The Gray Wolf
; also spelled Grey Wolf
known as Timber Wolf
) is a mammal in the order Carnivora.
The Gray Wolf shares a common ancestry with the domestic dog (Canis lupus
), as evidenced by DNA sequencing and genetic drift studies.
Gray wolves were once abundant and distributed over much of North America,
Eurasia, and the Middle East. Today, for a variety of human-related reasons,
including widespread habitat destruction and excessive hunting, wolves inhabit
only a very limited portion of their former range. Though listed as a species of
least concern for extinction worldwide, for some regions including the
Continental United States, the species is listed as endangered or threatened.
The Gray Wolf, being a keystone predator, is an important part of the ecosystems
to which it typically belongs. The wide range of habitats where wolves thrive
reflects their adaptability as a species, and includes temperate forests,
mountains, tundra, taiga, and grasslands. In much of the world, with the
exception of Northern regions, they are listed as endangered. They continue to
be hunted in many areas of the world for their perceived threat to livestock, as
well as for sport.
Anatomy, physiology, and reproduction
Features and adaptations
Although the origins of the Grey Wolf are still under debate, current
theories propose that the species first evolved in South East Asia during the
Pleistocene epoch. DNA analysis from the cell's mitochondria on Asiatic
subspecies allowed scientists to put a time to the point at which the wolf
lineage originated. The rate of changes observed in the DNA sequence dates the
Asian lineage to about 800,000 years, as opposed to European and North American
bloodlines which stretch back to 150,000 years.
The weight and size of the Gray Wolf can vary greatly worldwide, and tend to
increase proportionally with latitude. Generally speaking, height varies from
0.6–0.9 meters (26–34 inches) at the shoulder, and weight from 32–62 kilograms
(70–135 pounds), which together make Gray Wolves the largest of all wild canids.
Although rarely encountered, extreme specimens of more than 77 kg (170 lb) have
been recorded in Alaska and Canada;
the heaviest wild wolf on record, which was killed in Alaska in 1939, was 80 kg
(175 lb). There are some
unconfirmed reports of wolves hunted in North Eastern Russia reaching weights of
100 kg. (220 lb). The smallest
wolves come from the Arabian Wolf subspecies, the females of which may weigh as
little as 10 kg (22 lb) at maturity. Females in a given population typically
weigh about 20% less than their male counterparts.
Wolves can measure anywhere from 1.3–2 meters (4.5–6.5 feet) from nose to the
tip of the tail, which itself accounts for approximately one quarter of overall
body length. .
Wolves are built for stamina, possessing features ideal for long-distance
travel. Their narrow chests and powerful backs and legs facilitate efficient
locomotion. They are capable of covering several miles trotting at about a pace
of 10 km/h (6 mph), and have been known to reach speeds approaching 65 km/h (40
mph) during a chase. While thus
sprinting, wolves can cover up to 5 meters (16 ft) per bound.
Wolf paws are able to tread easily on a wide variety of terrains, especially
snow. There is a slight webbing between each toe, which allows wolves to move
over snow more easily than comparatively hampered prey. Wolves are digitigrade,
which, with the relative largeness of their feet, helps them to distribute their
weight well on snowy surfaces. The front paws are larger than the hind paws, and
have a fifth digit, a dewclaw, that is absent on hind paws. Bristled hairs and
blunt claws enhance grip on slippery surfaces, and special blood vessels keep
paw pads from freezing. Scent
glands located between a wolf's toes leave trace chemical markers behind,
helping the wolf to effectively navigate over large expanses while concurrently
keeping others informed of its whereabouts.
A wolf sometimes seems heavier than it actually is due to its bulky coat,
which is made of two layers. The first layer consists of tough guard hairs
designed to repel water and dirt. The second is a dense, water-resistant
undercoat that insulates the wolf. Wolves have distinct winter and summer
pelages that alternate in spring and autumn. Females tend to keep their winter
coats further into the spring than males.
Coloration varies greatly: it runs from gray to gray-brown, all the way
through the canine spectrum of white, red, brown, and black. These colours tend
to mix in many populations to form predominantly blended individuals, though it
is certainly not uncommon for an individual or an entire population to be
entirely one colour (usually all black or all white). A multicolour coat
characteristically lacks any clear pattern other than it tends to be lighter on
the animal's underside. Fur colour sometimes corresponds with a given wolf
population's environment; for example, all-white wolves are much more common in
areas with perennial snow cover. Aging wolves acquire a greyish tint in their
At birth, wolf pups tend to have darker fur and blue eyes that will change to
a yellow-gold or orange color when the pups are 8–16 weeks old.
Though extremely unusual, it is possible for an adult wolf to retain its blue-colored
Wolves' long, powerful muzzles help distinguish them from coyotes, which have
more narrow, pointed muzzles; and from dogs, which generally have shorter
muzzles. Wolves also differ in certain skull dimensions, having a smaller
orbital angle, for example, than dogs (>53 degrees for dogs compared to <45
degrees for wolves) and a comparatively larger cerebral capacity.
Larger paw size, yellow eyes, longer legs, and bigger teeth further distinguish
adult wolves from other canids, particularly dogs. Also, precaudal glands at the
base of the tail are present in wolves but not in dogs.
Wolves and most larger dogs share identical dentition; the maxilla has six
incisors, two canines, eight premolars, and four molars. The mandible has six
incisors, two canines, eight premolars, and six molars.
The fourth upper premolars and first lower molars constitute the carnassial
teeth, which are essential tools for shearing flesh. The long canine teeth are
also important, in that they are designed to hold and subdue the prey. Powered
by 1500 lb/sq. inch (~10 MPa) of pressure, a wolf's teeth are its main weapons
as well as its primary tools.
Therefore, any injury to the jaw line or teeth could devastate a wolf, dooming
it to starvation or incapacity.
Courtship and mating
Usually, the instinct to reproduce drives young wolves away from their birth
packs, leading them to seek out mates and territories of their own. Dispersals
occur at all times during the year, typically of wolves who have reached sexual
maturity in the previous breeding season. It takes two such dispersals from two
packs for the process to take place, for dispersing wolves from the same
maternal pack tend not to mate.
Once two dispersing wolves meet and begin traveling together, they immediately
begin the process of seeking out territory, preferably in time for the next
mating season. The bond that forms between these wolves often lasts until one of
them dies — with few exceptions.
During the mating season, breeding wolves become very affectionate with one
another in anticipation of the female's ovulation cycle. Overall, pack tension
rises as each mature wolf feels urged to mate. In fact, during this time, the
alpha male and alpha female may be forced to aggressively prevent other wolves
from mating with one other.
Under normal circumstances, a pack can only support one litter per year; so the
dominance of the alpha wolves is beneficial in the long run.
When the alpha female goes into estrus—which occurs once per year and lasts
5–14 days,—she and her mate will
spend an increased amount of time in seclusion. Pheromones in the female's urine
and the swelling of her vulva make it known to the male that the female is in
heat. The female is unreceptive for the first few days of estrus, during which
time she sheds the lining of her uterus; but when she begins ovulating, the two
The male wolf will mount the female firmly from behind. After achieving
coitus, the two form a copulatory tie once the male's bulbus glandis— an
erectile tissue located near the base of the canine penis— swells and the
female's vaginal muscles tighten. Ejaculation is induced by the thrusting of the
male's pelvis and the undulation of the female's cervix. The two become
physically inseparable for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, during which the male
will ejaculate multiple times.
After the initial ejaculation, the male may lift one of his legs over the female
such that they are standing end-to-end; this is believed to be a defensive
measure. The mating
ritual is repeated many times throughout the female's brief ovulation period,
which occurs once per year per female — unlike female dogs, whose estrus usually
occurs twice per year.
The Red Wolf (Canis rufus) is a
North American canid which once roamed throughout the South-eastern
Its natural range extends from Texas to Florida. A
population is being reintroduced to North Carolina. Scientists
suggest that Red Wolf populations from the wild and are now highly
The red wolf has a brownish or cinnamon pelt, with
grey and black shading on the back and tail. Its muzzle is white
furred around the lips. Black specimens are recorded, but these are
probably extinct. It moults once annually every winter. It has large
ears which help dissipate heat in the hot and humid climate of the
south-eastern United States.
The Red Wolf usually hunts at night, dawn or dusk.
It usually feeds alone, though there is evidence of pack hunting
behaviour. It is not uncommon for pack members to partition
resources. In south-east Texas, the Red Wolf primarily feeds on
nutria, rabbits, Hispid Cotton Rats, Marsh Rice Rats and muskrats.
The reintroduced Red Wolf population of north-eastern North Carolina
feeds primarily on white-tailed deer, raccoons and rabbits. At least
three livestock depredations have been recorded from this
Unlike the Gray Wolf, which has historically been
known to become a man-eater on rare occasions, the red wolf has not
been recorded to attack people, though they were reported to
scavenge upon corpses on the battlefields of the Mexican-American
Aggressive predator control programs, hunting and
farming have combined to bring the red wolf near to extinction,
because it was thought to be a threat to livestock. It is now
It is thought that its original distribution
included much of eastern North America, where Red Wolves were found
from New York in the east, Florida in the south, and Texas in the
south-west. Records of bounty payments to Wappinger Indians in New
York in the middle 1700s confirm its range at least that far north;
it's possible that it could have extended as far as extreme eastern
There are thought to be about 300 red wolves
remaining in the world, with 207 of those in captivity. For decades,
the Red Wolf has been indistinguishable genetically from either the
Gray Wolf or the Coyote. The Red Wolf breeds with both species and
may again be in peril as contact with other species in the wild
Breeding and life cycle
Normally, only the alpha pair of the pack breeds (this is a kind of
organization also found in other pack-hunting canids, including the Dhole and
the African Hunting Dog). Mating occurs between January and April — the higher
the latitude, the later it occurs.
A pack usually produces a single litter, unless the alpha male mates with one or
more subordinate females. Under normal circumstances, the alpha female tries to
prevent this during mating season by dominating the other females and keeping
them away from the alpha male.
The gestation period lasts 60–63 days. The pups, at a weight of 0.5 kg (1
lb), are born blind, deaf, and completely dependent on their mother.
There are 1 to 14 pups per litter; the average litter size is about 4 to 6.
Pups reside in the den, where they are born deaf with their eyes closed, and
stay there until they reach about three weeks of age.
The den is usually on high ground near an open water source, and has an open
"room" at the end of an underground or hillside tunnel that can be up to a few
meters long. During this time,
the pups will become more independent, and will eventually begin to explore the
area immediately outside the den before gradually roaming up to a mile away from
it at around 5 weeks of age.
They begin eating regurgitated foods after 2 weeks— by which time their milk
teeth have emerged—and are fully weaned by 8–10 weeks.
During the first weeks of development, the mother usually stays with her litter
alone, but eventually most members of the pack will contribute to the rearing of
the pups in some way.
After two months, the restless pups will be moved to a rendezvous site, where
they can safely stay while most of the adults go out to hunt.
One or two adults stay behind to ensure the safety of the pups. After a few more
weeks, the pups are permitted to join the adults if they are able, and will
receive priority on anything killed, despite their low ranks. The pups tag along
as observers until about 8 months, when they are large enough to actively
participate. The fighting
over eating privileges results in a secondary ranking being formed among them,
which allows them to practice the dominance/submission rituals essential to
their later survival within packs.
Distribution of Wolves mostly in Northern Latitudes
Wolves typically reach sexual maturity after two or three years, when many of
them will be compelled to leave their birth packs and seek out mates and their
Wolves that reach maturity generally live 6 to 8 years in the wild, although in
captivity they can live to twice that age.
High mortality rates give them a low overall life expectancy. Pups die when food
is scarce; they can also fall prey to predators such as bears, or, less often,
coyotes, foxes, or other wolves. The most significant causes of mortality for
grown wolves are hunting and poaching, car accidents, and wounds inflicted while
hunting prey. Although adult wolves may occasionally be killed by other
predators, rival wolf packs are often their most dangerous non-human enemy. A
study on wolf mortality came up with results indicating that 14% to 65% of wolf
deaths were due to other wolves.
Wolves are susceptible to the same infections that affect domestic dogs, such as
mange, heartworm, rabies and canine distemper. Epidemics of these can
drastically reduce the population in an area.
Wolves can visually communicate with an impressive variety of expressions and
moods ranging from subtle signals, such as a slight shift in weight, to more
obvious ones, such as rolling on their backs to indicate complete submission.
- Dominance – A dominant wolf stands stiff legged and tall. The ears
are erect and forward, and the hackles bristle slightly. Often the tail is held
vertically and curled toward the back. This display asserts the wolf's rank to
others in the pack. A dominant wolf may stare penetratingly at a submissive one,
pin it to the ground, "ride up" on its shoulders, or even stand on its hind
- Submission (active) – During active submission, the entire body is
lowered, and the lips and ears are drawn back. Sometimes active submission is
accompanied by muzzle licking, or the rapid thrusting out of the tongue and
lowering of the hindquarters. The tail is placed down, or halfway or fully
between the legs, and the muzzle often points up to the more dominant animal.
The back may be partially arched as the submissive wolf humbles itself to its
superior; a more arched back and more tucked tail indicate a greater level of
- Submission (passive) – Passive submission is more intense than active
submission. The wolf rolls on its back and exposes its vulnerable throat and
underside. The paws are drawn into the body. This is often accompanied by
- Anger – An angry wolf's ears are erect, and its fur bristles. The
lips may curl up or pull back, and the incisors are displayed. The wolf may also
arch its back, lash out, or snarl.
- Fear – A frightened wolf tries to make its body look small and
therefore less conspicuous. The ears flatten against the head, and the tail may
be tucked between the legs, as with a submissive wolf. There may also be
whimpering or barks of fear, and the wolf may arch its back.
- Defensive – A defensive wolf flattens its ears against its head.
- Aggression – An aggressive wolf snarls and its fur bristles. The wolf
may crouch, ready to attack if necessary.
- Suspicion – Pulling back of the ears shows a wolf is suspicious. The
wolf also narrows its eyes. The tail of a wolf that senses danger points
straight out, parallel to the ground.
- Relaxedness – A relaxed wolf's tail points straight down, and the
wolf may rest sphinx-like or on its side. The wolf may also wag its tail. The
further down the tail droops, the more relaxed the wolf is.
- Tension – An aroused wolf's tail points straight out, and the wolf
may crouch as if ready to spring.
- Happiness – As dogs do, a wolf may wag its tail if in a joyful mood.
The tongue may loll out of the mouth.
- Hunting – A wolf that is hunting is tensed, and therefore the tail is
horizontal and straight.
- Playfulness – A playful wolf holds its tail high and wags it. The
wolf may frolic and dance around, or bow by placing the front of its body down
to the ground, while holding the rear high, sometimes wagged. This resembles the
playful behaviour of domestic dogs.
Howling helps pack members keep in touch, allowing them to communicate
effectively in thickly forested areas or over great distances. Howling also
helps to call pack members to a specific location. Howling can also serve as a
declaration of territory, as shown in a dominant wolf's tendency to respond to a
human imitation of a "rival" wolf in an area the wolf considers its own. This
behaviour is stimulated when a pack has something to protect, such as a fresh
kill. As a rule of thumb, large packs will more readily draw attention to
themselves than will smaller packs. Adjacent packs may respond to each others'
howls, which can mean trouble for the smaller of the two. Wolves therefore tend
to howl with great care.
|Eleven-member wolf pack in winter, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Wolves will also howl for communal reasons. Some scientists speculate that
such group sessions strengthen the wolves' social bonds and camaraderie— similar
to community singing among humans.
During such choral sessions, wolves will howl at different tones and varying
pitches, making it difficult to estimate the number of wolves involved. This
confusion of numbers makes a listening rival pack wary of what action to take.
For example, confrontation could be disastrous if the rival pack gravely
underestimates the howling pack's numbers. A wolf's howl may be heard from up to
ten miles away, depending on weather conditions.
Observations of wolf packs suggest that howling occurs most often during the
twilight hours, preceding the adults' departure to the hunt and following their
return. Studies also show that wolves howl more frequently during the breeding
season and subsequent rearing process. The pups themselves begin howling soon
after emerging from their dens and can be provoked into howling sessions easily
over the following two months. Such indiscriminate howling usually is intended
for communication, and does not harm the wolf so early in its life.
Howling becomes less indiscriminate as wolves learn to distinguish howling pack
members from rival wolves.
Growling, while teeth are bared, is the most visual and effective warning
wolves use. Wolf growls have a distinct, deep, bass-like quality, and are often
used to threaten rivals, though not necessarily to defend themselves. Wolves
also growl at other wolves while being aggressively dominant.
Wolves bark when nervous or when they want to warn other wolves of danger.
Wolves bark very discreetly, and will not generally bark loudly or repeatedly as
dogs do; rather, they use a low-key, breathy "whuf" sound to immediately get
attention of other wolves. Wolves also "bark-howl" by adding a brief howl to the
end of a bark. Wolves bark-howl for the same reasons they normally bark.
Generally, pups bark and bark-howl much more frequently than adults, using these
vocalizations to cry for attention, care, or food.
Wolves can also whimper, usually when submitting to other wolves. Wolf pups
whimper when they need the reassurance of security from their parents or other
Wolves, like other canines, use scent marking to lay claim to anything — from
territory to fresh kills.
Alpha wolves use scent mark the most often; males do so more than females. The
most widely used scent marker is urine. Male and female alpha wolves urine-mark
objects with a raised-leg stance (all other pack members squat) to enforce rank
and territory. They also use marks to identify food caches and to claim kills on
behalf of the pack. Defecation markers are used for the same purposes as urine
marks, and serve as a more visual warning, as well.
Defecation markers are particularly useful for navigation, keeping the pack from
traversing the same terrain too often and also allowing each wolf to be aware of
the whereabouts of its pack members. Above all, though, scent marking is used to
inform other wolves and packs that a certain territory is occupied, and that
they should therefore tread cautiously.
Wolves have scent glands all over their bodies, including at the base of the
tail, between toes, and in the eyes, genitalia, and skin.
Pheromones secreted by these glands identify each individual wolf. A dominant
wolf will "rub" its body against subordinate wolves to mark such wolves as being
members of a particular pack. Wolves may also "paw" dirt to release pheromones
instead of urine marking.
Wolves' heavy reliance on odoriferous signals testifies greatly to their
olfactory capabilities. Wolves can detect virtually any scent, including marks,
from great distances, and can distinguish among them as well or better than
humans can distinguish other humans visually.
Social structure and hunting
Wolves function as social predators and hunt in packs organized according to
strict, rank-oriented social hierarchies.
It is thought that this comparatively high level of social organization had much
to do with hunting success. Emerging theories also suggest, however, that the
pack has less to do with hunting and more to do with reproductive success.
The pack is led by the two individuals that sit atop the social hierarchy:
the alpha male and the alpha female. The alpha pair has the greatest amount of
social freedom compared to the rest of the pack. Although they are not "leaders"
in the human sense of the term, they help to resolve any disputes within the
pack, have the greatest amount of control over resources, such as food, and most
importantly, hold the pack together. Possessing strong instincts for fellowship,
the rest of the pack usually follows.
While most alpha pairs are monogamous, there are exceptions.
An alpha animal may preferentially mate with a lower-ranking animal, especially
if the other alpha is closely related (a brother or sister, for example). The
death of one alpha does not affect the status of the other alpha, who will
quickly take another mate.
An American Bison standing its
ground, thereby increasing its chance for survival.
Usually, only the alpha pair is able to successfully rear a litter of pups.
Other wolves in a pack may breed, but will usually lack the resources required
to raise the pups to maturity.
All the wolves in the pack assist in raising wolf pups. Some mature individuals,
usually females, may choose to stay in the original pack so as to reinforce it
and help rear more pups. However, most will disperse.
The size of the pack may change over time and is controlled by several
factors, including habitat, personalities of individual wolves within a pack,
and food supply. Packs can contain from 2 to 20 wolves, though an average pack
consists of about 8. New packs are
formed when a wolf leaves its birth pack, finds a mate, and claims a territory.
Lone wolves searching for other individuals can travel very long distances
seeking out suitable territories. Dispersing individuals must avoid the
territories of other wolves because intruders on occupied territories are chased
away or killed. It is taboo for one wolf to travel into another wolf's territory
unless invited. Most dogs, except perhaps large, specially bred attack dogs, do
not stand much of a chance against a pack of wolves protecting its territory
from an intrusion.
The hierarchy, led by the alpha male and female, affects all activity in the
pack to some extent. In most larger packs there are two separate hierarchies in
addition to an overbearing one: the first consists of the males, led by the
alpha male, and the other consists of the females, led by the alpha female.
In this situation, the alpha male was originally assumed to be the "top" alpha,
but biologists have since concluded that alpha females can and do take control
over entire packs. The male and female hierarchies are interdependent, and
are maintained constantly by aggressive and elaborate displays of dominance and
After the alpha pair, there may also, especially in larger packs, be a beta
wolf or wolves, a "second-in-command" to the alphas. Betas typically assume a
more prominent role in assisting with the upbringing of the alpha pair's litter,
often serving as surrogate mothers or fathers while the alpha pair is away. Beta
wolves are the most likely to challenge their superiors for the role of the
alpha, though some betas seem content with being second, and will sometimes even
let lower ranking wolves leapfrog them for the position of alpha should
circumstances necessitate such a happening, such as the death of the alpha. More
ambitious beta wolves, however, will only wait so long before contending for
alpha position unless they choose to disperse and create their own pack instead
Loss of rank can happen gradually or suddenly. An older wolf may simply
choose to give way when a motivated challenger presents itself, yielding its
position without bloodshed. On the other hand, the challenged individual may
choose to fight back, with varying degrees of intensity. While the majority of
wolf aggression is not injurious and is ritualized, a high-stakes fight can
easily result in injury for either or both parties. Deaths do occur, as the
average alpha male wolf may kill two to four wolves in his lifetime.
The loser of such a confrontation is frequently chased away from the pack or,
rarely, may be killed as other aggressive wolves contribute to the insurgency.
These confrontations are more common during the mating season.
Rank order within a pack is established and maintained through a series of
ritualized fights and posturing best described as "ritual bluffing". Wolves
prefer psychological warfare to physical confrontations, meaning that
high-ranking status is based more on personality or attitude than on size or
physical strength. Rank, who holds it, and how it is enforced varies widely
between packs and between individual animals. In large packs full of easygoing
wolves, or in a group of juvenile wolves, rank order may shift almost
constantly, or even be circular (for instance, animal A dominates animal B, who
dominates animal C, who dominates animal A).
In a more typical pack, only one wolf will assume the role of the omega: the
lowest-ranking member of a pack.
Omegas receive the most aggression from the rest of the pack, and may be
subjected to truculence at any time— anything from constant dominance from other
pack members to inimical, physical harassment. Although this arrangement may
seem objectionable, the nature of pack dynamics demands that one wolf be at the
bottom of the ranking order, and such individuals are perhaps better suited for
constant displays of active and passive submission than they are for living
alone. For wolves, camaraderie— no matter what the form— is preferable to
solitude, and, indeed, submissive wolves tend to choose low rank over potential
starvation. Despite the aggression they are subject to and being last to eat,
omega wolves have also been observed to often be the most playful wolves in the
group, often enticing all of the members of a pack into engaging in chasing
games and other forms of play.
One theory about the domestication of the dog is that it occurred when
certain wolves of a suitable temperament joined bands of human hunter-gatherers
due to their organizational similarities with wolf packs.
|"All together" - Wolves howling
Cooperative hunting and diet
Packs of wolves cooperatively hunt any large herbivores in their range. Pack
hunting revolves around the chase, as wolves are able to run for long periods
before relenting. It takes careful cooperation for a pack to take down large
prey, and the rate of success for such chases is very low. Wolves, in the
interest of saving energy, will only chase one potential prey for the first
thousand or so meters before giving up and trying at a different time against a
different prey. Therefore, like
most other pack species, wolves must hunt continually to sustain themselves.
Solitary wolves depend more on smaller animals, which they capture by pouncing
and pinning them, with their front paws, to the ground— this technique is also
common among canids such as foxes and coyotes.
Wolves' diet includes, but is not limited to, elk, caribou, moose, Sambar
Deer, and other large ungulates. The American Bison is probably the largest
animal wolves prey on; bison weighing more than a ton have been taken down by a
pack. They also prey on rodents, small animals, and other canids like foxes and
coyotes in a limited manner,
Wolves do not always have the chance to eat each day; in fact, wolves rarely eat
on a daily basis, but instead compensate by eating up to a maximum of 10 kg (22
lb) at a time.
for a typical adult wolf requires a minimum of 1.1 kg (2.5 lb) of food each day
for sustenance, and approximately 2.2 kg (5 lb) to reproduce successfully.
When pursuing large prey, wolves generally attack from all angles, targeting
the necks and sides of their prey. Wolf packs test large populations of prey
species by initiating a chase, targeting less-fit prey; such animals typically
include the elderly, diseased, and young.
Healthy animals may also succumb through circumstance or by chance. However,
most healthy, fit individuals will stand their ground against wolves, increasing
the possibility of injury to the preying wolves;
thus the weaker members of a species are easier and safer to hunt.
Like many other keystone predators, wolves are sensitive to fluctuations in
the abundance of prey; they are likely to have minor changes in their
populations as the abundance of their primary prey species gradually rises and
drops over long periods of time. This balance between wolves and their prey
prevents the mass starvation of both predator and prey.
Relationships with other predators
One of the most well researched wolf/predator interactions is that involving
the Coyote. Wolves are generally intolerant of Coyotes in their territory,
seeing them as competitors for food and as threats to their cubs. In fact, two
years after their re-introduction to the Yellowstone National Park, the wolves
were responsible for a near 50% drop in Coyote populations through both
competition and predation. Though smaller in size, Coyotes are usually swift
enough to escape the jaws of Wolves and on some occasions, have even been known
to gang up on them. Near identical
interactions have been observed in Greece between Wolves and Golden Jackals.
The Cougar is another predator encountered by the Gray Wolf in North America.
As with the Coyote, the Gray Wolf is usually hostile toward the big cats and
will kill kittens, as well as adults when working in a pack.
 Yellowstone officials have
reported two occasions in which a cougar has ambushed and killed a lone wolf.
One, however, was a cub, and the other showed no signs of canine puncture marks
or other cougar related injury.
Brown bears are among the few competitors wolves encounter in both Eurasia
and North America, while the American Black Bear is encountered solely in
America. The majority of interactions between wolves and bears usually amount to
nothing more than mutual avoidance. Serious confrontations depend on a variety
of variables, though the most common factor is defence of food and young. Bears
will use their superior size to intimidate wolves from their kills and when
sufficiently hungry, will raid wolf dens. Wolves in turn have been observed
killing bear cubs, to the extent of even driving off the defending mother bears.
Deaths in wolf/bear skirmishes are however considered very rare occurences, the
individual power of the bear and the collective strength of the wolf pack
usually being sufficient deterents to both sides.
In Russia, the Gray Wolf's status as an apex predator is competed by the
Siberian Tiger. Siberian Tigers have been known to prey on Wolves and the two
species compete for the limited prey base.
Studies have shown that Gray Wolf populations generally decrease in areas
inhabited by the Siberian Tiger.
In some Middle Eastern countries, the Gray Wolf will sometimes encounter the
Striped Hyena, mostly in disputes over carcasses. The Gray Wolf's social nature
usually puts the more solitary hyena at a disadvantage in confrontations.
Though the Indian Wolf and the Indian Wild Dog have been portrayed as mortal
enemies by author Rudyard Kipling in Red Dog, studies have shown that
there is very little competition between the two species where they share common
ground. The fact that the wolf inhabits open spaces and feeds primarily on
rodents as a contrast to the dog's habit of living in dense forests and hunting
medium sized ungulates is enough to ensure peaceful coexistence.
Of all the wolf's interspecific conflicts, none has contributed more to the
species negative imagery than that against the domestic dog. It has been
theorized that wolves treat dogs as they would any other competitor, which
explains why the majority of attacked pets are usually hunting dogs unwittingly
entering the wolf's turf. In some
instances, Wolves have displayed an uncharacteristic fearlessness of humans and
buildings when attacking dogs, to an extent where they have to be beaten off or
killed. Few dogs can hold their
own against lone wolves, let alone wolf packs. Notable exceptions include
specially bred Livestock guardian dogs, though their primary function has more
to do with intimidating the wolves rather than fighting them.
The relationship between humans and wolves has had a long and turbulent
history. Traditionally humans held a distasteful view of wolves, a creature they
feared. It was also often accentuated in European folklore beginning in the
Christian era. Settlers brought this view with them as they settled North
America. The gray wolf, once found in every ecosystem across the Northern
Hemisphere, was one of the first species to be culled by settlers. As technology
made the killing of wolves and predators easier, humans began to overhunt wolves
and cause their numbers to dwindle significantly.
In Norse mythology, Fenrir or Fenrisulfr is a gigantic wolf, the son of Loki
and the giantess Angrbođa. Fenrir is bound by the gods, but is ultimately
destined to grow too large for his bonds and devour Odin during the course of
Ragnarök. At that time he will have grown so large that his upper jaw touches
the sky while his lower touches the earth when he gapes. He will be slain by
Odin's son, Viđarr, who will either stab him in the heart or rip his jaws
asunder according to different accounts.
In Central Asian nations such as that of Turkic peoples and Mongols, the wolf
is a revered animal. The shamanic Turkic peoples even believed they were
descendants of wolves in Turkic legends. The legend of Asena is an old Turkic
myth that tells of how the Turkic people were created. In Northern China a small
Turkic village was raided by Chinese soldiers, but one small baby was left
behind. An old she-wolf with a sky-blue mane named Asena found the baby and
nursed him, then the she-wolf gave birth to half wolf, half human cubs therefore
the Turkic people were born. Also in Turkic mythology it is believed that a gray
wolf showed the Turks the way out of their legendary homeland Ergenekon,
which allowed them to spread and conquer their neighbours.
Historically, the fear of wolves has been responsible for most of the
species' trouble, including its near extinction in Europe and the United States
during the 20th century. Ecological research in the 20th century has shed new
light on wolves and other predators, specifically with regard to their critical
role in maintaining ecosystems to which they belong. This information has led to
a more positive portrayal.
A general increase in environmental awareness began to take root sometime in
the middle of the 20th century and forced people to rethink former notions,
including those regarding predators. In North America people realized that in
over one hundred years of documentation, there had been no verified human
fatalities caused by an attack from a healthy wolf.
Wolves are actually naturally cautious and will almost always flee from humans,
perhaps only carefully approaching a person out of curiosity. There are,
however, some reports of possible wolf attacks in North America that people
assumed happen on a regular basis.
Although attitudes have significantly changed, there are still many who hold
more cautious views of the wolf. In fact, there are many Americans who believe
that the criteria a wolf attack has to fill (in order to be labelled as an
actual attack) are unreasonable and that they ignore Indian and Eskimo oral
history which confirms that Native Americans were in fact on occasion attacked
by wolves long before the arrival of European settlers.
Though wolf attacks in North America are very rare, they do occur far more
frequently in the Old World, particularly Asia. These attacks usually occur in
rural, poverty stricken areas where the people have no firearms or other
effective means of predator control. Iran reports cases of wolves in winter
carrying off children, and during
a 2-year period (1996–1997) in Uttar Pradesh, wolves killed or seriously injured
74 humans, mostly children under the age of 10 years. The attacks were well
documented by wolf authorities.
In certain parts of the world, debate about wolf reintroduction is ongoing
and often heated, both where reintroduction is being considered and where it has
already occurred. Where wolves have been successfully reintroduced, as in the
greater Yellowstone area and Idaho, reintroduction opponents continue to cite
livestock predation, surplus killing, and economic hardships caused by wolves as
reason why they should never have been reintroduced to begin with, as well as
why they should be removed or severely reduced.
Opponents in prospective areas echo these same concerns.
However, what the Yellowstone and Idaho reintroductions demonstrate is how
compromise can be used to satisfy relevant interests. These reintroductions were
the culmination of over two decades of research and debate. Ultimately, the
economic concerns of the local ranching industry, arguably the single best
reason used against reintroduction, was dealt with when Defenders of Wildlife
decided to establish a fund that would compensate ranchers for livestock lost to
wolves, shifting the economic burden from industry to the wolf proponents
themselves. The majority of the
organizations opposing reintroduction relented their "no wolf, no way" stance
when this crucial deal breaker was resolved.
As of 2005, there are over 450 wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
and over 1,000 in Idaho. Both populations have long since met their recovery
goals and the reintroduction experiment has been a resounding success. Still,
lessons learned from this ordeal may yet prove useful where wolf reintroduction
continues to create a sharp divide between industry and environmental interests,
as it has in Arizona (where the Mexican Wolf was released beginning in 1998). In
some other Western and Central European countries, the debate will likely impair
wolf reintroduction efforts where they are being considered, but, as history has
validated, industry need not be ignored for a reintroduction effort to be
Though many hunters, prior to and even after reintroduction, claimed that
wolves would wipe out entire populations of elk, deer and other ungulates, most
ecosystems where wolves have been reintroduced have actually become much
healthier than they were before. Since Wolves have arrived, the food chain
within the Yellowstone ecosystem has been re-ordered to deliver a banquet that
favors a more varied array of species. Prior to wolves, high numbers of elk were
linked to declines in aspen and willow communities, which negatively affected
beaver and moose. Pre-wolf, coyote numbers swelled, affecting small rodent
populations, foxes, and the production of pronghorn antelope. Pre-wolf
scavengers had slimmer pickings. Today with wolves taking elk, reducing their
numbers, and leaving more carcasses on the landscape, grizzlies and wolverines
have easier access to more meat, meaning a better chance for larger litters of
cubs and pups. Coyote numbers have been significantly reduced, meaning more mice
and pocket gophers for foxes and avian predators like hawks and eagles.
Wolves play an undeniably important role in the environment and through
education organizations some people may be slowly getting the message that they
are vital. In addition, reports have been published placing the value of revenue
from wolf-watching as upward of $25 million.
As long as there is enough prey, wolves seem to avoid taking livestock, often
ignoring them entirely. However,
some wolves or packs can specialize in hunting livestock once the behavior is
learned despite natural prey abundance. In such situations, sheep are usually
the most vulnerable, but horses and cattle are also at risk. Wolf-secure fences,
relocation where applicable and sometimes hunting wolves are the only known
methods to effectively stop livestock predation.
Over several centuries, shepherds and dog breeders have used selective
breeding to "create" large livestock-guarding dogs that can stand up to wolves
preying on flocks. In the U.S., in
light of the gray wolf and other large predators having recently been
reintroduced to certain areas, the United States Department of Agriculture has
been looking into the use of breeds such as the Akbash from Turkey, the Maremma
from Italy, the Great Pyrenees from France, and the Kuvasz from Hungary, among
others, to help limit wolf-livestock interactions.
While wolf predation on livestock does happen, loss of livestock by wolves
makes up only a small percentage of total losses. Since the state of Montana
began recording livestock losses due to wolves back in 1987, only 1,200 sheep
and cattle have been killed. 1,200 killings in twenty years is not very
significant when in the greater Yellowstone region 8,300 cattle and 13,000 sheep
die from natural causes. To put depredation in perspective, in 1986 the wolf
population was at about 1,300–1,400, there were an estimated 232,000 cattle and
16,000 sheep in Minnesota's wolf range. During that year 26 cattle, about 0.01%
of the cattle available, and 13 sheep, around 0.08% of the sheep available, were
verified as being killed by wolves. Similarly, in 1996 an estimated 68,000
households owned dogs in wolf range and only 10, approximately 0.00015% of the
households, experienced wolf depredation.
Furthermore, Jim Dutcher, a film maker who raised a captive wolf pack observed
that wolves are very reluctant to try meat that they have not eaten or seen
another wolf eat before possibly explaining why livestock depredation is
unlikely except for in cases of desperation.
In some areas across the world, hunters or state officials will hunt wolves
from helicopters or light planes to control populations (or for sport in some
instances), citing it as the most effective way to control wolf numbers, given
that traditional poisons are largely banned. The method is used where
interactions between livestock and wolves are common, or where sport or
subsistence hunters desire more game animals with less competition. Aerial
hunting is seen as highly controversial. In areas where aerial hunting is used
to limit livestock-wolf interactions or to boost populations of game animals,
arguments against it are usually centered around whether or not the reasons
behind such predator elimination are scientifically valid.
In Alaska, for example, wolves are sometimes hunted from aircraft.
Other, non- or less-lethal methods of protecting livestock from wolves have
been under development for the past decade. Such methods include rubber
ammunition and use of guard animals.
Trapping and breeding for fur
Wolves are frequently trapped, in the areas where it is legal, using snares
or leg hold traps. Wolf trapping has come under heavy fire from animal rights
groups, who allege that unskilled trappers can create unnecessary suffering for
the animal involved. Proponents
counter that trapping, using the right tools and equipment, can be considered as
humane as traditional hunting.
Wolves are also bred for their fur in a very few locations, but they are
considered as a rather problematic animal to breed, and, combined with the low
value of the pelt, most fur farms utilize other animals. Wolves' varied coats
make it difficult to create fur coats.
Biologists may also trap wolves for research purposes. Darting and foot hold
traps are the tools of choice for such professionals, who often use these and
similar techniques to fit wolves and other animals with collars holding radio
transmitters and to check their health before releasing them. Use of such
technology also allows them to keep track of population numbers and dispersal
trends, among other things. Radio collars can also be used to monitor wolves
when they come near livestock, and to identify a wolf or a pack that preys on
livestock, allowing proper action to be prompter and more accurate.
Classification and relation to the dog
Much debate has occurred over the relationship between the wolf and the
domestic dog. Most authorities see the wolf as the dog's direct ancestor, but
others have postulated descent from the Golden Jackal. Because the canids have
evolved recently and different canids interbreed readily, untangling the true
relationships has presented difficulties. However, molecular systematics now
indicate very strongly that domestic dogs and wolves are more closely related
than either is to any other canid, and the domestic dog is now normally
classified as a subspecies of the wolf: Canis lupus familiaris. The main
differences between wolves and domestic dogs are that wolves have, on average,
30% larger brains, a better immune system, better sense of smell, and are
generally much larger than domestic dogs.
The classification of wolves and closely related creatures offers many
challenges. Although taxonomists have proposed many species over the years, most
types clearly do not comprise true species. Indeed, only a single wolf species
may exist. While scientists have proposed a host of subspecies, wolf taxonomy at
this level remains controversial.
Further taxonomic modification will continue for years to come.
|How to Recognize a Gray Wolf
Subspecies of the wolf
It was once believed there were up to 50 subspecies. However, the last decade
has seen a new and widely accepted list that has been condensed to 13 living
subspecies, 15 including the common dog and dingo, and 2 recently extinct
subspecies. This takes into account the anatomy, distribution, and migration of
various wolf colonies.
Historic Range (see map)
Canis lupus arabs
Critically endangered, declining
Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman
A very small subspecies. Typically blended brown or
completely brown with a thin coat. Hunted regularly as a nuisance animal, though
Canis lupus arctos
Canadian Arctic, Greenland
An average-sized subspecies. Almost exclusively
white or creamy white with a thick coat. Hunted legally, though rarely
Caspian Sea Wolf
Canis lupus cubanensis
Between the Caspian and Black seas
A smaller subspecies. Hunted as a nuisance animal.
Canis lupus dingo
Australia & southeast Asia
Hunted as a nuisance animal. Pure breed declining
from interbreeding with the Domestic Dog.
Canis lupus familiaris
Typically, a smaller subspecies, with 20% smaller
brains, more feeble immune system, and poorer sense of smell. Maintained as
pets, although some small feral populations do exist. Raised for their meat in
some parts of the world.
Eastern Timber Wolf
Canis lupus lycaon
Southeastern Canada, Eastern United States
A larger subspecies. Full canine color spectrum
represented, though blended pelages predominate. First subspecies to be
recognized in North America. Hunted legally in parts of Canada.
Canis lupus lupaster
Critically endangered, probably extinct
Far Northern Africa
A smaller subspecies. Usually a grizzled or tinged
gray or brown. Lanky. Very rarely encountered.
Canis lupus lupus
Western Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, China, Mongolia, Himalaya Mountains
An average-sized subspecies. Generally short,
blended gray fur. Largest range among wolf subspecies. Most common wolf
subspecies in Europe and Asia. Population roughly 100,000. Hunted legally in
some places, protected in others.
Great Plains Wolf
Canis lupus nubilus
Southern Rocky Mountains, Midwestern United States, Eastern and Northeastern
Canada, far Southwestern Canada, and Southeastern Alaska
An average-sized subspecies. Usually gray, black,
buff, or reddish. The most common subspecies in the contiguous U.S. Hunted
legally in parts of Canada.
Canis lupus hattai
Japanese island of Hokkaido
A smaller subspecies. Became extinct in 1889 as a
result of poisoning campaigns.
Canis lupus hodophilax
Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu
A very small subspecies. Became extinct in 1905
from a combination of rabies and human eradication efforts.
Canis lupus signatus
North Portugal, North-Western Spain
An average-sized subspecies. Distinct for its black
markings and rusty red pelage. Conservation dependant.
Canis lupus pallipes
Israel, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India
A very small subspecies. Typically tawny, buff, or
reddish with a short, dense coat. Hunted as a nuisance animal.
Canis lupus italicus
An average-sized subspecies. Full canine color
spectrum represented. Occupy comparatively smaller territories. Protected.
Mackenzie Valley Wolf
Canis lupus occidentalis
Alaska, Northern Rockies, Western and Central Canada
A very large subspecies. Usually black or a blended
gray or brown, but full color spectrum represented. This subspecies was
reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho starting in 1995. Hunted
legally in Alaska and parts of Canada. Protected in the contiguous states.
Canis lupus baileyi
Central Mexico, Western Texas, Southern New Mexico and Arizona
A smaller subspecies. Usually tawny brown or rusty
in color. Reintroduced to Arizona starting in 1998. Current wild population
35–50. Current captive population 300. Protected.
Canis lupus communis
A very large subspecies. Hunted legally.
Canis lupus albus
Northern Russia, Siberia
A larger subspecies. Typically creamy white or
gray, though full spectrum is represented. Hunted legally.
- Eastern Canadian Wolf
- Ethiopian Wolf
- Himalayan wolf
- Red Wolf
- Dire Wolf
- Falkland Island Wolf
- Maned Wolf
Extinct Grey wolves:
- Hokkaido Wolf
- Honshu Wolf
More pictures of Wolves
References and Notes
Comments, Questions & Answers
I love the video and information . The pictures were great !
My other favourite animal is the Red panda . Do you have a web site like this on
Red pandas ?
Answer : We will do the next page on
Red Panda's :-)