[HOME] Coyote Facial Expressions

Neutral face

The eyes are open, the ears erect and the lips relaxed. The neutral face often grades into a relaxed open-mouth face. (Fox, 1971)

Alert face

The ears and eyes directed strongly forward suggest that the coyote is alert to some source of stimulation. The lips also appear more tensed than in the neutral face. (Brown, 1973)

Low intensity threat face ( Fig. 2j)

The corners of the mouth are brought forward and the lips may be retracted vertically slightly to expose the canines and some of the other teeth. The eyes are closed slightly or narrowed as the threat becomes more intense.

Small mouth threat face (Fig. 2a)

The ears are erect and directed forward and the eyes are closed slightly. The mouth is closed with the lips covering the teeth and the corners of the mouth are brought forward into a "pucker". (Fox, 1970)

Aggressive threat face (Fig. 2b)

The mouth is opened wide into a gape with the corners of the mouth brought forward and the lips retracted vertically to expose the canines and incisors. The eyes are narrowed. (Brown, 1973)

Defensive threat face (Fig. 2c)

The mouth is opened wide but the corners of the mouth are pulled back and the lips are retracted to expose most of the teeth. This jaw gape emerges first as a startle response in coyote pups. ( Fox, 1971) The ears are laid back on the head and the eyes are open. The defensive threat face may incorporate the submissive grin ( Fig, 2d,e) The mouth is opened only slightly and the corners are pulled back with the lips retracted to expose most of the teeth. The ears vary in position from erect to laid back. (Fox,1971)

Defensive aggressive threat face ( Fig. 2g)

The mouth is opened wide with the lips drawn back to expose the teeth. The ears are laid back and eyes are opened or narrowed.

Submissive play face ( Fig. 2h)

The mouth is opened slightly with the lips moderately retracted to expose the tips of the teeth. The eyes are wide open and the ears are back.


These facial expressions have been described at rather arbitrary points along a finely graded agonistic continuum incorporating various levels of aggression and fear. The ears generally provide a good indication of the position of the animal along the agonistic continuum from aggression (ears erect) to submission (ears laid back). However, the ears often rapidly oscillate between intermediate positions refecting not only oscillations in motivation, but probably also response to auditory stimuli from the environment. When the coyote is extremely submissive with its ears laid back tightly auditory stimuli are probably at a low priority.

The eyes are not consistant barometers of agonistic intent. They may be wide open or narrowed during either aggression or submission. However, line of sight is important since a direct stare constitutes a threat. The submissive antithesis of the stare is to look away.

Edited by Marc Bekoff

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Last revised: Saturday, January 25, 2003