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Wolf Facts

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All over the world, wolves have disappeared from much of their original Range.  After thriving as a top predator in many widely divergent habitats, they have been reduced to such low numbers that recovery efforts to save and protect them have been implemented.

The main species of wolf is the gray wolf, which still inhabits areas of the Northern Hemisphere.  When most people talk about wolves, they are in general speaking of the gray wolf.

The red wolf is generally considered to be a second species of wolf, although some biologists believe it is a hybrid resulting from interbreeding between gray wolves and coyotes. Others believe the red wolf to be a distinct species, but fear interbreeding with the coyote has compromised its genetic purity.

Gray wolves can actually be any color from white to jet-black, with any number of shades of cream, tan and gray in between.  About a third of gray wolves in the northern regions are black.

Wolves primarily prey on ungulates – large, hoofed mammals that include moose, deer, elk, caribou, musk oxen, sheep and bison.

When a wolf howls, it holds its head up at a 45-degree angle for optimum sound projection.  Wolves most often stand up when they howl, although they can also howl from a sitting or lying position.

Worldwide, there are only about 200,000 gray wolves in existence today.  Wolves are found in almost sixty countries, although some of these populations are extremely small.

Each wolf pack has its own territory, and maintaining this territory for the exclusive use of its own members is extremely important to the pack.

According to some surveys, by the late 1990s the wolf had been exterminated from 95% of the land it used to inhabit in the United States, 85% of its territory in Canada, and nearly all of its former range in Mexico.

The Wolf Pack:  Wolf packs have a dominance hierarchy.  The pack leader is called the alpha male.  His mate, called the alpha female, is the dominant female of the pack.  Together, they form what is known as the alpha pair.

The Wolf Pack:  In the dominance hierarchy of a wolf pack, the wolf that is next in line after the alpha wolf is known as the beta wolf.

The Wolf Pack:  The lowest member of the wolf pack’s dominance hierarchy is known as the omega wolf.  Omega wolves are sometimes bullied and mistreated by the rest of pack.

The Wolf Pack:  The alpha pair of a wolf pack is not necessarily any larger in size than their pack mates. Their ranking within the pack is based on their consistent use of dominant postures, behaviors and mannerisms.

The Wolf Pack:  When a subordinate animal responds deferentially to a dominant animal’s approach, it is called passive submission.

The Wolf Pack:  When a subordinate member of the pack initiates a friendly display of submission toward a dominant member, it is called active submission.  Subordinate wolves will do this in an effort to solicit a response from the other animal, thereby solidifying their own status in the pack’s hierarchy.

In ancient Greece, Wolves were often ritually killed by priests and offered as sacrifices to the gods.  Wolves were thought to have the ability to act as spiritual messengers.

The scientific name for the gray wolf is Canis lupus.  Originated by Swedish scientist Linnaeus in 1758 the name means dog wolf.

In ancient England, the month of January was referred to as wulf-monath.  This was because January was the time of the year when wolves were most likely to be seen prowling for food.

Gray wolves with white coats are more commonly found in the snowy regions of the far north, where their coloration serves as a hunting and survival advantage.


Wolves’ usually only use dens when giving birth and raising a new generation of young pups.

It is thought that gray wolves originated in Eurasia early on in the Pleistocene Epoch (1,600,000 to 10,000 years ago), migrating to North America around 750,000 years ago.

In cold weather, a resting or sleeping wolf will keep its nose warm by covering its face with its tail.

Wolves that live in northern climates usually mate in late March or April.  In the warmer southern ranges, mating can take place as early as January or February.

Perhaps humans would not have worked so hard at eradicating wolves if they had not been in competition with them for food.  But throughout history, the progression has been the same; humans deplete or eliminate the wolf’s natural prey and replace it with domestic livestock, then respond negatively when the wolf turns to the only available animals - the livestock - for source of food.

Dogs and wolves both belong to the same family of animals, which is called Canidae.  They make up only a small percentage of the species in this family, however; foxes and jackals constitute the majority.

Wolves grow a winter coat and molt in the spring.

Because they hunt cooperatively in packs, gray wolves are able to prey on larger animals such as moose and elk.  In contrast, predators that hunt alone must, by necessity, prey on smaller animals.

Most full-grown male gray wolves measure from 5 to 6 ½ ft (1.5 to 2 m) from their nose to their tail.  Females are typically about 15 to 20 percent smaller.

Red wolves are smaller than their gray counterparts. The average adult weight for red wolves is from 50 to 80 lb. (22 to 36 kg), as opposed to the weight range of 70 to 110 lb. (31 to 50 kg) for gray wolves.

Founders are wolves that have been captured from the wild for the purposes of improving the chance for long-term survival of the species.  The founders reproduce while in captivity; when enough wolves have been bred in this protective environment, they are released into specially chosen sites back in the wild.  This is known as reintroduction of a species.

Although wolves are most widely known for their howling, they make many other sounds as well.  Barking, growling, whimpering and yelping are all part of their vocal repertoire and are, in actuality, more frequently used than the howl.

A wolf’s territory is extremely important to its sense of safety and survival.  As long as it is home, a wolf knows it has a family that will share food and help defend and care for it.

Wolves have excellent sight and hearing, but their most important hunting sense is their sense of smell.  They can detect a prey’s scent from up to 1 ½ (2.5 km) away.

Biologists often differ in opinion about what constitutes a true subspecies.  Many scientists recognized twenty-four subspecies of gray wolves in North America for decades; more recently, a reclassification into five main groups has been suggested.  The requirements for a group of individuals to be considered a subspecies are that they share a unique geographic area or habitat, a unique natural history, or unique physical characteristics.

In Norse mythology, the god Odin was associated with wolves, and his eventual ruin was brought about by a wolf named Fenrir.

Although dogs were once thought to have descended from several species - including the wolf, coyote and jackal - it is now believed that the wolf alone is the primary ancestor of the dog.

Like gray wolves, red wolves can actually be any one of a number of different colors.  There are red wolves that are black, gray, brown and yellow.  Red wolves got their name from the reddish coats that typified certain populations in the state of Texas.

In many wolf packs, only the leaders of the pack mate.  In such cases, only one litter of pups is born to the wolf pack each year - the product of the mating between the alpha male and alpha female.

Records of George Washington’s written correspondence indicate his concern that wolves were occasionally preying on livestock in Virginia.


After a kill, wolves sometimes bury whatever food they cannot eat under a loose cover of leaves and dirt.  This cache, as it is called, helps preserve the food for the wolves later use by keeping scavengers and other predators away.

Although few wolves live alone their entire lives, sometimes a wolf will either be cast out of its pack or choose to live by itself for periods of time.  This is called a lone wolf.

Canis rufus is the scientific name for the red wolf.

The systematic destruction of wolves in America began in the early seventeenth century, with the first wolf bounty instituted in Massachusetts in 1630.

Although wolves are popularly regarded as a greater threat to people than dogs, in actuality it is dogs that are responsible for a significant number of deaths and injuries each year.

The wolf den is created by the pregnant female.  She may begin working on the new den a month or more before her pups are due to be born.

If the ground is soft enough for digging, the pregnant wolf will excavate a subterranean shelter consisting of a long, narrow entrance tunnel and a larger, inner chamber where her pups will be born.

The entrance tunnel to a wolf den is usually only 1 to 2 ft (approximately 1/3 to 2/3 m) in diameter - just large enough for an adult wolf to crawl through.  It can extend from 10 to 30 ft (3 to 9 m) in length and may be straight or curved, depending on the terrain.

If the surrounding terrain is unsuitable for digging a den, a pregnant wolf may instead choose a cave, a hollow log, an empty space within a rock formation, or even a tangle of underbrush for her den site.

The ideal site for a wolf den is near a lake, pond or river.  It is important for the nursing mother to have easy access to a source of water.

When searching for a den site, wolves will sometimes take over abandoned fox and bear dens, as well as beaver lodges, for their own use. They do not drive off the other animals from their homes, however; only sites that are already abandoned are selected.

The coat of a wolf has two layers: a thick layer that is called the under-fur and an overcoat of long hairs - known as guard hairs - that help keep the under-fur dry.

A wolf pack may contain up to three dozen wolves, but more often contains less than ten.

Other than humans, gray wolves have the largest natural distribution of any mammal.  Before they were eradicated from most of their original range, they could be found in every kind of habitat in the Northern Hemisphere except arid deserts and tropical forests.

Both male and female wolves are sexually active during only one breeding season each year.  Actual physical changes occur in both genders at this time; mating will not take place until hormones in the body have stimulated the necessary changes.

The eyes of a wolf are outlined in black, making the light color of the iris all the more striking.  Most full-grown wolves had yellow-gold eyes, which can sometimes appear gray or green.  There are a few adult wolves, however, which have blue eyes.

The length and pitch of a wolf’s howl may communicate a variety of different meanings to its pack mates, from simple social expression to specific purposes such as the call to hunt.

In Greek mythology, Charon - the ferryman of Hades who rowed the dead across the River Styx - was said to wear the ears of a wolf.

A disperser is a young wolf that chooses to leave its pack and strike out on its own.

The size of a wolf pack’s territory is dependent on the amount of available prey.  The less prey in a given area, the larger and more widespread the territory will be.

Most confrontations between wolves involve a lot of bluffing and little actual fighting.  A wolf will employ whatever behavior it can to exaggerate its size, including raising its hackles and standing as tall as possible.


Wolf packs generally travel in single file rather than in a cluster.  When making their way through snow they will closely follow one another, each wolf stepping in turn in the tracks of the alpha wolf.

As early settlers in America moved west, they cleared forests and severely depleted the bison, moose, elk and deer populations.  In order to survive, wolves began preying on the settler’s sheep and cattle.  The federal government responded by sending out trappers to hunt, kill and eradicate wolves completely.  A hundred years later, the federal government is now involved in restoring the wolf to some of its former habitats.

The wolf is often depicted as a nurturer in ancient legends.  This view of wolves may have been fostered by observing the strong family ties that exist within wolf packs.

The pads of a wolf’s paws contain more scent gland surfaces than any other part of its body.   Pheromones are constantly being discharged from the pores of a wolf’s footpads.

In the third century BC, the Celts started breeding the Irish wolfhound for the express purpose of tracking down wolves so they could be exterminated.  A god known for its speed, strength and keen eyesight, the Irish wolfhound was used in Ireland for many years to hunt wolves.

The largest wolves are found in Alaska, certain areas of Canada, and in the former Soviet Union.

A wolf’s howl is as unique to that wolf as fingerprints are to a human.

While the pregnant female wolf prepares a den for her offspring, other members of the pack store extra food for her in caches near the den site.  Food is also brought to her while she is nursing the newborns, so that she does not have to go out and hunt.

The domestic dog, Canis lupis familiaris, is a subspecies of the wolf species, Canis lupus.

Pack size is at its smallest in early spring, when the ravages of winter have depleted its numbers.  This is also the time of year when young wolves sometimes defect from the pack and go off on their own to try to start new packs.

Although larger animals such as deer, moose and sheep are the preferred prey of wolves; smaller animals such as rabbits and beavers can provide critical nutrition when other food sources are unavailable.

The red wolf is found only in extremely small numbers in the southeastern United States.  Its original range included the southern states from Texas to Florida and up into Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and the Carolinas.  Placed on the list of endangered species in 1973, it has since been involved in breeding and release programs to increase both its captive and wild populations.

In some regions of North America, the gray wolf is known as the timber wolf.  The timber wolf is often classified as a distinct subspecies of the gray wolf.

Wolves help keep each other clean by engaging in various acts of grooming such as licking and nibbling at on another’s coats.

Most wolf pups are born during the spring, between March and May.  This provides them with the maximal survival advantage - Over half a year of growth before being tested by the lean times of their first winter.

A wolf can eat up to 20 or 30 obs (about 9 to 14 kg) of meat after a kill.  Because meals are often infrequent, when a major kill is made, wolves sometimes gorge themselves.

Gray wolves can live up to seventeen years in captivity, although the average life span is closer to 11 or 12 years.  Wolves in the wild often have even shorter life spans, sometimes living only eight or nine years.

Both the alpha male and female of the pack urinate with one leg raised, while subordinate pack members of both sexes urinate in the squatting position that it typical of female dogs.  In the presence of a dominant wolf, a subordinate wolf may even urinate on itself in a gesture of submission.

In the Pleistocene Epoch (1,600,000 to 10,000 years ago), the dire wolf thrived in western North America.  Though extinct now, it was the largest known wolf of all time.  It was fifty percent larger than the modern gray wolf.

A mother wolf will give birth to a litter of pups after a gestation period of 63 days.


Wolf pups come into this world blind, with their eyelids almost totally glues shut.  After about ten or so days, the eyelids begin to open.

The average weight of a newborn wolf pup is about 1 lb (roughly .5 kg).  Pups soon start gaining 3 lb (almost 1.5kg) per week.

Newborn wolf pups are unable to regulate their own body temperature and must rely on the heat from their mother’s body to stay warm.

Newborn wolf pups are born with very poor hearing.  They cannot really hear and respond to sounds until they are several days old.

A newborn wolf pup will typically measure between 10 to 13 in (25 to 33 cm) from the nose to the tip of the tail.

Wolf litters can consist of anywhere from three to nine pups.  The average litter size, however, is four to six pups.

The alpha male and female are the first wolves to eat after a kill is made.  Omega wolves - the lowest-ranking members of the pack - are often the last to eat, getting the worst food and in lesser amounts.

Compared to most dogs, wolves have longer legs.  Another difference is that their feet are generally larger.

Howling can be a dangerous activity for a wolf that howls too close to members of a pack other than its own.  If a wolf is separated from its pack and howls in an effort to be reunited, it may be heard by wolves in competition for territory and prey - and sought out and killed.

Most wolves do not see humans as possible prey; this is why wolf attacks on people are very rare.  For some reason, however, European wolves seem to display more aggression to humans than their North American counterparts.

In North America, the highest concentrations of wolves are found in Alaska and western and northern Canada.  This is due to the smaller human populations and greater amounts of natural wilderness in those areas.

Wolves shed both their under-fur and their guard hairs in the spring.  Even as the old coat is being gradually cast off, a new coat is beginning to grow.  At the end of the process, the coat will have been completely replaced, although the under-fur will not be very thick until late autumn.

Wolves are usually unable to kill large animals like moose and deer when those animals are healthy.  Instead, they will hunt the old or sick members in a herd of prey.

Wolves mark their regularly used routes by leaving scats every two to three hundred yards.

Beta wolves are sometimes also called biders because they are biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to advance in rank when the alpha wolves die or become too old or weak.

The destruction of the wolf’s habitat due to land development has been a continuing difficulty for wolf populations.

Wolves determine the direction a sound is coming from by turning their ears from side to side.  The position of the ears when the sound is loudest indicates the location of the source of the sound.

There is no evidence that wolves howl at the moon, as is popularly believed.  Perhaps the association comes from the enhanced visibility of moonlit nights, making it more probable that wolves - and humans - are out and about.

The gray wolves that are found in warmer climates such as India, Israel and Saudi Arabia are considerably smaller in size than their northern relatives, sometimes weighing only about a quarter as much.

Due to hunting and trapping, wolves were wiped out in England by the early sixteenth century.

Wolves have five toes on each of their front feet and four toes on each of their back.  The fifth toe on the front feet is called the dewclaw.  It is smaller in size and is positioned on the leg rather than the toe pad.


The Mexican wolf is a subspecies of gray wolf.  Originally found in central and northern Mexico and in the southwestern United States, it was declared an endangered species in 1976.

Coyotes have been known to follow wolves at a distance and scavenge off of the carcass the wolves have left behind.

A wolf’s sense of smell is up to a hundred times more sensitive than a human’s.

A wolf pup’s ears are floppy until the pup is about one month old, after which they begin to stand up.

A simple way to roughly determine the size of an average wolf territory is to multiply the number of wolves by 10 sq mi (26 sq km).  Thus, a pack of 6 wolves would occupy a territory of approximately 60 sq mi (155 sq km).

The coat of most wolves contains several different colors.  An exception to this is the Arctic wolf - a type of gray wolf -, which is totally white.

The mortality rate among disperser wolves is extremely high.  These lone wolves must hunt for prey by themselves - a significant disadvantage to an animal used to searching for food with the assistance of fellow pack members.  Another danger is that they nay be attacked by a wolf pack upon whose territory they are trespassing.

Wolves display a keen intelligence and an ability to learn through observation.  One story tells of a wolf in a research setting that surprised scientists by learning how to operate a treat-dispensing machine simply by watching another wolf first work with the machine.

When a litter of pups is threatened by another animal, the mother wolf will sometimes move away from the den and try to distract the predator by barking.

In America, bounty programs to kill wolves continued into the late 1960s.  Wolves were sometimes shot from planes flying overhead in pursuit.

Many people began changing their attitude toward wolves after the animals were among the first to be listed as endangered.  Ironically, the very government wildlife workers who had been focused on eradication wolves were given the new task of restoring the wolf population.

The Abyssinian wolf of Ethiopia, with its small size and preferred diet of rodents, was thought to be a jackal until only recently.  There is still some debate over the accuracy of its current classification as a wolf.

Wolves attack domestic animals only when they run out of food in the wild.  They often end up over-killing, because the prey is so numerous and easily overcome.

The tendency of dogs to roll around in the remains of a dead animal is probably a throwback to an ancestral trait.  Although most domesticated dogs have no compelling reason to cover themselves in another animal’s scent, wolves may have a more practical use for such behavior: it masks their own scent from prey with a keen sense of smell.

If a wolf is separated from its pack, it will howl to let the other members know where it is.  The pack will respond with howls to help the separated wolf locate and rejoin them.  These types of howls are sometimes known as location or assembly howls.

The favored habitats of the red wolf are swamp areas, forests and coastal prairie lands.

Wolves were thought to be representatives of spirits or supernatural forces among many Native American tribes.   Their medicine men often carried wolf skin in their healing bundles because of the belief in the skin’s powers.

The alpha male of a wolf pack holds his tail higher than any other member of the pack.  The alpha female’s tail is held slightly lower, while the subordinate wolves hold their tails in the lowest position of all.

The digestive system of a wolf is so fast and efficient that even after a large kill; only fur and bones is eliminated from the body.

Although snapping, snarling and other minor acts of aggression are common within wolf packs, these behaviors may serve to reinforce pack hierarchy and prevent more serious forms of aggression.


While the frontal vision of wolves is fairly poor, their peripheral vision is extremely acute.  The sharpness of their peripheral vision enables them to detect even slight movements of other animals a substantial distance away.

The front paws of a wolf are larger than the back paws.  One source estimates the average size of the front paws of a large male wolf to be 4 ½ in (11cm) long by 3 ¾ in (9 cm) wide.  The back paws would be about ¾ in (2 cm) shorter and ½ in (1 cm) narrower.

The Mexican wolf is considered the most endangered wolf subspecies in the world.

According to proponents of dream interpretation, dreaming of a wolf may indicate a feeling of being threatened by someone or something in your waking life.  The presence of a wolf in your dreams may also represent a situation in your life that is evocative of a popular expression such as wolf in sheep’s clothing, wolf at the door, or cry wolf.

Changes to the color of a wolf’s coat occur during the annual molt.  The color can continue to change as the wolf ages, usually lightening in tone each molting season then the new coat is grown.

In habitats where fish are readily available, wolves may depend on this food source to meet their nutritional requirements.

Lone wolves are thought to account for only about fifteen percent of the entire wolf population.

Wolf pups are old enough to leave the den at about one month.  It is at this time that they benefit to bond with the rest of the pack’s members.

Because wolves go after the same large prey that interests big game hunters, they have sometimes been viewed negatively by the hunting community.

A subordinate wolf shows submission to the alpha wolves of the pack by turning its ears down and putting its tail between its legs.

When wolves howl in chorus, they change pitch frequently, rather than staying with a single tone.

Wolves mark their territory by leaving their scent on landmarks like logs and rocks.

Just like other mammals, wolves infected with rabies can become much more aggressive than is typical of their nature.  It is quite possible that most or all of the reported cases where a wolf has attacked a human have been due to the presence of the disease.  It is worth noting, however, that such attacks are extremely rare.

Up to a third of a wolf’s life - eight hours a day - is spent on the move, running or trotting.

Wolves typically travel up to 15 mi (close to 25 km) a day in search of food.  In areas where prey animals are separated by greater distances - such as on the tundra - wolves may travel up to 40 mi (almost 65 km) a day looking for food.

Running wolves can sustain speeds of 5 or 6 mph (approximately 8 to 10 km/h) for several hours straight when looking for food or chasing their prey.  They often defeat larger, faster prey by running them into exhaustion.

Wolves are not just tireless long-distance runners.  Experts estimate that they are able to sustain spees as high as 35 to 45 mph (56 to 73 km/h).

Wolves, like many other hunting animals, depend on stealth and speed.  This is reflected in their way of moving.  They are able to step silently and quickly because they move on their toes with the back parts of their feet raised - unlike bears and primates, which take flatfooted steps.

Wolves can cover up to 16 ft (almost 5 m) in a single leap.  They are able to do this because of their powerful legs and their ability to sprint at very fast speeds.

During the late 1800’s, American ranchers out west began the practice of hiring men to hunt down and kill any wolves in the area.  These professional hunters were known as ‘wolfers.’

The size of a gray wolf’s ears depends on where it lives.  In warmer climates, gray wolves have large, triangular ears.  Those that live in cold climates have short, round ears that lose less body heat to the frigid air.


Wolves will often intentionally cause a herd of prey animals to stampede.  They then watch for the sick or weak animals to lag behind and reveal themselves as easy prey.

The alpha female is in many cases the most ferocious member of the pack, merciless in her constant intimidation of the other females.

Members of the taxonimic family Canidae - such as wolves, dogs, and coyotes - are also known as canids.

Two gray wolves can produce wolf pups of any color, and a typical litter may include an assortment of pups with totally unrelated colors.

The dire wolf that lived in the Pleistocene Epoch preyed on large herbivores, including the mastodon, mammoth and giant sloth.

Japan was one home to two subspecies of gray wolves, but both subspecies became extinct early in the twentieth century.

Athenians in ancient Greece practiced wolf worship at the Lyceum, a site dedicated to such devotions.

As a rule, red wolf packs are much smaller than gray wolf packs.  They are usually made up of an adult male and female pair along with one or two offspring.

The first endangered species recovery program for gray wolves was instituted in the western Great Lakes region.

When prey is scarce, wolf packs are much more likely to stray outside their own territory.  Such wandering, however, increases their chances of coming into contact with another wolf pack and can result in a confrontation.

Wolves have three eyelids.  Along with the regular top and bottom lid found in humans, a wolf has a clear layer that protects the eye from dust.

Wolves and ravens often have a special relationship in the wild.  Ravens warn wolves of impending danger, and wolves allow ravens to scavenge after a kill.

Although adult wolves are known for their strength and hardiness, less than fifty percent of newborn wolf pups survive.

Although gray wolves will eat smaller prey when nothing else is available, red wolves feed on such animals as rodents, rabbits and raccoons on a more routine basis.

Wolves howl at any time of day.  In the quiet of night, however, their howls may be heard more easily.

Gray wolves have been reintroduced into empty habitats in central Idaho and Yellowstone Park.  The original wolves involved in this recovery plan were trapped in the wild in Canada and transported to their new home in the United States.

Because wolves tend to be rather elusive in the wild, population estimates are based on such data as wolf kills, scats and tracks rather than actual sightings of animals.

Wolves sweat through their foot pads when they get hot.  They also pant to lower their body temperature.

The long guard hairs on a wolf’s coat help keep it clean.  Because the hairs are smooth and hard and slippery, dirt does not adhere as readily and can easily be shaken off once it is dry.

Wolf pups have blue eyes until they are about seven to twelve weeks old, when their eye color begins to gradually change to amber-yellow.

The members of a wolf pack will sometimes urinate around the site of a recent kill to mark the area and claim it as their own.

The Pawnee tribe interpreted the appearance and disappearances in the night sky of the Wolf Star - Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major - as the wolf traveling to and from the spirit world.

Wolves don’t mind getting wet, and they are able to cross streams without difficulty.


The tail of a gray wolf usually measures from 15 to 20 in (38 to 51 cm) in length.

If an alpha wolf becomes injured or old or shows weakness, a beta wolf will take over the leadership role.  This change in hierarchy takes place as a result of either a physical confrontation - which can result in the death of the alpha - or simple intimidation.

A wolf pup’s natural predators include grizzly bears, cougars, bobcats and hawks.

168Recovery programs have reintroduced the red wolf to northeastern North Carolina and the Mexican wolf to eastern Arizona.

Wolves will not follow even injured prey in to the territory of another wolf pack.  Instead, they will abandon the chase and leave the prey for the other pack to kill and eat.

The eighteenth-century taxonomist Linnaeus set up a special classification of Homo ferus to reflect his belief in the existence of feral children - children raised in the wild by wolves or other animals.

Compared to most dogs, wolves have a much more subtle body odor.  In fact, to really know what a wolf smells like, you would have to press your nose almost directly in to its fur.

If has been theorized that howling may strengthen the social bonds between members of a wolf pack.

After the den is abandoned when the young wolves are eight to ten weeks old, the pups are moved to a sort of nursery area known as a rendezvous site.  This is usually a tract of fairly open land with a good water source and nearby trees.  It is here that the pups play and develop their skills until they are able to travel and hunt with the rest of the pack.

Due to its dense forests, Scotland was once a haven for wolves.  The country’s rulers made many efforts to exterminate the wolves, even calling for forests to be destroyed in order to find and kill wolves with greater ease.  Wolves probably became extinct in Scotland by the mid-eighteenth century.

Although people sometimes mistake coyotes for wolves, coyotes have thinner builds and their faces resemble foxes more than wolves.  The coyote is sometimes referred to as the brush wolf, little wolf, prairie wolf or medicine wolf.

The members of a wolf pack will try to scare off a trespassing wolf that strays into their territory by threatening it with stares and growling.  If that doesn’t work, they will attempt to chase it away, or, if necessary, kill the interloper.

More shy and furtive than the gray wolf, the red wolf mainly hunts at night.

The natural habitat of the Mexican wolf is not the desert, as one might assume.  Instead, it prefers mountainous regions at least 4000 ft (1220 m) above sea level, where prey such as deer, elk, pronghorn and javelina - a wild hog - live in the pine forests.

It is not uncommon for the Inuit people of North America to breed their sled dogs with wolves that have been tamed.

Because only the alpha pair of a wolf pack usually mates, there is a natural kind of birth control at work.  This benefits the entire pack by keeping its numbers limited to a size that can be supported by the available food supply in the territory.

Even in today’s generally kinder climate toward wolves, people continue to have widely differing views on the animal.  Many of the government programs to restore the wolf have been the subject of a great deal of controversy.  Even in areas where the wolf thrives, the topic of how they should be managed can cause hot debate,

The fifth toe, or dewclaw, on a wolf’s front feet can by used in an attack on another animal.  If the wolf is notable to get a good grip on its prey, it may dig in with its dewclaws to help secure a hold on the animal and bring it down.

By weeding out the weaker members of a herd of prey, wolves may actually be helping to keep the other members of the herd healthy.  With the old or sick animals gone, there is more food available for the rest of the herd and less chance of the spread of disease.


Alaska is the only state where the hunting and trapping of wolves is legal.

Wolves have extremely good night vision, even when they are only three months old.

The territories of separate wolf packs may sometimes overlap.  In such cases, there is usually a neutral zone between the two territories that acts as a sort of buffer.

Wolves howl less frequently during the warmer months when there may be young and vulnerable pups in the pack.  Howling can attract the unwanted attention of predators.

Wolves are so closely related to domestic dogs that the two can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.

Of all the breeds of domesticated dogs, the malamute and the husky are probably the most closely related to the wolf.

Adult wolves have forty-two teeth - the same number found in full-grown domestic dogs.

Wolves can breed only once a year, while domestic dogs can breed twice.

Wolf dog hybrids are considered to be dogs and are required to be licensed and vaccinated in the United States.

A wolf’s brain is about thirty percent larger than that of a dog’s.

Wolf pups that have been raised by humans will accept the humans as pack members.  If wolves are taken in after they are no longer puppies, however, this type of bonding will not occur.

When hunting for small prey such as rodents, wolves use their acute sense of hearing to precisely locate a telltale squeak or rustle - and then pounce on the prey with their front paws.

An alpha or beta wolf will sometimes lightly bite the muzzle of a subordinate wolf in a display of dominance.

Gray wolves are still found in large numbers in Russia and the Balkans.  Smaller, isolated populations are also located in portions of Scandinavia and southern and central Europe.

The Odyssey, by Homer, contains references to wolf worship.  In the epic, Odysseus’s grandfather is named Autolykos, which means he who is a wolf.

The maned wolf, which gets its name from the bushy hair around its neck, is not actually a wolf - it’s a fox.

According to some sources, the average life span of a red wolf in the wild is only four or five years.  In captivity, they have been known to live up to fourteen years.

Wolves can go for three to four days between meals.

The erroneous belief that wolves hunt humans may have been the result of wolves found scavenging the corpses of humans who died from other causes.  When the wolves were seen eating corpses, or when wolf tracks were found near a dead body, it was assumed the wolves had done the killing.

The remains of the prehistoric dire wolf are the most commonly found mammalian species preserved in southern California’s La Brea Tar Pits.  Though larger than today’s wolf, it is likely that Canis Dirus was less intelligent.

A wolf pack will remain in a more fixed, restricted area during the spring and summer, when all efforts are focused on raising the young pups.

An alpha wolf that loses dominance will often become an omega wolf, the lowest member of the pack.  Sometimes, the deposed wolf is turned out of the pack completely.

Natural parks became safe havens for wolves in 1933, when a new policy was adopted that declared in part, No native predator shall be destroyed on account of its normal utilization of any other park animal, excepting if that animal is in immediate danger of extermination.  Prior to this policy, wolves were sometimes trapped and hunted in national parks.

Along with coyotes and ravens, there are many other animals that scavenge off of wolf kills.  These include bears, weasels, foxes, eagles, blue jays, chickadees and deer mice.


The thick under fur of the wolf is almost like sheep’s wool.  It contains an oily, lanolin-type substance that makes it close to impermeable.

The alpha wolf is usually the one to initiate a group howl.

The first food wolf pups eat after being weaned from their mother’s milk is partially digested meat which is regurgitated for them by their mother.

In the Middle Ages, wolves were thought to have magical powers and certain parts of the wolf were used for medicinal purposes.  Wolf liver that was dried into powdered form, for example, was used to ease the labor pains associated with giving birth.

Wolves look a lot like dogs when they want to play, approaching each other with their tails in the air and their front legs out in front of them.

Studies have shown that people living in urban areas have more positive attitudes toward wolves than people living in rural areas.  This is probably due to the fact that rural dwellers are more likely to own livestock, and thus they feel their livelihood could be threatened by wolves.

When a dominant wolf growls or raises its hair and tail at a subordinate wolf, the subordinate will lie on the ground and show its belly or side to the dominant wolf.  This act of passive submission is sometimes used as a sort of apology.

The alpha male of a wolf pack is usually the one who makes decisions such as which route to take and when to attack a prey animal.  But the alpha female will at times dominate the alpha male, taking on an equal leadership role within the pack.

By the mid-1950s, wolves had been eradicated from all of Western Europe except for Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Wolves have an extreme sense of loyalty to their pack.  Their pack is their family, and their very survival can depend on the strength of these family ties.

Wolves do not have a fixed role in the pack until after the age of two.  Until that time, the young wolves vie with one another while playing and hunting to gain higher positions in the hierarchy.

Most of the wolves that inhabit Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana are believed to be descendants of a single female disperser - or pack-leaver - from a wolf pack in northern Canada in the early 1980s.

Some scientists believe that tam wolves that have become more comfortable around people - interacting with them and getting food from them in the wild - can actually be more potentially dangerous once their view of humans as creatures to be avoided has been undermined.

A wolf may mark its food by rubbing its neck on it to leave a scent.

Wolves need meat to survive, but a small percentage of their diet does consist of vegetation.  Apples, berries and plums may be consumed occasionally, as well as grasses and herbs.

When a disperser wolf that has left its pack is successful in finding both an unoccupied territory and an unattached wolf of the opposite gender, it will establish a new pack by mating with the other lone wolf.  The two disperser wolves will take over the alpha roles in the new pack, with their offspring in subordinate positions to them.

Once the young pups leave the den, the entire wolf pack becomes involved with them.  Many of the pack members form close bonds with the pups and assist in their care.

The word loophole comes from the old European phrase loup hole.  Loup holes, or wolf holes, were little spy holes built into protective shelters so that travelers could peek out and watch for wolves.

Although red wolves were released in the early 1990s in the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, the program was unsuccessful.  The wolves were unable to locate enough food to sustain themselves or their young, and the decision was made to remove the survivors several years later.

A wolf’s paw print is very similar to that of a large dog, although the claw marks are more clearly visible.

When the social structure of a pack is disturbed, subordinate females are more likely to mate and breed.

Each wolf has its own distinct scent.  Using its keen sense of smell, one wolf can easily identify another.


It is estimated that wolves are successful in killing large prey only in about ten percent of their attempts.  Attacks on large prey such as moose, deer and bison usually end in failure.

The largest known gray wolf to ever live in the United States weighed 175 ob (79 kg).  It was shot by a hunter in 1939.

Young pups love to howl and will respond to almost any howling they hear.  Because they don’t yet know how to identify the howls of their pack mates, they may even answer the howl of a stranger.

Like humans and many other animals, the hair of black and other dark-colored wolves turns gray as the wolf ages.

According to some studies, a wolf that is placed more than 60 mi (97 km) outside its territory will not be able to figure out how to return home; it will try to find its way for 30 mi (48 km) or so before giving up.

Because wolves reproduce in such limited numbers, the food requirements of the pack usually do not grow to the extent that the populations of their prey species are adversely affected.

The jaws of a wolf are tremendously powerful.  Even though the bones of the lower jaw are narrower than those of the upper, there is an impressive amount of strength and force in the wolf’s ability to bite and hold prey.

Wolves use their long, sharp canine teeth to pierce the hide of their prey and get a secure hold on it.

The molars set in the back portion of a wolf’s jaw serve to crush and pulverize the bones of its prey.

The fang-like canine teeth of a wolf are typically at least 1 in (2.5 cm) long.  Some sources indicate they can even grow to be 2 ½ or 3 in (6 to 8 cm) in size.

The wolf’s teeth are not devised for chewing.  Instead, wolves shear away chunks of meat and swallow them whole.

The pressure of a wolf’s bite is reportedly around 1500 psi (105 kg/cm2).  Even a dog such as a German shepherd can only bite down about half as forcefully.

Wolves usually do not howl when they are in the middle of a hunt.  At the beginning of the chase, however, they may howl to each other to set up their locations or signal the specific site for a proposed ambush.

Wolf pups will run up to pack members returning from the hunt, nuzzling and licking the older wolves’ muzzled - who then regurgitate their food for the pups to feed on.

By about one million years ago, some types of wolves had evolved to the point where they looked much as they do today.

A wolf will often mark its territory after urinating by rubbing its paws on the ground.  This action marks the ground with odor released from the wolf’s paws.

Red wolves are not only smaller than gray wolves, they typically also have shorter coats, longer legs, larger ears and a narrower muzzle.

When the alpha male and female are courting, they engage in a variety of behaviors such as touching noses, grooming each other’s coats and bumping against one another.

Wolves have the ability to see well in the dark. This keen night vision, along with their superior senses of smell and hearing, make them well-equipped for nocturnal hunting.

Wolves apparently use their acute hearing even when they are asleep.  Their ears remain upright, alert for any sound that would indicate another animal nearby.

When the alpha male of a pack approaches a stranger, his howls grow lower and harsher in tone.  This lowering of pitch is almost universally a sign of aggression in mammals.

Outside of Alaska, the greatest number of wolves in the United States can be found in Minnesota.

The Spanish term for wolf is lobo.  The Mexican wolf, the smallest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, is frequently called by this name.


A wolf pack’s particular territory is not necessarily static.  Territorial borders may change according to variables such as the size of the pack and the season of the year.

The wolf den is abandoned once the pups are two to three months old.  Sometimes the same den is used again the following year.

Although wolves are exposed to the same broad range of diseases that would be deadly in an unvaccinated dog, their systems are much more adept at fighting off parasites and infections.

The current popularity of wolves is helping improve the way some ranchers feel about them.  Tourists who come to guest ranches are often eager to see wolves, so many guest ranchers welcome the animals.

The wolverine, a burrowing carnivorous mammal that displays solitary habits and is found in forest regions in the north, is related to the weasel rather than the wolf.

Red wolves usually form long-term, pair-bonds, which means they remain with the same mates for life.

In the early 1990s, a survey in Russia indicated that at least three-fourths of those surveyed believed in werewolves.

Scientists believe that wolves and some of the animals on which they prey - including weasels and raccoons - evolved from the same group of carnivorous, otter-like mammals called creodonts.

In some states, wolves have been able to make at least a modest comeback on their own.  The wolf populations in Minnesota have shown a notable increase, and areas in northern Wisconsin, northwestern Montana and northern Michigan have seen some recolonization of the gray wolf in recent years.

It is difficult to tell how many wolves are participation in a chorus of howls just by listening.  The frequent and rapid changes in pitch - plus the echoing effect from cliffs, ridges and trees - can make a few wolves sound like many.

A mother wolf will lick her pups for various reasons.  She may be simply cleaning or comforting them, or she may be prompting them to engage in a necessary body function such as urination or defecation.  In addition, licking the pups at an early age can help to bond the animals through scent.

As the mating season approaches, the alpha female of the pack will begin to intimidate the other females more frequently, particularly if a subordinate female shows signs of being sexually receptive.  The alpha male will similarly discourage sexual behavior in the subordinate males, but not nearly as often.

The most popular hunting time for northern wolves is at dusk or dawn.

Dogs have smaller heads than wolves.  Even a dog that is the same weight as a wolf will have a head that is roughly twenty percent smaller than that of the wolf.

Although wolves are by nature territorial, those that live in tundra regions are forced to give up some of their territorial behaviors because their prey is migratory and moves in large, unpredictable paths.

Wolf pelts were once extremely popular in Canada for use in fur coats and other women’s fashions.

Wolves often mate for life and may even howl in sadness when the partner dies.

Even after regurgitating two or three times to fee youngsters in the pack, and adult wolf still has enough food left in its stomach to meet its own nutritional needs.

Wolf pups learn the skills they will need for hunting by engaging in hours and hours of play-fighting with each other.

Wolves are able to run fast in part because their hind feet are in line with their front ones, which allows them to cut a thin, efficient path through snow and thick brush.

Only about forty percent of red wolves born in captivity survive after being released into the wild.

In Greek mythology, Zeus punished a king named Lycaon for his wickedness by turning him into a wolf.  Interestingly, the story survives today in the scientific name of the gray wolf subspecies Canis lupus lycaon, also known as the timber wolf.


The dire wolf and gray wolf coexisted for almost 400,000 years, until a climactic change wiped out the dire wolf’s prey species.  The dire wolf became extinct around 7,500 to 10,000 years ago.

A wolf pack usually reaches its maximum size in late autumn - when a new group of young pups begins to join in the hunt.

Wolves, like dogs, use barking to communicate alarm and indicate intruders.

Mother wolves may issue a warning to their pups - a gentle squeaking sound - when play gets too rough.

A turning point in the way people view wolves came in 1944, with the publication of Adolph Murie’s book, The Wolves of Mount McKinley.  Murie showed that wolves play a beneficial role in ecology by killing sick or old prey animals, rather than killing indiscriminately, as people had widely believed.

In some parts of Europe, wolves were once thought to symbolize abundance and fertility.  As late as the nineteenth century, if a wolf was seen at the end of the harvesting process it was interpreted as an important sign.  If the wolf’s tail was held in a low position, the people saw it as an omen that the following year’s harvest would be an abundant one.  If the wolf carried its tail high, the next year’s harvest would be poor.

If there aren’t any pups or other pack members back at the den that need to be fed, wolves will lie down and relax for a couple of hours after eating a large kill, allowing the food a change to digest.

If a low-ranking member of the pack adds its voice to a group howling session, it is sometimes confronted by other wolves and disciplined for its inappropriate behavior.

Although it sounds like a cross between a wolf and an aardvark, the aardwolf is actually related to the hyena.  Its name means earth wolf in Afrikaans, and it is native to southern and eastern Africa, feeding largely on termites and insect larvae.

Although wolves are clearly powerful enough to kill humans, they are generally timid around people.  Some scientists theorize this may be due to the fact that they are accustomed to living in a pack hierarchy - and they may defer to a self-assured person much as they would to an alpha wolf.

Because wolves in the southern European countries depend on small animals such as mice and rabbits for their food source, they do not need help from pack mates when hunting their prey.  Consequently, they are often solitary creatures who do not rely on the structure of a pack to maintain their existence.

Even wolves in southern climates grow winter coats.  The difference is that the underfur layer is much finer and less dense.

On the rare occasion when there is a serious fight within the pack – such as when a beta wolf is challenging a weakened alpha wolf for the leadership role – the other members of the pack may become upset, making whining noises and displaying submissive behaviors.

By the time a pup has reached six months of age, it has learned to be as careful ass an adult wolf about when and where it is safe to howl.

Wolves do not usually mate until their second year although female yearlings have occasionally been know to mate with an older male.

Life in the North:  Wolves that live in northern climes are generally larger than those that live in the warmer regions.  The larger size may help the animals to conserve heat, as well as provide the strength and weight necessary to bring down the larger prey – elk, moose and caribou – found in colder climates.

Life in the North:  Wolves can sleep in climates where the temperature gets as low as minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Once accumulating snow has covered the wolf’s body, it can actually be more insulated from the cold.

Life in the North:  Wolf packs in the Arctic – where the available food source is spread out over a large area – hunt in territories that are up to 1000 sq mi (2590 sq km) in size.

Life in the North:  The pads on the bottom of a wolf’s feet are filled with blood vessels.  When a wolf is running or trotting, the circulation in these blood vessels increases – producing enough heat to keep the wolf’s feet warm even in the coldest of climates.


Life in the North:  Wolves in northern climates sometimes chase their prey into deep snow, which may slow the animals’ movements and place them at a disadvantage.  Wolves are light and quick enough to be able to run on top of layers of ice and snow.

Life in the North:  In the high Arctic region of Canada, many of the wolves are white or cream in color.  One of the advantages to this may be that there are more air pockets in a shaft of white hair than in one that contains coloration pigments; thus white hair provides more insulation – and more warmth – for the animal.

One very effective way a wolf pup can be disciplined is for the mother or other adult to pick it up by the scruff of its neck and shake it forcefully.

While domestic dogs depend mostly on their sense of smell for information about another animal they have encountered, wolves rely more on such visual cues as ear and tail position.

With the help of government protection and conservation programs, wolf populations are increasing in certain favorable habitats in the United States.

The sound of a wolf howl can carry up to 7 mi (11 km). Howls travel farther in the winter’s cold, denser air.

Despite the pack-type bonding with humans that can occur when a wolf is raised from a pup in captivity, it can never be considered really tame.

The Tasmanian wolf, now thought to be extinct, was actually no wolf at all.  A large marsupial carnivore, it hunted at night for birds and wallabies.  The female Tasmanian wolf could carry two to four young pups in a shallow pouch that opened rearward.

Wolf pups exhibit the same playful behaviors as dogs, chasing each other and play-fighting.  The adult wolf does not play nearly as often as its young.

Some of the wolves that have been reintroduced into the wild have been fitted with special collars.  These collars communicate information back to scientists who are gathering data on such things as the wolves’ location and habits.

The Viking invaders, who plundered the coasts of northern and western Europe in the eighth through tenth centuries, were known as the wolves of the sea.

The number of wolves in a pack is closely related to the amount of food in the pack’s territory.  The more food that is available, the greater the number of wolves the territory can sustain.

The alpha male and female of a wolf pack spend day and night together during a period of courtship before mating.

Wolf pups reach their full adult size when they are around a year old.

Around 12,000 years ago, when much of the globe was going through rapid climactic changes, almost three-fourths of the species in North America became extinct.  The wolf, however, was able to readily adapt and thrive in the arctic lands of the Northern Hemisphere.

Measures to protect wolves exist in only about forty percent of the countries that have wolf populations.

It is because public perception of wolves is becoming more positive that wolves are beginning to make a modest comeback in so many parts of the world.

On rare occasions when Native Americans killed wolves, they thought of it as taking the life of an equal, not an enemy.

Wolves are smart, adaptable predators with a remarkable social structure.  They deserve to be respected for their strength and intelligence – and their right to be in this world.


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Created by Jeremy Rice
copyright 2004 ©
Last updated on 10/23/2004