Not complete just yet! Got a couple more sections to add! NM

Wolf Facts and Information

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What are wolves?

Wolves are large, predatory canids once common throughout North America, Europe, Africa and Asia, now living mostly in remote wilderness. They are the largest living members of the canid family, which also includes foxes and coyotes. Wolves are the ancestors of all domestic dogs.

There are two species of wolves in North America. The smaller species is the red wolf, Canis rufus, which has shorter, redder fur than the gray wolf. The gray wolf, Canis lupus, has thicker fur which is more gray or golden, and is larger than the red wolf. The gray wolf lives in the northeastern United States, Canada, and Europe. The critically endangered red wolf lives in the southeastern United States.

There are many subspecies of the gray wolf, such as the arctic wolf, a white subspecies which lives in Alaska and northern Canada, and the Mexican wolf, a smaller subspecies which has been recently reintroduced in parts of the southwestern United States.

Are wolves dangerous to humans?

Wild wolves are afraid of humans and usually run away rather than be near people. They may have a flight distance— a minimum distance they can be from something before they run from it — of over 1/4 of a mile, too far away even or them to be seen by us. Healthy wild wolves do not attack people. Pet wolves, and wolf-dog hybrids, may be dangerous to humans because they are no longer afraid of humans. They may hunt small children or pets, who remind them of prey. Wolves that have been habituated to humans by being fed, intentionally or accidentally (as in a dump) can also lose fear of humans and become a danger.

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What do wolves look like?

The gray wolf can actually range in color from pure white to solid black, but the most common shade is a tawny brown in which the wolf’s guard hairs are banded with black, white, gold and brown. This banded coloration is known as agouti, and is found in a number of wild species.

Wolves have two layers of fur: the outer, guard layer is composed of long, coarse hairs which shed water and snow and contain pigments which give the wolf’s coat its color. The inner layer is thick, soft gray “wool”, which traps air and insulates the wolf from the elements. These layers are so warm that wolves can comfortably tolerate temperatures far below zero. Snow does not melt when it falls on wolves’ fur! In the spring, the inner layer of wool is shed to help keep the wolf cool during the summer.

An adult male wolf usually weighs 75 to 120 pounds; females weigh between 60 and 95 pounds. This may be smaller than some breeds of dog! Wolves lose some insulating fat and shed much of their fur in the summer, and weigh less then.  Wolves that live in the cold north are generally larger and heavier than wolves which live in warmer climates. 

Wolves’ eyes range in color from gold to orange, and may even be green. They are blue at birth, changing color at around eight weeks of age. Wolves’ jaw muscles are twice as powerful as those of German shepherd dogs, and can produce pressure of 1500 pounds per square inch. Wolves have 42 teeth. Wolves have long, slender legs and narrow chests. They are adapted for running fast to catch moving prey like deer and elk. The bones (the radius and ulna) in heir forearms are fused so their front legs are strong for running. They can reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour or short distances. Wolves have four toes on each paw, with a “dewclaw” — small, vestigial toes — on each forefoot. Their claws grow throughout their lives and they do not retract.

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Where do wolves live?

Gray wolves once lived all over North America, Asia, and Europe. They still roam these areas, but in much reduced ranges and numbers. Today, about 3,000 wolves live in the wild in Minnesota, around thirty on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale, about 500 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, 500 in Wisconsin, and about 1500 in the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. An occasional wolf is seen in Washington state, and in North or South Dakota. In Alaska, there are between 5,900 and 7,200 wolves. Mexican wolves are being reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico. There are less than 100 red wolves in the wild in North Carolina. 

Wolves live in all kinds of terrain, from desert to tundra. They prefer areas with cover (places to hide such as brush, shrubs, or trees), near water, and near large congregations of prey (herds of deer or caribou, for example). source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

What do wolves eat?

Wolves primarily eat meat. Their favorite prey is large ungulates (hoofed mammals) such as deer, elk, moose, caribou and bison. Since many of these animals are larger than wolves, the only way wolves can catch them is to live and hunt in groups. Wolves will also catch and eat rabbits, mice, birds, snakes, fish and other animals. Wolves will eat non-meat items (such as vegetables), but not often.

Even working together, it is hard for wolves to catch their prey. Healthy deer can easily outrun wolves, and large animals like moose or bison often stand their ground until the wolves give up. Some studies have shown that when wolves hunt deer, an average of 84 to 87 out of every 100 deer escape. The ones caught are usually old, sick, or very young, rather than healthy animals in the prime of life.

Some documentaries show hunting wolves growling or snarling at their prey with their hackles raised. Wolves do not do this. Growling and snarling are part of social aggression — expressions of an intention to fight, used between wolves. Wolves do not growl or snarl at their prey. It would be like a human getting angry at an ice cream cone he or she was about to eat! Wolves who are hunting look very excited and happy, even “friendly”. Their tails wag, their ears are up, and they are quiet. They stare at their prey and look very focused.

After catching and killing their food, wolves may eat up to 20 percent of their body weight. That is like eating 80 quarter pound hamburgers at one sitting! Wolves in the wild may not get to eat every day and must gorge when they get the chance.

The alpha male does not always eat first. In fact, the hungriest wolf usually eats first. Even a low-ranking animal can defend food until it is done eating, and whoever wants the food most usually gets it. An exception to this is the "omega wolf", a very low-ranking, “scapegoat” wolf who lives on the fringes of the pack. Omega wolves usually eat last.

At first, wolf pups suckle milk from their mothers. Adults feed puppies who are too old to nurse but too young to hunt for themselves by regurgitation. Puppies beg for food by following the adults, whining, and pawing and licking at the adults’ mouths. This stimulates the adult wolves to throw up food which is in their stomachs. The puppies then eat the regurgitated food. (Since wolves have no hands, the easiest way for them to carry food to puppies is in their stomachs. Also, since they have already chewed and partially digested the food, it is nice and soft for the young puppies to eat.) Both male and female wolves, and even wolves who are not the pups’ parents, will regurgitate to feed the puppies.