BY Christina Merkl –Wolf Education Program Coordinator
Researchers are discovering more about wolves every passing
year. Direct observation of these complex and intelligent animals in places
such as the high artic and Yellowstone, advances in genetics and sophisticated
tracking devices have unlocked many secrets , however much about the wolf still
remains a mystery, and the adage “never say never” and never say “always” when
the subject of wolves is still true.
Full articles and papers have been written about each of the
following questions. I have included links in our website to help you with more
comprehensive information on this fascinating animal who acts so much like
HOW MANY WOLVES ARE THERE IN THE
There are 2 universally recognized species of wolves in the
world: the gray wolf and the red wolf. Two other members of the canine family
are considered to be wolves by some researchers and other species by other researchers.
The use of molecular genetic research on wolves suggests that
there may be two more species of wolf in the world. Some question whether the Ethiopian
or Abyssinian Wolf (canis simenis) is a true wolf or a jackal.
Other researchers have presented strong evidence that the
Eastern Timber Wol (Canis Lupus lycaon)
may be a distinct species, the Eastern Timber Wolf (Canis lycaon). Due to
the complex nature of studying wolves using molecular genetics to distinguish
species, the process takes a great amount of time to reach solid conclusions.
WHAT ARE THE SUBSPECIES OF THE GRAY
The Gray wolf (Canis Lupus), lives in the Northern Parts of
the world. There are 5 subspecies of Gray Wolves in North America and 7 to 12
The currently recognized subspecies in North America are:
Lupus Baileyi - The Mexican Wolf or LOBO
lupus nubilus – the great plains or Buffalo Wolf
lupus occidentalis – the rocky mountain or Mackenzie Valley Wolf
Lupus lycaon – the eastern Timber Wolf. Some scientists maintain that this wolf
is a separate subspecies, Canis Lycaon
Lupus arctos – the artic Wolf
Subspecies are often difficult to distinguish form one
another, this is because wolves are so mobile and travel at such great
distances. They interbreed where their ranges overlap so that their populations
tend to blend together rather than form distinctive boundaries. The different traits we see in subspecies are
likely the result of geographic range, available habitat, and prey base.
But one wolf is in reality, like any other wolf in terms of
natural history and behavior. There are far more commonalities among wolves
than differences. All species and subspecies of wolves are social animals that
live and hunt in families called Packs, although adult wolves can and do
Most wolves hold territories, and all communicate through
body language, vocalizations and scent marking.
IS THE RED WOLF A TRUE WOLF OR A
No single hypothesis for the origin of the red wolf is
universally accepted by scientists. DNA analysis and morphological evidence
support recognition of the red wolf as a distinct sub species.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN
RED WOLVES AND GRAY WOLVES?
Red wolves are larger than coyotes and smaller than gray
wolves. They are buff colored or Brown with some black along their backs. The
backs of their legs ears, head and legs are often tinged with a reddish color.
Their legs are long and they have tall off set ears. The red wolf diet consists
mainly of white tailed deer and small mammals such as Marsh Rabbits, Raccoons ect.
WHAT IS THE LEGAL STATUS OF THE RED
The RED WOLF has federally endangered status throughout its
29 state historic range. Non-essential experimental status applies only to the
5-county red wolf recovery area comprising the Albermarle Penninsula in
Northeastern North Carolina.
WHAT IS A WOLF PACK?
A wolf pack is a cohesive family unit consisting of the adult parents and their offspring of the current
year and sometimes two years or more. Wolf parents used to be referred to as
the Alpha male and Alpha female or the Alpha Pair. These terms have been
replaced with “breeding Male” and “breeding Female”, and “breeding Pair” or
simply “parents”. The adult parents are usually unrelated, and other unrelated
wolves may sometimes join the pack.
HOW MANY WOLVES ARE IN THE PACK?
Pack size is highly variable and fluid because of the birth
of the pups, dispersal, and mortality. Prey availabilty and sizes are also
factors. Where prey animals are smaller, packs are often small. Where prey is
large, the packs may be larger. For example, in Alaska and Northwestern Canada
some packs reportedly have over 20 members. One pack (Druid Pack) in
Yellowstone National Park members means more food must be obtained. Wolf packs
are generally largest in late autumn when the nearly grown pups are strong
enough to hunt with the adults. Over the
winter months, some wolves may disperse to find mates and territories of their
Others die, and by spring, before the arrival of a new crop
of pups, the pack size has often diminished
Red wolf packs are generally smaller than gray wolf packs and
usually have 2 to 8 members, but a pack of 12 has been observed in the wild
territory, an area in which it lives, hunts and raises its offspring and which
it actively defends against other can-ids (dog-like animals) including other
wolves. Exceptions are nomadic wolves whose prey is migratory such as the
tundra wolves that follow the caribou herds on their annual treks over huge distances.
Territory size is highly variable and depends on a number of factors
such as prey abundance. The nature of the terrain, climate and the prescience
of other wolf packs Gray wolf territories in the lowers 48 states may be less
than 100 square miles while territories in Alaska and Canada can range from
about 300 -1000 square miles or more
Red wolf territories in Northeastern North Carolina vary in
size, but most are estimated between 38to 87 square miles.
WHEN DO WOLVES BREED?
Pure wolves breed once a year in late
winter or early spring, depending on where they live. For example, Gray wolves
in the western great lakes region breed in February to march, while gray wolves
in the arctic may breed a few weeks later – in March or April, Red Wolves usually breed in late
January or early February
WHAT IS THE GESTATION PERIOD OF A
The gestation period (length of pregnancy) of Gray and Red
Wolves is usually around 63 days.
HOW MANY PUPS ARE BORN IN A PACK EACH
A mature female (pure) wolf comes into estrus once a year. Thus, a
breeding pair produces one litter of pups each spring, but in areas of high
prey abundance more than 1 female in a pack may give birth. An average litter
size for gray and red wolves is 4 to 6 but sometimes fewer pups are born and
sometimes more. Several or all may die if food is not readily available for the
fast growing youngsters. Additionally, other predators and diseases such as
distemper and canine parvo virus may kill young pups.
HOW MUCH DO WOLF PUPS
Gray and Red
wolf pup weigh about a pound at birth. The newborns are blind and deaf and
depend on their mother for warmth. In about 2 weeks their eyes open, and in 3
weeks, they emerge from the den and begin to explore their world. Growth is
rapid, and by the time the pups are 6 months old, they are almost as big as the
HOW MUCH DO ADULT
Wolves vary greatly in size, depending on where they live.
The Smallest wolves live in the southern parts of the Middle East where the
Arabian Wolf may weigh no more than 30 pounds. Adult female gray wolves in
northern Minnesota weigh between 50 and 80 pounds, and adult males between 70
and 110 pounds. Gray wolves are larger in the northeastern United States,
Canada, and Alaska, and in Russia where adult males weigh 85 to 115 pounds and
occasionally reach 130 pounds. Males generally weigh about 20% more than
females. Wolves attain their adult height, length and weight in the first two
years. Most look like adults by late autumn of their first year
Red wolves are intermediate in size and appearance between a
gray wolf and a coyote. Adult female red wolves weigh 40 -75 pounds, while
males weigh from 50 to 85 pounds.
HOW LONG AND TALL ARE WOLVES?
As with weight, a wolf’s length and
height is are variable in different areas of the world. The figures that follow are commonly used to describe the larger
subspecies of wolves in North America, Europe, and Central Asia. They are
not accurate for several of the smaller subspecies in the southern latitudes of
the Middle East, for example. The average length (tip of nose to tip of tail)
of an Adult female gray wolf is 4.5 to 6 feet; adult males average 5 to 6.5
feet. The average height (at the shoulder) of a gray wolf is 26-32 inches
The average length (tip of nose to
tip of tail) of an adult red wolf is 4.5 to 5.5 feet. The average height (at
the shoulder) of an adult red wolf is about 26 inches.
HOW BIG IS A WOLF’S TRACK?
THE SIZE OF A WOLF’S TRACK IS
DEPENDENT ON THE AGE AND SIZE OF THE WOLF!!!!!
The substrate the track
was made in. A good sized estimate for a gray wolf’s track size is 4 ½ inches
long by 3 ½ inches wide. Only a few breed of dogs leave tracks longer than 4
inches (great Danes Saint Bernard’s and bloodhounds). Red wolves have smaller
feet than gray wolves.
All wolves have feet superbly
adapted to long-distance travel over different types of terrain and through
(and OVER!) snow. The wolf’s blocky feet and long flexible toes conform to
uneven terrain, thus allowing the animal to maintain speed when necessary as
well as a tireless, ground eating trot when traveling.
HOW MANY TEETH DOES A WOLF HAVE?
ADULT GRAY WOLVES AND RED WOLVES HAVE
42 HIGHLY SPECIALIZED TEETH!!!!
Adult humans have 32. The canine teeth or
fangs, can be 2 ½ inches long and are used for puncturing and gripping. The incisors
are for nipping small pieces of meat; the carnaissal teeth are like
scissors and knives. Wolves use them to
sheer away flesh and bones, Molars are for grinding and crushing.
HOW STRONG ARE WOLVES JAWS?
molars and powerful jaws of a wolf are used to crush the bones of its prey. The
biting capacity of a wolf is 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch.
The strength of a wolf’s jaw makes it possible to bite through a moose femur in
6-8 bites. In comparison, a German shepherd has a biting pressure of 750 pounds
per square inch. A human has a much lower biting pressure of 300 pounds per
WHAT DO WOLVES EAT?
WOLVES ARE CARNIVORES!!!!!!!!!
They are meat-eaters. Gray wolves prey
primarily on ungulates – large hoofed mammals such as White tailed deer, mule
deer, moose, elk, caribou, Dall sheep, musk oxen, and mountain goats. Medium
sized mammals, such as beaver, and snowshoe hares can be an important secondary
food source. Occasionally wolves will prey on small birds or small mammals such
as mice and voles, but these are supplementary to their requirements for large
amounts of meat.
Wolves have been observed catching fish in places like Alaska
and western Canada. They will also kill and eat livestock such as cattle and
sheep and they will consume carrion in if no fresh meat is available. Some
wolves eat small amounts of fruit although this is not a significant part of
If prey is abundant, wolves may not consume an entire carcass,
or they may leave entire carcasses without eating. This is called “surplus
killing” and seems inconsistent with the wolves’ habit of killing because they
are hungry. Surplus killing seems to occur when prey is vulnerable and easy to
catch – in winter – for instance, when there is deep snow.
Since wolves are programmed to kill when possible, they may
simply be taking advantage of unusual situations when wild prey are relatively
easy to catch. They may return later to feed on an unconsumed carcass or they
may leave it to a host of scavengers. Additionally, they may cache food and dig
it up at a later time.
Red wolves primarily prey on white tailed deer, raccoons,
rabbits, nutria and other rodents.
HOW MUCH DO WOLVES EAT?
Getting enough to eat is a full-time
job for a wolf. When wolves catch and kill a large mammal, they will gorge and
then rest while the food is being rapidly digested. They will generally consume
all but the hide, some of the large bones and skull and the rumen (stomach
contents of ungulates) of their prey. Gray wolves can survive on about 2 ½
pounds of food per wolf per day, but they require about 7 pounds per wolf per
day to reproduce successfully. The most a large gray wolf can eat at one time
is about 22.5 pounds.
Adult wolves can survive days and even weeks without food if
they have to. Growing pups however, require regular nourishment in order to be
strong enough to travel and hunt with the adults by the autumn of their first
year. Wolves often rely on food they have cached after a successful hunt in
order to see them through lean times.
Red wolves may eat 2 to 5 pounds per
day when prey is abundant. Because they are smaller than gray wolves, they
consume less at one time than their larger cousins. But like all wolves, eating
for red wolves is a matter of “feast” followed by “famine”
HOW MANY PREY ANIMALS DO WOLVES KILL
Wolves depend on a variety of large
ungulates (hoofed mammals) for food. While studies have been conducted in some
areas to determine the actual number of prey killed each year, the results are
estimates. For example: an estimate of Deer ranges from 15 to 19 adult sized
deer per wolf per year. Given the 2008 estimate of 2922 wolves in Minnesota for
instance, that would equal 43.800 to 58,500 deer killed by wolves. In
comparison, hunters killed approximately 260,000 deer in the 2007 deer harvest.
Additionally, several thousand deer are killed during collisions with vehicles
HOW LONG DO WOLVES LIVE?
It is misleading to say that wolves
in the wild live an average of a certain number of years. There are so many
variables. Some wolves die soon after they are born, and others are killed or
die in early or middle adulthood. Members of the dog family, like wolves and
domestic dogs can live to be 15 0r 16 years old – sometimes even older. Dogs
and wolves in captivity have a better shot at making it to a ripe old age
because they usually receive routine veterinary care and regular meals.
However, wild wolves have a tough life filled with pit falls.
Many pups do not survive through the first two winters of their lives. Those
that survive the first two years have a pretty good chance of living another
two to four years if they can avoid fatal injury and if they can get enough to
eat. Some wild wolves do live to be 9 or 10 and there are verified records of a
few living into their early teens.
WHAT DO WOLVES DIE FROM?
The natural cause of wolf mortality
is primarily starvation, which kills mostly pups and death from other wolves
because of territory fights. Diseases such as mange, canine parvovirus, Lyme disease
also infects wolves, and heartworm can reduce a wolf’s endurance by restricting
blood flow to the lungs. Injuries caused by prey result in some deaths. The
large mammals that wolves hunt and kill can inflict mortal injuries with
antlers and hooves. Human –caused mortality including legal (hunting and
trapping) and illegal (poaching) activities can be high in some populations.
Wolves are sometimes hit by cars in areas where road density is high. Pup
mortality rates are highly variable, but approximately 40-60 % of wolf pups die
HOW FAST CAN WOLVES RUN?
WOLVES WILL TRAVEL FOR LONG
by trotting at about 5 miles per hour. They can run at speeds of 36
to 38 miles per hour for short bursts while chasing prey. Although bursts of
maximum speed can be relatively short, wolves can maintain pursuit of running
prey animals for long distances and over rough terrain.
HOW FAR CAN WOLVES TRAVEL??
WOLVES ARE HUNTERS!!!
They travel far and wide to locate
prey. They may travel 50 miles or more each day in search of food, and they are
superbly designed for a life on the move. Because their elbows turn inward,
their lean bodies are precisely balanced over their large feet. With their long
legs and ground eating stride, they can travel tirelessly for hours on end with
no energy wasted. Dispersing wolves, those leaving packs in search of their own
mates, have been known to travel hundreds of miles away from their home
territory. Satellite and global
positioning (gps) collars allow researchers to document the truly remarkable
travels of wolves.
WHY DO WOLVES HOWL?
The howl of a wolf is one of nature’s
most evocative and powerful sounds. The haunting chorus of wolves howling is
beautiful – or frightening depending on one’s point of view. Wolves howl to
communicate with one another. They locate members of their own pack by howling,
and they often engage in a group howl before they set off for a hunt. The howl
is a clear warning to neighboring wolves to stay away.
ARE WOLVES DANGEROUS TO PEOPLE?
In a word, the general answer is no.
wolves typically avoid people. BUT! There are several well-documented accounts
of wild wolves attacking people in North America, and although there were no
witnesses, a 2007 inquest determined that a young man killed in Northern
Saskatchewan in 2005 died as a result of
a wolf attack. Accounts of wolves killing people persist in India and in Russia
and parts of central Asia.
It is a fact that when wild animals
become habituated with people, they may lose their fear of humans, especially
if they are fed or if they associate humans with providing food. Like any large
predator, wolves are perfectly capable of killing people. No one should ever
encourage a wolf or any other wild animal to approach, and hikers and campers
should take all necessary precautions to prevent mishaps involving wildlife.
WILL WOLVES DISAPPEAR AGAIN FROM THE
LOWER 48 STATES IF THEY ARE NOT FEDERALLY PROTECTED BY THE ENDANGERED SPECIES
It is unlikely. The general public
is invested in the return and the recovery of the great predators on the
landscape. Wolves reproduce rapidly, and every spring brings a new pup crop to
add to the growing numbers in the areas where wolves have made a comeback.
Wolves were eradicated in the 19
and early 20 centuries by the federal government’s systematic
poisoning campaign. It is probably safe to predict that this practice will
never be repeated.