Wolves are excellent hunters and have been found to be living in more places in the world than any other mammal except humans.
The wolf is the ancestor of all breeds of domestic dog. It is part of a group of animals called the wild dogs which also includes the dingo and the coyote.
Most wolves weigh about 40 kilograms but the heaviest wolf ever recorded weighed over 80 kilograms!
Adult wolves have large feet. A fully grown wolf would have a paw print nearly 13 centimetres long and 10 centimetres wide.
Wolves live and hunt in groups called a pack. A pack can range from two wolves to as many as 20 wolves depending on such factors as habitat and food supply. Most packs have one breeding pair of wolves, called the alpha pair, who lead the hunt.
Wolf pups are born deaf and blind while weighing around 0.5 kg (1 lb). It takes about 8 months before they are old enough to actively join in wolf pack hunts.
Wolves in the Arctic have to travel much longer distances than wolves in the forest to find food and will sometimes go for several days without eating.
When hunting alone, the wolf catches small animals such as squirrels, hares, chipmunks, raccoons or rabbits. However, a pack of wolves can hunt very large animals like moose, caribou and yaks.
When the pack kills an animal, the alpha pair always eats first. As food supply is often irregular for wolves, they will eat up to 1/5th of their own body weight at a time to make up for days of missed food.
Wolves have two layers of fur, an undercoat and a top coat, which allow them to survive in temperatures as low at minus 40 degrees Celsius! In warmer weather they flatten their fur to keep cool.
A wolf can run at a speed of 65 kilometres per hour during a chase. Wolves have long legs and spend most of their time trotting at a speed of 12-16 kilometres per hour. They can keep up a reasonable pace for hours and have been known to cover distances of 90 kilometres in one night.
The gray or timber wolf's story is one of the most compelling tales of American wildlife. Once, the wolf was widespread across most of North America, but it was hunted ruthlessly and extirpated over most of its range. Today, the wolf is making a successful comeback in some of its former habitat due to strong conservation efforts. The gray wolf plays a vital role in the health and proper functioning of ecosystems.
Gray wolves are canines with long bushy tails that are often black-tipped. Coat color is typically a mix of gray and brown with buffy facial markings and undersides, but the color can vary from solid white to brown or black. Gray wolves look somewhat like a large German Shepherd.
Wolves vary in size depending on where they live. Wolves in the north are usually larger than those in the south. The average size of a wolf's body is 3-5 feet long. Their tails are usually 1-2 feet long. Females typically weigh 60-100 pounds, and males weigh 70-145 pounds.
Wolves are carnivores--they prefer to eat large hoofed mammals such as deer, elk, bison and moose. They also hunt smaller mammals such as beavers, rodents and hares. Adults can eat 20 pounds of meat in a single meal.
In the wild, they live 8-13 years, sometimes more. In captivity, they live upwards of 15 years.
Wolves can thrive in a diversity of habitats from the tundra to woodlands, forests, grasslands and deserts.
Today, gray wolves have populations in Alaska, northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin, western Montana, northern Idaho, northeast Oregon and the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. Mexican wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf, were reintroduced to protected parkland in eastern Arizona and southwest New Mexico. The historic range of the gray wolf covered over two-thirds of the United States.
Wolves communicate through body language, scent marking, barking, growling and howling. Much of their communication is about reinforcing the social hierarchy of the pack.
When a wolf wants to show that it is submissive to another wolf, it will crouch, whimper, tuck in its tail, lick the other wolf's mouth or roll over on its back.
When a wolf wants to challenge another wolf, it will growl or lay its ears back on its head.
A playful wolf dances and bows.
Wolves bark as a warning.
Howling is for long-distance communication to pull a pack back together and to keep strangers away.
Life History and Reproduction:
Wolves live in packs. Most packs have four to nine members, but the size can range from as few as two wolves to as many as 15. Occasionally, a pack can increase to 30 members until some individuals break off to find new territory and form their own pack.
Within the pack hierarchy, there are male and female hierarchies. The alpha male is dominant over the entire pack, both males and females. The alpha female and male are the only ones that breed.
Wolf packs usually hunt within a territory. Territories can range from 50 square miles to over a 1,000. Wolves travel as far as they need to in order to find prey. They often travel at five miles per hour but can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour.
When the young adults reach the age of three, they can either join the pack or leave to find their own territory. The new territory can be close by if there is a lot of prey. In some areas, young adults travel hundreds of miles to find a new territory.
Wolves typically mate for life. In the northern United States, they breed from late January through March. The breeding season is earlier for wolves living farther south. Wolves are pregnant for about 63 days and usually birth four to six pups.
The wolf pups are usually born in a den. At birth, they cannot see or hear and weigh about one pound. The pups are weaned at about six weeks. Adult pack members swallow meat and bring it back to the den for their pups. After the adults regurgitate the food, the pups have a hearty meal. The mother wolf moves her pups to new den sites every couple of months until the fall when the pack stops living at den sites.