Investigation: Is a dog more closely related to a coyote or to a wolf?

download pdf google doc


Gray Wolf

Species Name:  Canis lupus

Color:  Light gray to black

Size:  80-120 pounds, 2.5 feet tall

Appearance:  broad snout, round ears, long tail



Species Name:  Canis latrans

Color: Light gray to brown

Size:  20-50 pounds, 1.5 feet tall

Appearance:  narrow snout, pointed ears, long tail


Dog, Alaskan Malamute

Species Name:  Canis lupus familiaris

Color:  Gray and white  or brown and white

Size: 70-80 pounds,  2 feet tall

Appearance:  broad snout, round ears, long tail

1.  Examine the images and descriptions above. 

Underline any similarities between the dog and the wolf. 
Place a star ✭ next to any coyote traits that are similar to the dog.

2.  Based on appearance alone, which do you think is the most closely related to a dog? 


Part 2:  Phylogenetic Trees

Once scientists learned how to sequence DNA, that became a great resource for determining relationships.  A phylogenetic tree shown below is based on DNA evidence  and similarities in appearance.

phylogenetic tree

3.  Branch points are called “nodes” and they indicate a more recent common ancestor from which each branch species has descended from. 

- Place a box  to indicate the node or common ancestor of all the fox species.
- Place a triangle   to indicate the node or common ancestor of all the canis species.

4.  Which two members of the canis group have the most recent common ancestor?  ________________________________

5.  A species name has two words, a system called BINOMIAL NOMENCLATURE.  The first word of a species name refers to its GENUS.   For example, wolves, coyotes and dogs all belong to the genus “CANIS.”

What is the genus for the foxes? ________________________________

6.  In some cases, a third name is given to the animal to indicate a SUBSPECIES.  

What animal on the chart is a subspecies?  _______________________________________

What is this animal's full scientific name ? _________________________________________

7.  Final Synthesis:   Is a dog more closely related to a coyote or to a wolf?  ______________________           

Provide EVIDENCE from the phylogenetic tree to support your position.


8. Extension: Is a red wolf or a domestic dog more closely related to a common fox? Use the phylogenetic tree to explain your answer.


Related Resources

Practice with Taxonomy and Classification:   reinforcement activity, focuses on kingdoms and scientific names

Bear Species and DNA – activity from Learn.Genetics explores relationships between different types of bears

Snake Detection Hypothesis – study showing how humans may have evolved the ability to detect snakes

Speciation on Daphne Major (Big Birds Get No Love) – data analysis showing how the size of finch beaks changes as a result of a drought