Information On Wolves


 

The Wolf


Wolf

 

Canis lupus



Photo: A gray wolf in the snow

Gray wolves once populated large portions of North America, Europe, and Asia, but were hunted to near extinction. Their numbers have rebounded due to conservation and reintroduction efforts.

Photograph by Joel Sartore


Wolves are legendary because of their spine-tingling howl, which they use to communicate. A lone wolf howls to attract the attention of his pack, while communal howls may send territorial messages from one pack to another. Some howls are confrontational. Much like barking domestic dogs, wolves may simply begin howling because a nearby wolf has already begun.

Wolves are the largest members of the dog family. Adaptable gray wolves are by far the most common and were once found all over the Northern Hemisphere. But wolves and humans have a long adversarial history. Though they almost never attack humans, wolves are considered one of the animal world's most fearsome natural villains. They do attack domestic animals, and countless wolves have been shot, trapped, and poisoned because of this tendency.

In the lower 48 states, gray wolves were hunted to near extinction, though some populations survived and others have since been reintroduced. Few gray wolves survive in Europe, though many live in Alaska, Canada, and Asia.

Red wolves live in the southeastern United States, where they are endangered. These animals actually became extinct in the wild in 1980. Scientists established a breeding program with a small number of captive red wolves and have reintroduced the animal to North Carolina. Today, perhaps 100 red wolves survive in the wild.

The maned wolf, a distant relative of the more familiar gray and red wolves, lives in South America. Physically, this animal resembles a large, red fox more than its wolf relatives.

Wolves live and hunt in packs of around six to ten animals. They are known to roam large distances, perhaps 12 miles (20 kilometers) in a single day. These social animals cooperate on their preferred prey—large animals such as deer, elk, and moose. When they are successful, wolves do not eat in moderation. A single animal can consume 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of meat at a sitting. Wolves also eat smaller mammals, birds, fish, lizards, snakes, and fruit.

Wolfpacks are established according to a strict hierarchy, with a dominant male at the top and his mate not far behind. Usually this male and female are the only animals of the pack to breed. All of a pack's adults help to care for young pups by bringing them food and watching them while others hunt.   







There are six species termed 'wolf': gray wolf (also known as the timber wolf), red wolf, Indian wolf, Himalayan Wolf, Eastern Wolf and Ethiopian wolf, although there is some disagreement about whether or not Himalayan wolves and Indian wolves are different species.  Wolves are mammals of the order Carnivora. They are ice age survivors originating during the Late Pleistocene around 300,000 years ago.  Wolves are highly adaptable and have thrived in temperate forests, deserts, mountains, tundra, taiga, grasslands and urban areas.

 

Physical characteristics

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 6 mph, and have been known to reach speeds approaching 40 mph during a chase.

 

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 them to move over snow easily.

 

Wolves have bulky coats consisting of two layers. The first layer is made up of tough guard hairs that repel water and dirt. The second is a dense, water-resistant   undercoat that insulates.  Fur coloration varies greatly, running from gray to gray-brown, all the way through the canine spectrum of white, red, brown, and black.

 

At birth, wolf pups tend to have darker fur and blue irises that will change to a yellow-gold or orange color when the pups are between 8 and 16 weeks old.

 gray wolf.jpg (3303 bytes) Gray Wolf

In general, gray wolves range from 26–38 inches tall at the shoulder and their weight ranges from 44 to 137 lb.   Together, these make the gray wolf the largest of all wild canids. 

The Red Wolf and Eastern Wolf have reddish coats, silver-grey foreheads and darker signs on white legs and cream underbellies. The Red Wolf has long ears and smooth coat with long legs. The Red Wolf typically has a height at the shoulders of 15–16 inches and a length of 4.5–5.5 feet and weigh 40–80 pounds.  Himalayan / Indian wolves have a very short, dense coat that is typically reddish, tawny, or buff coloured.  They reach 60-95 centimetres in height, and typically weighs 28-56pounds.  An Ethiopian wolf 24-42 pounds.  Its coat is rusty red on the face, ears and top of its body.  Underneath, it is white.   Small white spots are present on the cheeks. 

 

Reproduction and life cycle

Usually, the instinct to reproduce drives young wolves away from their birth packs, leading them to seek out mates and territories of their own. Generally, mating occurs between January and April.  The pups, weighing 1 lb, are born blind, deaf, and completely dependent on their mother. The average litter size is 5-6 pups, though litters of 10 can occur. The pups live in the den for two months. The den is usually on high ground near an open water source, and has an open chamber at the end of a tunnel that can be up to a few yards 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 of feeding on milk. By this time, their milk teeth have emerged — and the pups are fully weaned by 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.

 red wolf.jpg (3990 bytes)Red Wolf

After two months, the restless pups will be moved to a rendezvous site, where they can stay safely 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. Letting the pups fight for eating privileges allows them to practice the dominance/submission rituals that will be essential to their future survival in pack life. During hunts, the pups remain observers until they reach about 8 months of age, by which time they are large enough to participate actively.

 

Wolves that reach maturity generally live 6 to 10 years in the wild, although in captivity they can live to twice that age.

Ethiopian Wolf

 

ethiopian wolf.jpg (4891 bytes)

Wolf Behavior

Wolves function as social predators and hunt in packs organized according to strict, rank-oriented social hierarchies.

 

The pack is led by two mates that sit atop the social hierarchy. The 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 and have the greatest amount of control over resources (such as food).

 

All wolves in a pack assist in raising wolf pups. Some mature individuals choosing not to disperse may stay in their original packs so as to reinforce it and help rear more pups.

 

Communication

Wolves can communicate visually through a wide 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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Wolves in packs feed primarily on sheep, goats, pigs, deer, antelope, caribou, horses, moose, yak and bison. Solitary wolves depend more on smaller animals, which they capture by pouncing and pinning with their front paws, though lone wolves have been recorded to bring down prey as large as bison unaided. Some wolf packs in Alaska have been observed to feed on salmon. They also prey on rodents, birds and other small animals.

 

Humans and Wolves

Humans historically have had a complex relationship with wolves. In many parts of the world, wolves were respected and revered, while in others they were feared.   Under normal circumstances, wild wolves are generally timid around humans. Wolves usually try to avoid contact with people, to the point of even abandoning their kills when an approaching human is detected, though there are several reported circumstances in which wolves have been recorded to act aggressively toward humans.

More about Wolves

International Wolf Center

National Wildlife Federation - Wolves

Nova - Wild Wolves

Wolves of the World

The information on this page is excerpted from Wikipedia




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