Last Updated on October 26, 2023 by Tommy
This article was fact-checked in October 2023 by coyote expert Jonathan Way who runs the website Eastern Coyote Research
Coyotes rely heavily on their strong teeth and jaws to obtain food and survive in the wild. They both scavenge available food and are also adept hunters of wild game.
Their snouts or muzzles have an intricate design that gives them fantastic flexibility, ranging from the most delicate handling of things (like a pup) to the most intensive activity, like bringing down a large prey item (e.g., deer).
Inside their muzzles, however, lie their shiny pearly whites, each sharpened to a different degree depending on its particular function.
What are the different types of coyote teeth, how strong is their bite, and are they inclined to use it toward humans?
Read on to learn more!
Coyote Teeth Overview
Table of Contents
|Type of Tooth||Number on upper jaw (on one side)||Number on lower jaw (on one side)||Function|
|Incisors||Three||Three||Grabbing, holding, and pulling|
|Canines||One||One||Stabbing and tearing|
|Premolars||Four||Four||Slicing through flesh, skin, and bones|
Their omnivorous diet means that while coyote teeth are pretty sharp, they are blunter compared to other carnivores like those in the cat family.
Teeth variety is also essential if you consider that coyotes don’t have hands and utensils to help them manipulate their food the same way we do.
These animals can use their teeth for everything from picking apart smaller prey to cleaning their coats and removing pests like ticks to even gently picking up their young! Additionally, their narrow snouts allow coyotes to use their jaws in a refined, practical way.
Coyotes have four main types of teeth:
At the front of the jaws are twelve incisors, six per jaw. Incisors are primarily used for grabbing, holding, and pulling.
Following the incisors are their sharp canines, used for stabbing and tearing. Canines are sometimes referred to as the coyote’s “fangs.” These are their most pronounced teeth, between 1.2 – 1.4 inches long and 0.6 inches wide. Coyotes have four canines or two per jaw.
At the back of their mouths are the coyotes’ premolars and molars, with the bottom jaw having one pair of molars more than the upper jaw. These are the “chewing” teeth that can easily slice through and crush flesh, skin, bones, and other hard materials.
Eating bone ensures that canids, mainly coyotes and wolves, can consume most prey carcasses, so little goes to waste.
FUN FACT: If you ever come across an article about coyotes four “carnassial teeth,” these are really just the upper premolar 4 for the top two and lower molar 1 for the bottom two. These teeth are particularly sharp, and all members of the order Carnivore (i.e., carnivores like wild dogs, cats, weasels, and bears) order have them. (See a photo of them here.)
Despite the many teeth in a coyote’s mouth, the total line of teeth along the jaw measures only about four inches, with the entire jaw measuring around 5.5 inches long.
The narrowest part of their snout is the lower jaw, which packs the most considerable punch. That is due to the shape and design of a coyote’s skull.
Coyote Teeth Development
Human babies start growing teeth between 4-7 months of age. Coyote pups start growing their baby teeth much earlier, at only two weeks of age!
Young coyotes have very sharp “puppy teeth” or “milk teeth.”. By the time they are 6-8 weeks old, the teeth are prominent and sharp enough to hurt the mother. It is at this time that mother coyotes wean their pups, transitioning them to solid food.
As the weaning process is completed, coyote pups rely on food regurgitated by adult pack members.
However, when the pups turn four or five months old, their milk teeth fall out and are replaced by stronger, permanent “adult teeth.” This is the time they begin hunting and practice using their sharp new teeth, as they are developing the crucial jaw strength necessary to survive in the wild.
As strong as these permanent teeth are, they naturally wear down and become discolored as a coyote ages. Coyotes only get one set, so lost teeth don’t grow back.
An interesting aspect of coyote teeth is their cementum.
Cementum is a thin, hard layer of dental tissue that coats and protects a tooth’s roots. Coyotes begin developing cementum at about one year of age or around the time their permanent teeth emerge.
As coyotes grow older, more and more cementum is deposited at the tooth’s roots, creating rings similar to what trees have. However, every winter, the ring turns out darker than the rest due to a difference in diet. This dark ring is referred to by scientists as the “annulus.”
Because of this phenomenon, researchers use cementum annuli counting as one method to determine an animal’s age, from coyotes to many other mammals.
Canid Jaws: Similarities and Differences
Wolves, dogs, and coyotes have a similar tooth structure and dentition pattern. As previously discussed above, there are always premolars, molars, incisors, and canines.
The difference between coyotes and their wolf or dog cousins is in the straightness of the line in their jaw. The ratio of palate length to width is just over two. Dogs and wolves are less than that. This shows that coyotes have narrower and longer jaws relative to wolves, who have a more massive, powerful bite.
The coyote’s facial bones and inner jaw are much thinner than those of wolves or dogs, making their skulls a bit lighter.
Coyote Bite Strength
Coyotes have powerful jaws and can take on a variety of animals, including significantly bigger predators or enemies when the coyotes hunt in packs. Various sources estimate coyotes have a bite force of 88-100 pounds per square inch (PSI).
Interestingly, many other animals–including humans!–can have stronger bites than coyotes.
According to research, humans have a bite force of 160 PSI, large dogs 320 PSI, and wolves 400 PSI!
However, don’t forget that, unlike humans, coyotes have sharp teeth designed to grip and tear, so don’t discount their “low” PSI too much!
Will a Coyote Actually Bite You?
“People are more likely to get hit by a stray golf ball, get in a serious car accident, get hurt by a deer (usually via car accident), struck by lightning, or hurt by another human than they are to receive a bite from a coyote!” – Jonathan Way, coyote expert.
A coyote’s first instinct is to run away or hide from humans.
However, if left with no choice, they are definitely able to bite a person. Additionally, if a coyote is old, sick, hungry, or accustomed to being fed by people, it could potentially attack a person or snatch a child in a similar way as they do small prey–despite the rarity of that actually happening.
In theory, because of the quick and fast nature of a single coyote bite, it would likely hurt a little more than a full bite from a determined house cat. But, if the coyote makes multiple bites (i.e., attacks someone), it could be very damaging, similar to a dog attack. The bite can be fatal when directed to the throat or into a major blood vessel.
When a coyote bite occurs, the site usually has four deep puncture marks. These are the four canines that sink into flesh and make visible impressions.
Looking at the numbers, though, only about three people are bitten by coyotes every year on average in North America (White and Gehrt 2010), and only two people have been killed by coyotes in recorded history (Carbyn 1989, Gehrt et al. 2022, and Timm et al. 2004).
Yes–that is just two people in all of recorded history!
People die a lot more often due to stranger reasons than coyote attacks. For example, just in the summer of 2022, two people died within just three days in New York City alone from trees falling on them.
So, while the chance of an attack (especially a fatal one) is astronomically low, it is still possible–especially where coyotes are habituated to people through actions like being intentionally fed.
How Can You Tell If A Coyote Has Bitten An Animal?
You need a much-trained eye to differentiate jaw signatures to tell if an animal has encountered a coyote instead of another predator, such as a wolf.
They bite quickly, clamp down, shake fervently to break the animal’s neck, and release.
Taller and bigger animals like deer will have bite marks at their hindquarters and around their legs.
If the animal is dead, there should also be a decisive bite to the throat area for smaller prey. Other indicators are bite marks present around the shoulders, flank, or hindquarters.
But the best clues for determining if a coyote has attacked an animal is to check the surroundings for tracks, scat, and other signs in the field. Usually sign in the field will be the best indicator to determine what predator is in a given area.
Coyote teeth is a fascinating subject that helps us understand how they hunt, eat, and survive. We hope you get the opportunity to study them for yourself in person.
Carbyn, L.N. 1989. Coyote attacks on children in western North America. Wildlife Society Bulletin 17: 444-446.
Gehrt, S.D., E.M. Muntz, E.C. Wilson, J.W.B. Power, and S.D. Newsome. 2023. Severe environmental conditions create severe conflicts: A novel ecological pathway to extreme coyote attacks on humans. Journal of Applied Ecology 60(2): 353-364. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.14333
Timm, R.M, R.O. Baker, J.R. Bennett, and C.C. Coolahan. 2004. Coyote attacks: An increasing suburban problem. Proceedings of the Twenty-first Vertebrate Pest Conference. Pp. 47-57. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/vpc21/1
White, L.A., and S.D. Gehrt. 2009. Coyote attacks on humans in the United States and Canada. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 14: 419-432.