Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)
Order: Carnivora, Family: Canidae
Resembling a German shepherd dog, the wolf measures 4 1/2 to 6 feet long, including its tail. It stands 26 to 34 inches at the shoulder, and weighs 70 to 110 pounds. Females are generally five to 10 pounds lighter than males.
Its coloring ranges from white to black with combinations of gold, tan, brown and rust (a single litter can contain many colors).
The wolf's canine teeth may be 2 inches long.
The species of gray wolf common today has existed for over 100,000 years.
II. GEOGRAPHIC RANGE AND HABITAT:
- Resembling a German shepherd dog, the wolf measures 4 1/2 to 6 feet long, including its tail. It stands 26 to 34 inches at the shoulder, and weighs 70 to 110 pounds. Females are generally five to 10 pounds lighter than males.
- Its coloring ranges from white to black with combinations of gold, tan, brown and rust (a single litter can contain many colors).
- The wolf's canine teeth may be 2 inches long.
- The species of gray wolf common today has existed for over 100,000 years.
- The gray wolf once inhabited most, if not all, of the Northern Hemisphere. Excluding modern man, the wolf was the most widely distributed land mammal that ever lived.
- Wolves live in nearly all habitats except for tropical rain forests and deserts.
IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
- Wolves mostly eat moose, deer, elk and caribou. They also feed on mice, voles, ground squirrels, snowshoe hares, lemmings and, at times, birds, eggs and fish.
V. POPULATION STATUS:
- Extremely social, wolves live, travel and hunt in tightknit, well-organized packs of from six to 12 animals, although packs may contain as many as 30 wolves.
- Each pack consists of an "alpha" or dominant breeding pair and their offspring. Larger packs include extended relatives and possibly a few unrelated individuals.
- The sexes have separate social hierarchies, with the alpha male enforcing order among male pack members and the alpha female controlling the females.
- The alpha pair mate in February and March; they are the only pair to mate within the pack, and will actively discourage any sexual behavior exhibited by other members.
- The female gives birth in May and early June to about five pups. At birth, wolf pups weigh less than 1 pound, are deaf and blind, have no sense of smell and can't regulate their own body temperature.
- About three weeks before giving birth, the alpha female seeks out a den to house her pups. She digs a tunnel extending 6 to 14 feet into the ground with an enlarged "birthing" chamber at the end. She'll stay there with the pups until they're about 8 to 10 weeks old.
- The female is very careful about where she places the den, as it must be in a spot where the pack can hunt for an extended period of time. The den also needs to be easy to defend, and located near a source of water.
- Pups are weaned after about one month, when they begin to eat food regurgitated by other pack members. The pups sometimes raise a paw to ask for food.
- The pack members "babysit" at times when the pups are very young, enabling the alpha female to go for a drink of water.
- Wolves live six to 10 years in the wild and up to 18 in captivity.
VI. SPECIAL NOTES/ADAPTATIONS:
- Wolf populations are stable throughout Canada and Alaska. Smaller populations inhabit Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana, and have been successfully reintroduced in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Conservationists are currently working to restore Mexican gray wolves to public lands in Arizona and New Mexico, and a number of red wolves have been reintroduced in North Carolina. Plans for a similar project in the northern Rockies are under way.
- Most wolf packs need 100 to 250 square miles of territory.
- Wolves mark their territory as they walk with scent glands between their toes. They also mark territory with urine.
- Special blood vessels in its paw pads keep the wolf's body temperature at 1 degree Fahrenheit. This mechanism keeps ice balls from forming between the toes, which could be painful for the wolf, or throw off its gait.
- Besides vocally communicating with howls, growls and barks, wolves also communicate with scent and body language. For instance, they use their tails to indicate dominance, submission, aggression and fear.
- The wolf pack howls to announce its presence, and warn off intruders. The members also howl to locate one another when dispersed while hunting. Some observers think wolves may also howl just for fun.