Who's Afraid of the Big, Lovable Wolf: the stereotype and the hard facts of the world's first canine.
By: N Gilbert
The gray wolf or grey wolf (Canis lupus) is a species of canid native to the wilderness and remote areas of North America, Eurasia, and North Africa. It is the largest member of its family, with males averaging 43–45 kg (95–99 lb), and females 36–38.5 kg (79–85 lb). It is similar in general appearance and proportions to a German shepherd, or sled dog, but has a larger head, narrower chest, longer legs, straighter tail and bigger paws. Its winter fur is long and bushy, and is usually mottled gray in color, though it can range from nearly pure white, red, or brown to black
The wolf has been demonized throughout North American history. Here are some facts about wolves, their dens, packs and eating habits.
The poor wolf has been demonized in North America ever since the first settlers started ranching and providing a handy food source for the native wolf pack. Actually, the wolf is not a brave hunter and attacks only the young and the sick in a herd. Through a combination of misunderstanding and vengeance, most native wolf populations have been devastated and decimated to the point where the species is now endangered. Only in North Western Canada and a few northwestern states is there a remnant of a sustainable wolf population. Of course, wolves eat deer and so there is a competition between wolves and human hunters for access to that resource. We can eat whatever we want, but the wolf eats what it can find.
The wolf is carnivorous and is the largest of all of the wild dogs, which includes coyotes and foxes. There are different subspecies of wolf but they are all similar physically and behaviorally. Interbreeding is common between the subspecies and their distinctive differences become blurred in the mix. Besides the gray wolf there is the red wolf, found in the southeastern United States and the Abyssinian wolf, native to Ethiopia. There are five subspecies of the gray wolf in North America: The Mexican (lobo), Great Plains (buffalo), Rocky Mountain (or Mackenzie valley), The Eastern Timber and the Arctic.
The wolf's food preference is for deer, moose, elk, caribou, bison, sheep and mountain goats. Beaver and rabbit are a secondary source of food and occasionally birds or even smaller mammals will be eaten. A wolf can live on two and a half pounds of food per day and one has been known to eat over 22 pounds at one meal. In Minnesota, wolves kill the equivalent of 15 to 18 deer each per every year. No wonder hunters do not like wolves - it takes away from killing a helpless animal only for a trophy whereas the wolf kills to eat!
Male wolves weigh from 70 to 115 lbs. The females are usually 10 to 15 pounds lighter. Wolves average 26 to 32 inches tall at the shoulder and measure 57 to 76 inches in length. The wolf has a wide range of size, shape and color. Wolves are larger in the northwestern United States, Canada, and Alaska. They have a long and bushy tail, which is usually carried down or straight out. The rounded ears stand erect and are about 2 inches long.
Wolves' chests are narrow and protrude and their front legs are distinguishable by the inward bend of the elbows and the paws that face outwards from their body. Wolves' legs are longer than the legs of other dogs. Wolf color ranges from white to shades of black, brown and gray. The coat is a thick layer of soft and fine fur topped by long hair that gives the coat its color. The hair can be as long as 6 to 7 inches in the mane. Wolves can raise and lower this hair and use it to communicate with other wolves. The hair on the mane and at the end of the tail is usually darker than the rest. Wolves appear thinner in summer because their coat thins out. Wolves have an average life span of six to eight years in the wild and can live for 16 years in captivity.
Wolves travel long distances in the course of a day. It is not unusual for wolves to travel 20 miles in a 24-hour period. They cover the distance at a trot. If you are trying to track a wolf, the front paws are larger than the rear feet and the toes are spread out more. Their unique stride causes the hind foot to often land in the print made by the front foot on the same side. Wolf tracks are similar to coyote and dog tracks. Mountain lion tracks are often mistaken for wolf tracks.
Wolves howl, bark, whimper, and growl. They howl to greet one another, announce their location, define their territory, and call the pack together Wolves have a variety of communication tools including scent, vocalization, visual displays, postures and rituals. Wolves sometimes bark if their den is disturbed of if they are surprised. The howl of a wolf is described as deep and mournful. The pitch is constant or, if it varies, does so smoothly. A howling session by one lone wolf lasts about 35 seconds, and the animal will howl several times. When a pack is howling, one wolf will start and one or more others will join in. Most wolf howls can be heard for almost a mile in the woods.
Wolf dens are always located near water, dug into well-drained soil on a slope facing south. They can be under a boulder, tree roots, or in banks or hollow logs. Wolves will use and enlarge coyote or fox dens. The entrances are about 18 inches in diameter. There is a passageway, which is 4 to 17 feet long with a chamber approximately 18"H by 48"W by 41"Deep. There is no bedding is in the den. A well-used den will have bones scattered about and well-worn trails should lead from it. Dens are often used for several years.
Wolves usually live in packs of adult parents (the alpha pair) and their offspring of the last few years. The adult parents are not usually related and other wolves may join the pack. A pack has from six to eight wolves, but in Alaska and northwestern Canada packs can have over 30 members. A pack normally has only one litter of pups each spring, only one female gives birth. In areas where prey is abundant more than one female will give birth in each pack. An average litter size is six. Litters of pups are born in April through June and they emerge from the den at about one month of age. Wolf pups vary greatly in size. By August, the pups weigh about 40 lbs. or the size of a coyote. They are distinguishable from coyotes by their puppy features: large feet, long legs, blunt nose, and short tail. The feet are full grown by late July.
There are many petitions online to help save the wolves. There are also some sanctuaries throughout the United States where you can go to visit wolves in a natural habitat. Remember, the wolves were the start of the dog, they deserve to live just as all the rest of them do, please help to save the wolves!! ♥