Wolves (Canis Lupus) are the largest members of the dog family. Males average 3-3.5' tall and 120-160 lbs. Females stand 2-2.5' and weigh 70-120 lbs. Sexes range 4.5-6.5' long from nose to tip of the tail. Prey density and hunting success factor heavily on the size of wolves. Wolves live 6-8 years in the wild, with social status a factor in life expectancy.
Range: Wolves once ranged across much of the northern hemisphere, including northern Europe and Asia. Excessive hunting and habitat fragmentation has driven the animal to near extinction, particularly in Europe and the lower 48 state. Wolves have recovered some in the lower 48 states (particularly Wyoming and Montana) through re-introduction and protective legislation, but conflict with human agriculture and reduced habitat still limits their range to small, isolated pockets. Wolves enjoy much larger territories and stable population in Canada and Alaska. The US population includes 7,000 - 11,500 wolves in Alaska and another 5,000 in the lower 48 states. There's an estimated 200,000 wolves in 57 countries worldwide.
Physical Traits: Wolves have thick fur coats made of two hair types - Outer guard hairs repel moisture, and undercoat hair provides insulation. Color phases include gray, tan, brown, pure white and black. Wolves have large padded feet that provide stability on rugged terrain and loft over snow. A wolf's tail is straight and does not curl like those of many dog breeds. Wolves have exceptional hearing that's up to 16x sharper than humans. Their vision is equally acute, particularly peripheral and night vision. Interestingly, they struggle to focus sharply on objects at a long distance. Perhaps their greatest asset is smell, thought to be 100 times greater than a human's. Wolves can reach 35 mph in short bursts, but exhibit extraordinary stamina for tracking prey over long distances. A single wolf has little chance against large animals like moose, but their ability as a pack to isolate and tire individual animals is highly effective. Wolves have 42 teeth, with pronounced incisors designed to tear and hold onto to flesh. Wolves seldom attach humans, but have a tendency to poach livestock that's been the cause of human enmity for centuries.
Behavior: Wolves live and hunt in packs of around six to ten adult animals with a complex social hierarchy. The pack is dominated by an Alpha Male, who mates with the dominant Alpha Female. Beta animals rank second in wolf pack society, and Omega animals are at the bottom. . Alpha animals lead hunts, choose den sites, and control feeding order. In most cases only the alpha animals breed, an evolutionary tack aimed at passing only the strongest genes along.The rest of the pack helps care for young pups by bringing them food and attending them while others hunt Wolves form very tight social bonds and communicate through complex sounds and body language. Larger animals typically rank higher in the pack and have better access to food than subordinates on the margin of the social hierarchy. Wolves need large territories with good prey density to sustain the pack.
Territories vary greatly in size depending on their location: Alaska-Canada packs may cover 300 to 1,000 square miles, while their lower 48 state counterparts may only have 25 and 150 square miles at their disposal.
Diet: Wolves are 'fed by their feet', and famously travel 10-20 miles a day in search of food. Wolves may spend 1/3 of their lives on the move. Packs hunt together in a highly cooperative, strategic, and communicative manner. Wolves primarily feed on moose, elk, deer and caribou, but also opportunistic small prey such as rabbit, birds and fish. Hunts are more unsuccessful than not (10% success rate), thus wolves may consume 20 lbs of meat in a sitting to replenish their high calorie expense.
Reproduction: Wolves breed once a year between December and March, depending on latitude. They birth 4-6 pups after a 63 day gestation period that weigh just one pound. Blind and defenseless pups are born in a den and cared for by the entire pack for at least 10 months. Wolf pup's eyes first open after 10-13 days, and first hear after 3 weeks. A mother will remain with pups in the den for several weeks and not leave except to feed on food brought back by members of the pack. Pups will first join the pack on hunts at 10 months. Wolves reach sexual maturity at 22 months. Females typically remain with the pack, while adolescent males are commonly ostracized by the alpha male and forced to strike out on their own. Lone wolves endure a very difficult existence without the support of a pack. Those who succeed either find other stragglers to form a new pack, or join the margins of an established one as an Omega member.
American Species: Red wolves (Canis Rufus) are native to the southeastern United States, where they are critically endangered. They were believed extinct in the wild by 1980, but captive breeding programs restored a small population in North Carolina. An estimated 100 red wolves survive in the wild today.