The Wild World of Wolves
100 Wolf Facts
1. Genus: Canis; Family: Canidae; Order: Carnivora.
2. There are two wolf species in North America: the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and the red wolf (Canis rufus).
3. There are five recognized subspecies of the gray wolf in North America: arctus, baileyi, lycaon, nubilis and occidentalis.
4. Canis lupus arctus occurs in most of the Canadian Arctic Islands and Greenland; C. l. baileyi, the Mexican wolf, once ranged through northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S.; C. l. lycaon, the eastern timber wolf, is found in southeastern Canada and northeastern U.S.; C. l. nubilis ranged throughout the western U.S., southeastern Alaska and northwestern Canada; C. l. occidentalis occurs in most of Alaska and western Canada.
5. There were once three subspecies of red wolf: Canis rufus floridanus, which ranged from Florida through Alabama and is now extinct; C. r. gregoryi, which ranged throughout the Mississippi Valley region into east Texas; and C. r. rufus, which occurred in east and central Texas.
6. Wolves once had the widest range of any mammal, inhabiting arctic tundra, plains, prairies, deserts, mountains and forests. They were found throughout Europe, Asia, Japan and all of North America except southwest California.
7. The genus Canis also includes the coyote, the domestic dog, the jackal, and the dingo.
8. The wolf is the largest of the wild canids.
9. Wolves are highly intelligent animals. Studies indicate that the domestic dog's brain is 15% to 30% smaller than the wolf's.
10. Wolves range in color from all shades of gray, tan and brown to pure white and solid black. Most wolves of the arctic region are a creamy white color. About 30% of Canadian wolves are black. Black wolves are less frequent in southern regions.
11. The wolf has two types of hair: guard and undercoat. The long guard hairs repel moisture and the undercoat insulates.
12. The wolf sheds its bulky winter coat in sheets (unlike most dogs); females tend to lose their winter coats more slowly than males.
13. A wolf's tail is straight and does not curl like those of many dog breeds.
14. A wolf's hearing is at least 16 times sharper than a human's. Wolves can hear a sound as far as six miles away in the forest and ten miles away in open country.
15. The wolf has excellent peripheral vision and superior night vision. The outer perimeter of the wolf's retina is highly sensitive to movement. However, a wolf's eyes lack a foveal pit that allows for sharp focusing at long distances.
16. Wolves stand on the average about 34" at the shoulder.
17. Gray wolves measure between 5 and 7.5 feet from nose to end of tail. (Red wolves are generally somewhat smaller.)
18. Wolves weigh between 40 and 140 pounds, with females generally weighing about 15 pounds less than males. There have been a few documented cases of wolves weighing in at about 175 pounds.
19. A wolf's front feet are larger than its back feet, and a wolf's foreprint varies from 4.5" to 5" long and 3.5" to 4.5" wide. The outer toes point straight ahead (not outward, like those of dogs.)
20. The wolf's sense of smell is 100 times greater than a human's; the wolf possesses as many as 200 million olfactory cells.
21. The wolf has extremely powerful jaws that can generate 1,500 psi of pressure, twice that of a German Shepherd.
22. The wolf has 421 teeth, with six incisors, two canines, eight premolars and four molars in the upper jaw and six incisors, two canines, eight premolars and six molars in the lower jaw.
23. The wolf's front teeth (incisors and canines) are unsed for puncturing, slashing and clinging.
24. The pointed premolars and molars are useful for tearing and shearing.
25. The carnassial teeth (an upper premolar and lower molar) are designed shear tendons and connective tissue, while the back teeth are useful for cracking bone.
26. The wolf's canine teeth interlock so that the wolf can hang on to struggling prey.
27. The wolf is an apex predator, at the top of the animal world's food chain.
28. The wolf's prey of choice are large ungulates (hoofed mammals), including deer, elk, caribou, moose and musk-ox; the wolf is designed for running, catching and killing large animals.
29. The wolf is an opportunistic hunter and will seek to catch the easiest and most vulnerable animal; it naturally seeks out the sick, the weak, the genetically inferior, the old and the young.
30. The wolf is vulnerable to injury and death from kicking prey.
31. When attacking, wolves seize their prey by nose or rump. A wolf rarely hamstrings its prey. (That they do is one of the most common myths about wolves.)
32. The wolf uses scenting, tracking and chance encounters to locate prey.
33. Wolves have a low hunting success rate -- catching about one out of every ten prey animals pursued. To catch enough food they must hunt often and test many prey animals.
34. A wolf pack eats the equivalent of one deer per week, or one caribou every two weeks.
35. The wolf usually travels at a trot, averaging 5 mph, and can maintain this pace almost for a very long time.
36. A wolf can run at speeds of up to 30-35 mph.
37. A wolf will spend approximately one-third of its time on the move.
38. It is common for a wolf to travel 20 miles a day in search of food.
39. An adult wolf can consume 20 pounds of meat in a feeding.
40. Wolves eat, on average, 5 to 12 pounds of food per day and require 1 to 3 quarts of water a day. A wolf often goes many days without eating.
41. Wolves usually hunt in packs, the basic unit of wolf society. However, single wolves can catch and kill a deer or elk.
42. A pack usually consists of a breeding pair and its offspring from the current and perhaps previous years, and is one of the most cohesive social units in the animal world.
43. A pack usually numbers between four and seven members; the largest documented pack was found in Alaska and numbered 36 individuals. (European packs are generally smaller, averaging three to four members.)
44. The "alpha," or breeding, pair are the dominant members of the pack.
45. The "beta" wolf is the second-ranking member in the hierarchy..
46. The "omega" is the lowest-ranking wolf in the hierarchy.
47. There are two hierarchies in a wolf pack, one for males and one for females.
48. The hierarchy reduces conflict and promotes social order within the pack.
49. Change of rank in a wolf pack is more frequent at the lower end of the hierarchy.
50. Submissive behavior by lower-ranking wolves in a pack plays a key role in maintaining peace.
51. Ritualized aggression is essential to maintaining order and harmony within the pack.
52. Dominant wolves hold their tails high; subservient wolves keep their tails down.
53. Subservient wolves will greet a dominant wolf by licking or nipping its muzzle. Such behavior is called "active submission".
54. A subservient wolf lying on the ground and exposing its belly in the presence of a dominant wolf is engaged in "passive submission".
55. The bond between pack members is so close that observers have recorded that the death of one engenders an evident sense of loss among the survivors.
56. Wolf packs are territorial and may attack other wolves that intrude into their territory.
57. Wolf pack territories range from 20 to 1,000 square miles, with the larger territories found in arctic regions. Territory size is determined by several factors, prey density among them.
58. A wolf pack is often on the move within its territory, covering distances of 20-100 miles a day.
59. It is common for wolves to be on the move from 8 to 10 hours in every 24-hour period.
60. "Dispersers" are wolves who leave a pack; these lone wolves will sometimes find a mate and start a new pack.
61. Dispersing wolves may travel long distances. Dispersals of 400 to 500 miles are not unheard of; the longest known dispersal is 829 miles by a Canadian wolf.
62. Lone wolves have no established territory and rarely howl or scent-mark.
63. Wolves become sexually mature at approximately 22 months of age.
64. The wolf mating season in North America occurs only once a year, in February or March, when the female comes into estrus for three weeks.
65. Sometimes other pack members besides the alpha pair will mate. Among tundra wolves, subordinate females often become pregnant. In most such cases the alpha male is the father of all the pups.
66. Multiple pack litters usually occur as a survival response, for instance after severe winters and when population numbers have declined.
67. The wolf's gestation period is 63 days.
68. Wolf pups are born in April or May.
69. The average litter size for the wolf is four to seven pups, and can be as large as 14 pups.
70. The average weight of a newborn pup is one pound.
71. A wolf pup's eyes will open in 10-13 days.
72. At three weeks a wolf pup will be able to hear.
73. Wolf pups are born with blue eyes, which will change to yellow-gold by the time the pups are 8-16 weeks old.
74. At four weeks the pups will venture out of the den.
75. When they leave the den, wolf pups become the responsibility of the entire pack and are treated with affection by all members. The pack's adults participate in training the pups.
76. A wolf den is often near a river or lake so the mother wolf does not have to go far to get water. Dens are located in deep riverbanks, rock outcrops, a hollow log, or under upturned roots.
77. Den entrances are about 20-28" wide and 15-20" high. There may be more than one entrance. The birthing chamber is located at the end of a tunnel that could be as long as 15 feet.
78. The mother wolf stays with her pups and will not leave the den except to eat the food other pack members leave outside for her.
79. When adult wolves return from a hunt, the pups lick their mouths to encourage them to regurgitate undigested meat which the pups then eat.
80. When the pups are 8-10 weeks old the pack -- pups included -- moves to a "rendezvous site" some distance from the den. This site is normally an area of about 1,200 square yards.
81. Wolf pups begin to accompany adults on hunting forays around the age of three months and begin actively hunting at 7-8 months of age.
82. The mortality rate for wolf pups in the wild is at least 50%. Disease, malnutrition and predation by cougars, bears and humans are the main causes of death.
83. Wolves have a sophisticated communication system that employs scent marks, vocalizations, posturing, facial expressions and rituals.
84. Wolves use facial expressions to display aggression, fear, dominance and submission.
85. Wolves not only howl but also bark, yap, whine and growl.
86. Wolves howl to advertise their presence or position, to greet one another, to rally the pack and to attract a mate.
87.Wolf howls may be audible to the human ear up to ten miles away in good weather conditions.
88. While howling, wolves change pitch to achieve harmonic as well as discordant effects.
89. Wolves do not howl at the moon.
90. Many wild wolves die before they reach five years of age. Very few exceed nine years of age. In captivity, wolves can live up to 16 years.
91. Wolves do not make good pets; they cannot be trained or housebroken, and solitary wolves can become stressed and neurotic.
92. There are approximately 300,000 wolf-hybrids in the United States. They can be more aggressive than pure wolves and more unpredictable than domestic dogs.
93. The only true enemy of the wolf is man. Studies in Canada, Italy and the United States show that from 60-90% of wolf mortality has been through human causes.
94. It is estimated that two million wolves were killed in a war of extermination waged against the species in the United States, the majority between 1850 and 1910.
95. The wolf was extinct in most of Europe by 1900. The last wolf in Denmark was killed in 1772, Scotland's last wolf was killed in 1848. Wolves survived in Poland, Romania, the former Yugoslavia, northern Greece, northern Spain and the mountainous central region of Italy. A few wolves have recently returned to Scandinavia, France and Germany.
96. Wolves can be found in Turkey, Iran, Israel (where they are fully protected), Saudi Arabia, India, Mongolia, China and Russia.
97. There are 50,000 wolves in Canada, though they are no longer found in New Brunswick, Newfoundland or Nova Scotia. They are hunted as a game species.
98. There are 5,000-7,000 wolves in Alaska, where they are still hunted except in parks and reserves.
99. There has been only one documented cause of healthy wolves killing a human in North America. That was committed by captive wolves in a private wildlife sanctuary in Canada.
100. Under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the gray wolf is listed as endangered in all of the Lower 48 states except Minnesota, where it is listed as threatened. The red wolf is listed as endangered.