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Wolf Facts

There are three species of wolves:

Gary Borland

Photo Credit: Gary Borland

Canis lupus - the gray wolf

Five subspecies of gray wolf are recognized and are distinguished primarily on the basis of their current and/or former geographic distribution.

  • Canis lupus occidentalis (Alaskan wolves) are found in most of Alaska and Western Canada. This subspecies is commonly referred called the Mackenzie Valley wolf.
  • Canis lupus arctos (Arctic wolves) are found in most of the Canadian Arctic Islands such as Ellesmere Island. Since the predominant color phase of this subspecies is a creamy white, which camouflages it in snowy surroundings, it is often called the white wolf.
  • Canis lupus nubilus (Great plains wolves) once occupied most of the Western United States, southeastern Alaska, and central and northeastern Canada. It had the largest range of any subspecies in North America. It is also known as the buffalo wolf. It was thought to be extinct by 1926, but studies indicate that the wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and upper Michigan are descendants of this subspecies
  • Canis lupus lycaon (Eastern wolves) are found in southern Canada and the northeastern United States. There is still some debate about how to classify this animal (as a unique species, as a subspecies of gray wolf, or as a close relative of the red wolf), but USFWS is currently managing it as a subspecies of the gray wolf. New technology is allowing us to better understand the evolutionary relationships between different populations of wolves, though conservation goals are unlikely to change since these populations fill the same important ecological roles.
  • Canis lupus baileyi (Mexican wolves) commonly known as “lobo.” These wolves once inhabited Mexico and the extreme southwestern United States. The Mexican wolf is the most endangered of the subspecies. It is one of the rarest land mammals on earth. There currently are 300 wolves in 49 captive facilities around the United States and Mexico. In March 1998, 35 Mexican wolves in six packs were released in Apache National Forest in Arizona. Currently there are 42 free ranging wolves in the Apache and Gila National Forest in Arizona and New Mexico.
Peggy Honda

Photo Credit: Peggy Honda

Canis rufus - the red wolf

The red wolf was listed on the Endangered Species Act in 1973. By 1980, it was thought be extinct in the wild. In 1987, 70-90 Red wolves were released in Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges. The current population is descended from 14 pure red wolves captured in the wild. There are approximately 200 Red Wolves in captive breeding facilities. Today there are 100 - 120 free ranging red wolves.

Canis simensis - the Abyssinian wolf

Although this is a newly recognized species, some biologists are still debating its classification. This species is found only in the highlands of Ethiopia where there are approximately 550 wolves. They are much smaller than the gray wolf. Unlike most wolves, their main prey are rodents.

Some frequently asked questions about wolves:

Are all gray wolves gray in color?

No, the term gray wolf is a species name. Gray wolves can be white, black, tan, brown, or grizzled, which is a combination of tans, browns, and black.

How long do wolves live?

The average is seven years in the wild and twelve years in captivity.

How much do adult wolves weigh?

North American Gray Wolves range from 40 to 175 pounds, with female wolves weighing slightly less than males. Wolves in the northern United States tend to be larger some reaching 130 pounds or more. The heaviest wolf on record was 175 pounds and was killed in Alaska in 1939.

How fast can wolves run and how far do they travel?

Wolves trot at 5 miles per hour, but they can run in short bursts at up to 35 miles per hour. They can travel as much as 30 miles per day hunting for food.

What is the main cause of wolf mortality?

In areas with people, human activity is a major cause of wolf mortality. Starvation and injuries from territorial aggression can also cause deaths. Canine parvo, distemper, and mange are also responsible for some mortality.

How many teeth do wolves have?

Wolves have 42 teeth. There are 20 teeth in the upper jaw (six incisors, two canine, eight premolars, and four molars), and 22 teeth in the lower jaw (six incisors, two canine, eight premolars, and six molars).

How strong are wolves' jaws?

The wolf's jaw can exert 1500 pounds of pressure per square inch, twice the jaw pressure of a German Shepherd. Wolves can crush large bones in just a few bites.

How long is their gestation period?

The gestation period is approximately 63 days.

How many pups are usually born?

The average litter is five pups. It can vary depending on the abundance of prey, wolf population density, and the size of available territory.

How much do pups weight when they are born?

Newborn wolves weight about one pound.

What is the main prey of wolves?

Their main prey is caribou, elk, white tail deer, moose, and bison.

What is the social structure of the pack?

There is an alpha male and alpha female who are the leaders of the pack. They are also the most likely pair to breed. The beta wolves’ are in second position and finally the omega wolf is in the lowest position within the pack.

How large is the pack size?

Packs can range from 2 to 36 wolves. Average pack size is six wolves. A pack usually consists of an alpha male, alpha female, current offspring, and a few yearlings. There also may be a few adult subordinate wolves in the pack. Wolves will usually stay with the pack until 2-3 years of age. At that time, they may choose to disperse to find a new pack or to start a new pack. Pack sizes depend on the available prey and territory. Wolf packs in Alaska and Canada are usually larger then in the lower 48 states.

How do wolves communicate (view the communication chart)?

They communicate is a variety of ways. Vocalizations include howling, growling, whimpering, whining, and barking. They also communicate by eye contact, facial expressions, and body movement and posture. Scent marking is also used.

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