Currently, 19 subspecies are recognized, with 16 in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, and three in Central America. Unlike the related gray wolf, which is Eurasian in origin, evolutionary theory suggests the coyote evolved in North America during the Pleistocene epoch 1.81 million years ago (mya) alongside the dire wolf. Although not closely related, the coyote evolved separately to fill roughly the same ecological niche in the Americas that is filled in Eurasia and Africa by the similarly sized jackals. Unlike the wolf, the coyote's range has expanded in the wake of human civilization, and coyotes readily reproduce in metropolitan areas.
The color of the coyote's pelt varies from grayish-brown to yellowish-gray on the upper parts, while the throat and belly tend to have a buff or white color. The forelegs, sides of the head, muzzle and paws are reddish-brown. The back has tawny-colored underfur and long, black-tipped guard hairs that form a black dorsal stripe and a dark cross on the shoulder area. The black-tipped tail has a scent gland located on its dorsal base. Coyotes shed once a year, beginning in May with light hair loss, ending in July after heavy shedding. The ears are proportionately large in relation to the head, while the feet are relatively small in relation to the rest of the body. Certain experts have noted the shape of a domestic dog's brain case is closer to the coyote's in shape than that of a wolf's. Mountain-dwelling coyotes tend to be dark-furred, while desert coyotes tend to be more light brown in color. Coyotes typically grow to 30–34 in (76–86 cm) in length, not counting a tail of 12–16 in (30–41 cm), stand about 23–26 in (58–66 cm) at the shoulder and weigh from 15–46 lb (6.8–21 kg). Northern coyotes are typically larger than southern subspecies, with the largest coyotes on record weighing 74.75 pounds (33.91 kg) and measuring 1.75 m (5.7 ft) in total length.
C. l. cagottis, Mexican coyote C. l. clepticus, San Pedro Martir coyote C. l. dickeyi, Salvador coyote C. l. frustor, Southeastern coyote C. l. goldmani, Belize coyote C. l. hondurensis, Honduras coyote C. l. impavidus, Durango coyote C. l. incolatus, Northern Coyote C. l. jamesi, Tiburón Island coyote C. l. latrans, Plains coyote C. l. lestes, Mountain coyote C. l. mearnsi, Mearns coyote C. l. microdon, Lower Rio Grande coyote C. l. ochropus, California Valley coyote C. l. texensis, Texas Plains coyote C. l. thamnos, Northeastern coyote C. l. umpquensis, Northwest Coast coyote