm and Dry During Winter Adventures

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you should stop adventuring, but it does mean that you have to prepare more. Staying warm and dry when you’re out on a long winter bike ride, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or exploring the wintery landscape in another way is essential. You definitely won’t have a good time with numb fingers and toes, and a negative experience will make you less likely to get outside during winter in the future. Plus, hypothermia and frostbite are not laughing matters and should be avoided at all costs.

Woman shivering.

Brr! Bundle up—winter is officially here. [Image:]

Dress Appropriately

Winter calls for certain gear that you obviously don’t need in other seasons, and while it may seem excessive at times, it’s all necessary. From top to bottom, there are a few essential items to make sure you have in stock.

Couple snowshoeing.

The couple that dresses warm together, probably goes on to do lots of fun outdoor adventuring together. [Image:]

  • Socks, socks, and more socks. And not just thin cotton socks, but at least one pair of heavy-duty wool socks to keep your tootsies snug. You’ll also probably want a pair of thinner wool socks to put on underneath the thicker ones. Layers are essential for keeping your extremities toasty warm.
  • Large, breathable, waterproof boots. To account for the thicker socks and extra layers, you’ll need a pair of boots that are larger than your normal shoe size. You’ll also want a pair that can breathe and that are waterproof because wet, sweaty feet lead to wet boots, which will eventually freeze and lead to your feet getting colder quicker.
  • Kneewarmers or tights/long johns underneath snow pants. Your legs will probably be one of the warmest parts of your body as you’ll typically be exerting yourself by using your legs. Tights, long johns, and kneewarmers are all helpful in providing a bit of extra warmth, though. And these, of course, go underneath any heavier snow pants or thicker pants you may be wearing—unless you’re trying to create a new fashion trend, that is.
  • Jackets for days. There’s a general “rule of three” when it comes to layering. An insulated jacket is essential, and depending on the temperatures and how long you’ll be outside for, an extra jacket as well as a breathable, non-cotton shirt might also be necessary.
  • Fingers are like toes and should be treated similarly. What we mean by this is that fingers, like toes, are extremities and often get cold first as your body concentrates heat on your torso for your vital organs. Therefore it’s appropriate to layer and invest in some extra linings. There is also a lot of talk that mittens are more effective than gloves, but that’s usually up to your personal preference—if you absolutely hate mittens for some reason, then it’s probably not worth the investment. Hand (and foot!) warmers are also helpful and are available in bulk on many sites.
  • Protect that beautiful head of yours. A hat and scarf combo are great for winter exploring and help to keep your ears, neck, and face comfortable. There are other items—like a buff, balaclava, or earmuffs—that you might also want to look into, but as long as you’re covered then you’re good to go. It’s also important to remember that if you start becoming warm, the scarf and hat should be the first items to be removed.

Know the Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite

Cold Spongebob.

Trust me, this is not the life you want. [Image:]

There are more than a few ways to know if you’re suffering from hypothermia or frostbite as well as plenty of ways to treat both. With frostbiteyou’ll start out feeling a cold, prickly feeling in your body parts and they’ll turn red (as mentioned before, extremities are the first areas that typically become afflicted with frostbite). From there, the body part will grow increasingly numb and will turn white, and may even turn blue or purple. You’ll know you’re in trouble if your body starts feeling warm and you experience stinging or burning. At this point you may also experience blisters a day or so after warming back up. If your frostbite advances even further, all layers of your skin will be affected by the freezing temperatures. You might lose functionality in your joints and will become completely numb in the frostbitten areas, which will eventually turn black in the days following the exposure.

On the other hand, hypothermia is a whole other monster to deal with. A few signs of hypothermia are shivering, dizziness, confusion, trouble speaking, lack of coordination, weak pulse, and shallow breathing. Although it’s usually difficult to notice hypothermia as the symptoms are gradual, the more it sets in, the more apparent the symptoms become. However, the shivering will cease in extreme cases. Wearing breathable, non-cotton clothes during your winter adventures is very important as cotton absorbs sweat and can freeze, making you more vulnerable to hypothermia.

Stay Hydrated

Woman drinking water.

Drink up! The water’s great! [Image:]

It’s easy to overlook drinking water when your teeth are chattering and your muscles twitching with the cold, but it’s incredibly important to stay hydrated during wintertime exercise. When your body is cold, your mind ends up preoccupied, and you simply don’t feel thirsty as often, even when you’re on the brink of dehydration. Water also helps you generate heat easier and quicker, which is especially important when you’re covered in tons of layers. It’s important to drink water often (and not a swig of whiskey, as some movies may have you believe).

Hopefully with these tips you’re feeling a bit more inspired to head outside and explore, despite winter’s chill. And nothing can make that easier than our handy Pocket Ranger® mobile apps, which are available for download in the iTunes and Google Play Stores!

How Now Sea Cow?

West Indian manatee.

A curious West Indian manatee. [Image:]

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced a proposal earlier this month centered on the idea of upgrading the presently endangered West Indian manatee’s (or sea cow) status from endangered to threatened. For background, the designation of “endangered” means that, without management, a species is on the slippery slope toward extinction, while “threatened” means that a species’ habitat and population are sustainable but don’t do a great job of promoting the animal’s collective proliferation (aka the species is in danger of becoming endangered). As such, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife motion is a reflection of the manatee’s “significant improvement” in population sustainability and habitat strength and has many leaping for joy. Though there has been some wariness to temper the excitement and applause as well.

The West Indian manatee has been a gentle, rotund protectee of the Federal Endangered Species Act since the act was signed in 1973, though manatees have been federally recognized as an endangered species since the 1960s. At the time the ESA came about, the manatee’s population had dwindled down to an estimated 700 because of factors like boat-related deaths and destruction of habitat, among other things. Today, with the estimate grown to over 6,000 individuals, the species seems headed in the right direction in terms of its stability. That’s genuine cause for celebration across the board, but some groups concerned with manatee conservation are focused on what might happen if the species doesn’t get the protection that comes with the “endangered” status as well as the looming problems associated with an environmental phenomenon called red tide.

Manatee eating.

Manatee enjoying a snack. [Image:]

An example of this quandary is playing out at present in Brevard County, Florida, one of the counties where many manatees live, and coincidentally, an area with one of the highest rates of manatee mortality in the state. The county commissioners approved a resolution to ask Florida wildlife leaders to conduct research on how effective boat speed restrictions are at protecting the manatees that inhabit the county’s waterways. Conversely, Katie Tripp, a leader in the Save the Manatee Club, feels that the relatively high number of boat-related injuries and fatalities among manatees in Brevard County will only increase if the speed restrictions vanish. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife proposal is open for public comment until April 7, 2016.


As anthropomorphic as it is round, this manatee is definitely emoting what you think it’s emoting. [Image:]

If you want to enjoy the manatee in its element, there are plenty of ways to do so! One especially great way to see some adorable, sea grass-chomping examples of the order Sirenia, is to download the Official Guide for Florida State Parks & Beaches app powered by Pocket Ranger® and to also make your way to any of the state parks on this map!

State Parks Named for Historical Figures

Some park names are derived from geographic, geologic, or topographic features in their regions while others are based on names given to those features by Native Americans. Still other parks are named for state and national level politicians, landowners, celebrities, pioneers, and war heroes. Almost always, park names are steeped in local tradition, lore, or landmarks. While a park’s primary purpose is to provide protection to important resources and wildlife habitats, there is also a place for historical preservation or legacy in nature in the long list of benefits that our state and national parks give us. Here are a few parks named for historical figures to whet your appetite for adventure!

Colonel Allen Allensworth in military dress. [Image:]

Colonel Allen Allensworth in military dress. [Image:]

Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park–Earlimart, CA

This park is named for Lieutenant Colonel Allen Allensworth, a man born into slavery who escaped and fought for the Union during the Civil War. Allensworth was the first African American to rise to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. In 1908, he founded the town of Allensworth, CA in the hopes of establishing a “Tuskegee of the West.” Allensworth succeeded, and California’s first African American founded, financed, and governed city blossomed for a few generations. Though the sudden passing of Colonel Allensworth in 1914 ultimately caused the decline of the town, its importance in California is unmistakable. It’s been a state park and in the National Register of Historic Places since the 1970s, and its 240 acres of preserved buildings and open space are an excellent place to take in some American history as well as the vast and fertile San Joaquin Valley.

Patriotic Pulaski, as imagined before charging with abandon into battle on a horse. [Image:]

Patriotic Pulaski, as imagined before charging with abandon into battle on a horse. [Image:]

Pulaski State Park and Recreational Area–Chepachet, RI

Casimir Pulaski was a Polish nobleman and one of two “fathers of the American cavalry.” As a young man in the 1760s and ’70s, Pulaski fought for the Bar Confederation in Poland as the country resisted Russian control. While his participation in the Polish uprising got him exiled from his homeland, Pulaski remained sympathetic to the tones of rebellion and freedom, and was recruited by Benjamin Franklin to fight in the American Revolution. In addition to many instances of valor, Pulaski saved George Washington’s life and later gave his own for the American cause in the Battle of Savannah. In all, this rambunctious champion of liberty has a number of things named after him in the United States, but perhaps best of all is the 100-acre Pulaski State Park and Recreation Area in Rhode Island. It provides a pleasant and secluded place for relaxing, contemplative activities like hiking or fishing, a far cry from the battlefields of its past.

The Lindbergh House, built by C. A. Lindbergh circa 1906. [Image:]

The Lindbergh House, built by C. A. Lindbergh circa 1906. [Image:]

Charles A. Lindbergh State Park–Little Falls, MN

Charles A. Lindbergh State Park is named for the famous aviator’s father who was a Minnesota Congressman during the early part of the 1900s. The park features a museum made up of the farm and boyhood home of the younger Lindbergh as well as an additional 560 acres of Minnesotan forest and prairie to admire as one hikes, cross-country skis, camps, or picnics. The park also bears access to the shoreline of the Mississippi River where, except for dams raising the water level, not much is altered from the days when young Lindbergh may have seen it shortly after observing an airplane for the first time or the statesman experienced it as he took in the morning paper.

If you’re feeling motivated to go out and see for yourself the many historical sites and features preserved at a park near you, download any of our Pocket Ranger® apps! Many of the apps feature park histories that detail the park or geographic region where the park is situated, putting not only outdoor adventure but thousands of years of human history right at your fingertips. Start planning your trip today!