Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Wolf

The Wolf

Let me introduce you to the wolf. The Gray Wolf is the most common wolf, the wolf all the many subspecies of the wolf are descended from. Forget about the wolf fairy tales and the its Big Bad Wolf reputation. The wolf is a large carnivore that lives in packs. Therefore, it is a friendly, intelligent and curious animal, but shy, especially when it encounters humans who have persecuted it to the brink of extinction. One subspecies of the wolf, the dog, is “Man's best friend”, but the Gray Wolf is “Man's worst enemy”. The wolf has an aversion to fighting and does not like to hunt. But it has to eat. It is one of the greatest predators in the world, and always makes its presence known to its prey. Wolves are monogamous and generally mate for life. They care for their elderly and sleep out in the open. Dens are strictly for raising wolf cubs. It is generally believed that human society is modeled on the wolf pack.

The word wolf comes from the Old English wulf, related to Old High German wolf, Old Norse ulfr, and the Gothic wulf, referring to one of the sounds a wolf makes. Although wolves rarely bark, they sometimes utter one deep "woof" sound to other wolves. It sounds exactly like a "woof" from a large dog, and means "Red Alert", "Did you see/hear that?", and so on. In other words, the wolf is one of the few animals that can tell you what it is.

Wolf is probably related to the Latιn lupus (wolf), which derives from the Greek lycos (wolf, λύκος). The plural is wolves. As a noun it refers to:
1) a wild carnivorous mammal that is a predator and the largest member of the canine family, living and hunting in packs. It is native to both Eurasia and North America, but has been widely exterminated;
2) any of several similar and related canines, such as the Red wolf, Tasmanian wolf, and the coyote (prairie wolf);
3) the fur of any such animal;
4) a voracious, grabbing, or fiercely cruel person or thing;
5) a man who habitually tries to seduce women;
6) dire poverty or starvation;
6) the destructive larva of any of various moths and beetles;
7) the larva of any of various small insects infesting granaries;
8) the maggot of a warble fly;
8) an unpleasant or out of tune sound produced in some notes played on the violin, cello, keyboards, etc., known as a "wolf note";
9) an English name derived from the vocabulary word, meaning simply "wolf";
10) a German and Jewish name meaning "wolf"; and
12) in Astronomy the constellation Lupus.

As a verb it means:
1) to eat food greedily or voraciously;
2) to gulp down food; and
3) to hunt wolves.

As an adjective wolfish and wolf-like simply mean similar to or like a wolf.

Wolf expressions in similes and metaphors include:
1) "cry wolf" means to give a false alarm;
2) "keep the wolf from the door" means to ward off starvation or privation;
3) "throw to the wolves" means to abandon or deliver to destruction;
4) "wolf in sheep's clothing" means a malicious person in a harmless or benevolent disguise; and
5 "lone wolf" refers to a person or animal with a preference to be alone.

Werewolf is a compound word of the Old English "wer" and "wulf". Wer means man or husband and wulf is directly related to the modern word wolf. Werewolf originally meant "man-wolf". Lycanthrope is a similar word with Greek roots, meaning "wolf-man". The word wer is related to the Latin word vir, which has the same meaning (in Latin v is w) and is related to several English words such as virile and virtue. Later Pop culture turned the werewolf into a different creature than that depicted in the original texts. Lycophilia means a spurious or sham friendship, literally a friendship between wolves (lycos+philia; Gr.: λυκοφιλία).

The scientific classification of wolves is:
Scientific name: Canis lupus
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: mammalia
Order: carnivora
Family: canidae
Genus: canis


Wolf: O.E. wulf, from P.Gmc. *wulfaz (cf. O.S. wulf, O.N. ulfr, O.Fris., Du., O.H.G., Ger. wolf, Goth. wulfs), from PIE *wlqwos/*lukwos, from base *wlp-/*lup- (cf. Skt. vrkas, Avestan vehrka-; Albanian ulk; O.C.S. vluku; Rus. volcica; Lith. vilkas "wolf;" O.Pers. Varkana- "Hyrcania," district southeast of the Caspian Sea, lit. "wolf-land;" probably also Gk. lykos, L. lupus). The verb meaning "eat like a wolf" is attested from 1862. Wolves as a symbol of lust are ancient, e.g. Roman slang lupa "whore," lit. "she-wolf" (preserved in Sp. loba, It. lupa, Fr. louve). The equation of "wolf" and "prostitute, sexually voracious female" persisted into the 12 century, but by Elizabethan times wolves had become primarily symbolic of male lust. The specific use of wolf for "sexually aggressive male" was first recorded in 1847; wolf-whistle was first attested in 1952. The image of a wolf in sheep's skin is attested from c.1400.

Forty million years ago the various branches of the mammalian order Carnivora were already well defined, such as felids, canids, mustelids and viverrids. The members of the canid genus Canis, however, are actually a recent evolutionary development, with most modern species being a product of the past few million years. During this time the mammals which can truly be called "wolves" came into existence. The most likely ancestral candidate of Canis lupus is Canis lepophagus, a small, narrow skulled North American canid which may have also given rise to coyotes. Some larger, broader skulled Canis lepophagus fossils found in northern Texas may represent the ancestral stock from which wolves derive. The primitive wolf closely resembled the modern southern wolf populations of the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia, which were once distributed in Europe until about 500,000 years ago. It evolved into Canis lupus and recolonized North America. A larger canid species called Canis dirus was already established there, but it became extinct 8,000 years ago after the large prey it relied on was wiped out. Competition with the newly arrived Gray Wolves for the smaller and swifter prey that survived may have contributed to its decline. With the extinction of Dire Wolves, Gray Wolves became the only large and widespread canid species left.

The North American recolonization likely occurred in several waves, with the most distinctive populations occurring in the periphery of the range. Fossil remains of large bodied wolves occur in coastal southern California, indicating that large North American Gray Wolf subspecies were once widespread, and may have been driven southward by glaciation, though wolves no longer reside there. Fossils of small bodied wolves have been found in a range encompassing Kansas and southern California. This indicates a population mixture in which large Arctic forms of wolf moved farther south, with smaller wolves expanding as the climate moderated.

The now extinct Japanese wolves were descended from large Siberian wolves which colonized the Korean Peninsula and Japan before it separated from mainland Asia 20,000 years ago. During the Holocene, the Tsugaru Strait widened and isolated Honshu from Hokkaidō, causing climactic changes leading to the extinction of most large bodied ungulates inhabiting the archipelago. Japanese wolves likely underwent a process of island dwarfism 7,000 to 13,000 years ago in response to these climatological and ecological pressures. C. l. hattai (formerly native to Hokkaidō) was significantly larger than it southern cousin C. l. hodophilax, as it inhabited higher elevations and had access to larger prey, as well as a continuing genetic interaction with dispersing wolves from Siberia.

Wolves in Central and East Asia are intermediate in form and size to northern and southern wolves. Differences in brain size are well defined in different wolf populations, with wolves in northern Eurasia having the highest values, North American wolves having slightly smaller brains, and the southern wolves having the smallest. Southern wolves have brains 5 to 10% smaller than northern wolves. Though different in behavior and morphology, northern and southern wolves can still interbreed: the Zoological Gardens of London for example once successfully managed to mate a male European wolf to an Indian female, resulting in a cub bearing an almost exact likeness to its sire.

With the exception of Great Britain and Ireland, wolves were widespread in Europe during the 18th century. Wolves were exterminated from all central and northern European countries during the 19th century and the post World War II period. Remnant populations remain in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and Finland, though Eurasian wolves have been recovering naturally in several parts of Europe, recolonizing France, Germany, Sweden and Norway. The largest populations now occur in eastern Europe, primarily in Romania, the Balkans and Poland.

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, false propagandsa and vengeance, most native wolf populations have been devastated and decimated to the point where the species is now endangered and many subspecies are extinct. 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. Humans can eat whatever they want, but the wolf eats what it can find.


Gray Wolves are slender, powerfully built animals with large, deeply descending rib cages and sloping backs. Their abdomens are pulled in, and their necks heavily muscled. Limbs are long and robust, with comparatively large paws. The front paws have five toes each, while the back paws have four. The forelimbs are seemingly pressed into the chest, with the elbows pointed inward, and the feet outward. Females tend to have narrower muzzles and foreheads, thinner necks, slightly shorter legs and less massive shoulders than males. Wolves are very strong for their size, possessing sufficient strength to turn over a frozen horse or moose carcass. They are shy, fast, and clever, and are not what they are made up to be in fiction and folklore. Wolves are more afraid of humans then humans are of them, and they have long snouts, long puffy tails, triangular pointy ears and big paws with sharp nails.

They are also capable of running at speeds of 56 to 64 km (34 to 38 miles) per hour, and can continue running for more than 20 minutes, though not necessarily at that speed. In cold climates, wolves can reduce the flow of blood near their skin to conserve body heat. The warmth of the footpads is regulated independently of the rest of the body, and is maintained at just above tissue-freezing point where the pads come in contact with ice and snow. Wolves have pink/reddish colored hair between their toe pads. The intestines of adult wolves measure 460 to 575 cm, the ratio to body length being 4.13 to 4.62. The stomach can hold 7 to 9 kg (15 to 20 pounds) of food and up to 7.5 litres (8 U.S. quarts) of water. The liver is relatively large, weighing 0.7 to 1.9 kg (1.6 to 4.2 pounds) in males and 0.68 to 0.82 kg (1.5 to 1.8 pounds) in females.

Wolves' heads are large and heavy, with wide foreheads, strong jaws and long, blunt muzzles. They usually carry their heads at the same level as their backs, raising their heads only when alert. The sagittal and lambdoid crests are well developed, the former dividing just in front of the bregma into two ridges curving outward to form posterior border of postorbital processes. The interorbital region is moderately elevated and well defined, with distinct longitudinal concavity between raised and thickened postorbital processes.

Gray Wolves are the largest extant members of the Canidae, excepting certain large breeds of the domestic dog. The weight and size of a wolf can vary greatly worldwide, tending to increase proportionally with latitude. Adult wolves are 1 to 1.5 meters (40 to 58 inches) in length and 80 to 85 cm (32 to 34 in) in shoulder height. The tail is ⅔ the length of the head and body, measuring 29 to 50 cm (11 to 20 in) in length. The ears are 90 to 110 millimeters (3.5 to 4.3 in) in height, and the hind feet are 220 to 250 mm. Wolf weight varies geographically. On average, European wolves may weigh 38.5 kilograms (85 pounds), North American wolves 36 kilograms (79 pounds), Indian and Arabian wolves 25 kilograms (55 pounds) and North African wolves 13 kilograms (29 pounds).

Females in any given wolf population typically weigh 5 to 10 lbs less than males. Wolves weighing over 54 kg (120 lbs) are uncommon, though exceptionally large individuals have been recorded in Alaska, Canada, and the former Soviet Union. The heaviest recorded gray wolf in North America was killed on 70 Mile River in east-central Alaska on July 12, 1939 and weighed 79.4 kilograms (175 lb), while the heaviest recorded wolf in Eurasia was killed after World War II in the Kobelyakski Area of the Poltavskij Region, Ukrainian SSR, and weighed 86 kilograms (190 lb).

A wolf body is made for chasing large animals and bringing them down. To do this, they have excellent senses for bringing them down with muscles and long legs for running fast. They have very strong jaws and teeth for holding prey.

Wolves bodies are built for stamina, possessing features ideal for long distance travel. Their narrow chests and powerful backs and legs assist their efficient locomotion. They are capable of covering several miles trotting at about a pace of 10 kilometres per hour (6 miles per hour) and have been known to reach speeds approaching 65 kilometres per hour (40 miles per hour) during a chase. While sprinting, wolves can cover up to 5 metres (16 feet) per run.

A wolf either has long or short fur. The color ranges from black to gray to many shades of brown, white, and an orange-red. Coloration ranges from white to black with combinations between with gold, tan, brown and rust (a single litter can contain a variation of colors). They have a dense undercoat, even in the groin area.

Wolves have two long fang-like teeth called canines that sometimes show from under their lips. They have oval shaped eyes, pointed ears, and claws either white or black. They range in many different sizes: from 5 ½ inches to 7 feet long and 3 inches to 4 feet at shoulder height. Its weight varies on how much food it is able to consume.

Wolves have large heads, long muzzles (distance from the eyes to the top of the nose), and proportionately larger canines than domestic dogs. Wolf eyes appear slanted when viewed head on and are most often yellow in color. Built for speed and agility, wolves are lanky with narrow chests, long legs, and large feet. They often appear "bonier" than domestic dogs. Their front legs are quite close together and front feet toe out. The rear legs of a wolf tend to be cow-hocked or turned in. While a domestic dog will often carry its tail curved up over its back, a wolf carries its tail straight out or down (a dominant wolf will sometimes hold it straight up). Wolves and occasionally some northern breeds of dog, have an obvious gland located halfway down the top of the tail. The gland called the supra caudal functions as a scent carrier. The size of the supra caudal gland varies from that of a dime to 1 ½ inches in diameter. The hair covering the gland will usually contrast with the hair color of the tail and is often quite coarse. Wide tufts of hair often project outward and downward from a wolf's ears, framing the face.

Most adults wolves weigh between 60 and 80 pounds, with females weighing less than the males. Male wolves weigh from 70 to 115 pounds. The females are usually about 10 pounds lighter. It is unusual for a wolf to weigh more than 100 pounds. The smallest wolves come from the Arabian Wolf subspecies, the females of which may weigh as little as 10 kilograms (22 pounds) at maturity. Females in any given wolf population typically weigh about 20% less than their male counterparts. Wolves can measure anywhere from 1.3 to 2 metres (4.5 to 6.5 feet) from the nose to the tip of the tail, which itself accounts for approximately one quarter of overall body length. 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 average 26 to 32 inches tall at the shoulder and measure 57 to 76 inches in length, and the animals are larger in the northwestern United States, Canada, and Alaska. The wolf has a wide range of size, shape and color.

Wolves have a muscular, lean narrow "keel like" chest, unlike the "barrel" chest of a dog. The structure of the skull shows the wolf's role as predator. The broad muzzle of the wolf helps it to hunt large prey. Wolves also have a well developed crest bone on the top of its skull. This is where a large muscle is anchored that operates the wolf's powerful jaws, giving it great strength capable of producing 1,500 pounds per square inch of pressure. Wolves have a flat profile from the top of the skull to the tip of the nose. Dogs, on the other hand, have a steeper angle and a more noticeable "forehead." Wolves also have two dome shaped prominences on the base of their skulls. These large, round areas are much smaller in dogs. Wolf skulls also have a large arching bone on the side. This bone serves to protect the eyes and auditory organs of the wolf. Without such protection, the wolf would be vulnerable to serious injury from the kicking hooves of prey. Wild wolf skulls often show evidence of bone injury. It is believed that younger wolves would be the most easily hurt by such blows since they are the least experienced hunters and more likely to be hit when they make their first attempts to hunt.


The world’s largest wild canid is the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus). Wolves are very intelligent creatures whose upright ears, sharp pointed muzzles, inquiring eyes, and other facial features instantly convey intelligence. In general appearance this species resembles a large domestic dog, but has longer legs, larger feet, a narrower chest and a straight tail. The "brush" tail is long and bushy and is usually carried down or straight out, never curled like a dog's "sickle" tail. Fur is thick, with an outer layer of coarse guard hairs, and a soft undercoat below. The long guard hairs give the coat its color, which undergoes an annual moult in late spring, with a short summer coat growing simultaneously. Wolves are large, but they usually appear much larger because of their long hair. They have two kinds of hairs. There are the long, stiff hairs of the outer coat called "guard hairs", and an "undercoat" of soft fur which grows thick in the winter and helps to insulate its body from the cold. Wolves molt some of their coats in the late spring and summer in large sheets and hunks.

In the winter coat, the hair on their back and sides averages 2 to 2.5 inches (5 to 6.3 cm) in length. Wolves appear lankier and less robust in summer due to the thinner coat. The fur continues to develop into a winter coat in the autumn and winter. The most common fur color is gray flecked with black, with lighter underparts. Some individuals and populations are red, brown, jet black or pure white. White and light-colored fur predominate in the arctic, while black and gray are common in the subarctic and forest regions. Gray prevails in the south. The wolves in north-western Montana are predominantly gray or black. Patterns of color in facial hair accentuate expressive features. Wolves have ruffs of long hair framing the sides of their faces like sideburns.

The longest hair is found in the mane, as long as 6.7 inches (16.75 cm). The mane hair, along with hair on the base of tail, is generally darker than the rest of the body. Starting at the base of the neck, the teardrop-shaped mane of hair elongates into a crest down the spine toward the tail. Over the shoulder, the mane is about 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) wide. The hairs in the mane are 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.7 cm) long and are attached to erectorpilli muscles, which allow the hairs to stand on end and make the wolf appear even larger. Wolves can raise and lower this hair depending on their state of aggression.

Studies of the North American wolf species show a total nose-tip-to-tail-tip length of between 50 to 70 inches (1.3 to 1.8 metres). Of that length, one quarter is tail length. Wolves Stand between 27 to 31 inches (68 to 78 cm) high at the shoulder. Compared to dogs of the same size, wolves' chests are much narrower. Because of this, the wolf's paw tracks are closer together than tracks of dogs.

The wolf has very strong jaws. According to Barry Lopez in "Of Wolves and Men", the jaws of a wolf have a "crushing pressure of perhaps 1,500 (lbs/square inch) compared to 740 (lbs/square inch) for a German Shepherd." Adult humans have 32 teeth, but the dentition of the wolf consists of 42 highly specialized teeth: twelve incisors, four canines, sixteen pre molars, and ten carnassials and molars. The canines or fangs of the wolf are 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) long, strong, sharp, and slightly curved. They can be 2 ½ inches long and these are the teeth used for wounding, puncturing, gripping, grasping, and killing its prey. The incisors are for nipping small pieces of meat, and the carnassials are like scissors and knives. Wolves use them to sheer flesh away from bones. The small front teeth are used to pull the skin. Molars are for grinding, crushing and to chew big chunks of meat into smaller pieces. The wolf does not chew its food much, using its carnassials to scissor off a piece of meat that can then be swallowed in a manageable chunk. Having strong jaws allows the wolf to crush bones to get to the soft marrow, and it also helps the wolf eat most of its prey leaving very little waste.

Humans are plantigrade, walking upon the entire flat foot, sole to heel. All members of the canine and feline families are digitigrade, walking on just their toe tips. Unless a wolf is lying down, the heel of each foot does not come in contact with the ground. The front feet of a wolf are exceptionally large. This is a great advantage to the wolf when it runs on snow, as it allows greater weight distribution and more support to prevent the animal from sinking in as deeply when the snow is soft. The wolf has five toes on each forefoot, but only four are actually needed. The fifth toe, corresponding to our thumb, has regressed. It is found up on the middle of the foot and is known as the dew claw. There are just four toes on each of the hind feet. Each toe pad is surrounded by stiff, bristly hairs, which act as insulation and also provides a better grip on slippery ice surfaces. The claws are strong and blunt because the tips are worn off by constant contact with the ground. These are used for digging and in gripping the earth while running, not for seizing prey. A wolf's front feet are larger than its hind feet, and the toes spread more. The hind foot often lands in the print made by the front foot on the same side.

The Wolf has developed the capacity to survive in the most inhospitable of climates. The wolves in the high arctic endure several winter months of perpetual darkness. Even in February when sun returns to the north, temperatures of -40°C and bitter winds are common. Other wolves are at home in the desert and the dampness of humid areas. The lifespan of a wolf is 7 to 8 years in the wild, but some have lived 10 years or more.


All wolves have individual personalities and no two are alike. Personalities develop through unique emotions and thoughts resulting in different behaviors. They are influenced by genetic make-up and the things they are exposed to. Genetically, different personalities have evolved and persist because some traits are more advantageous than others at any given time--traits that could help ensure survival. Some generalities apply when describing the wolf personality just like one could do for the entire human species, such as imaginative, intelligent, curious, and so on. Also we must take into account the individual differences.

In "The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species" by Dr. L. David Mech, he wrote that the strongest impression wolves can make on an observer is how friendly they are. Adults are friendly toward each other and cubs. There is an innate good feeling between them. Research has shown us that this quality is related directly to the wolf's social nature. Probably the wolf's strongest personality trait is its capacity for making emotional attachments to other individuals. These attachments form quickly and firmly, and they begin to develop when the wolves are just a few weeks old. The cubs become distressed when away from familiar individuals and objects, and are relieved when they return. This ability to form emotional attachments to other individuals results in the formation of the pack as the unit of wolf society. When wolf cubs are raised by humans this social tendency is very noticeable. The wolves usually become extremely attached to the humans and dogs they have early or considerable contact with.

A second characteristic of wolf personality might surprise many people who think of wolves as savage, wild and vicious. Wolves have a basic aversion to fighting and will do much to avoid any aggressive encounters. A tame wolf will become very upset when witnessing its first dog fight. In Dr. Mech's book. a wolf intervened and eventually broke up a dog fight by pulling the aggressor off by the tail. The wolf generally possesses a kind personality that in humans would be labeled "agreeable". A nonviolent nature is very advantageous, considering that the animals spend most of their time in the company of other wolves. A pack would function very inefficiently if its members were constantly fighting. However, under certain circumstances a wolf can be aggressive, such as when harassing prey, meeting strange wolves, and when protecting the den or cubs from other predators. These specific aggressive behaviors are advantageous as well.

It would be a mistake to imagine that aggression is never present in the wolf or any species. It would also be wrong to think that gentleness is not present in the wolf or other species. Life cannot exist without some aggression, just as it cannot without cooperation and gentleness, especially among social animals. A balance between aggressive behaviors and cooperation is always present to favor certain behavioral traits.

We know that the wolf is an extremely intelligent species. Dr. Gordon C. Haber, a noted wolf biologist in Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve, has said that if you imagine the most intelligent, emotional, and sensitive dog you have ever known, that is how all wolves are. It is commonplace and necessary for their survival. Scientists in the social sciences understand that intelligence is a difficult thing to define and measure. When studying human intelligence, there are many biases and difficulties making IQ results not an absolute description of one's intelligence. Nevertheless, we know that wolves are very intelligent based on the overwhelming evidence that they have good memories to associate events, and to learn. In northern Minnesota, where wolves were persecuted extensively by aerial hunters, they soon learned to avoid open areas whenever they heard an aircraft. Once the planes had disappeared the wolves would then cross the open area.

Hunters often claim that the wolf is such an intelligent animal that it makes hunting them a great challenge. The wolves' ability to adapt is evident in the following example: in areas where there are both deer and moose the wolves show a preference to hunt deer because they are smaller. However, on Isle Royale where the only large prey is moose, the wolves there have learned to kill these animals efficiently. Another example of wolf intelligence involves a tame wolf separated from its alpha human for three years. When they were reunited, the wolf was still was able to recognize the man. These examples demonstrate that the wolf shows a high degree of adaptability to varying conditions, is able to learn easily, and retains learned information for a long time.

Individual wolves vary greatly according to people who have reared them. The common idea of the wolf being ferocious is not what people who live closely with them for a long time see. Instead they are impressed by their friendly nature and their varied and unique individual characters. In Dr. L. David Mech's book we can find a documented account of the personalities of a variety of wolves held in captivity. He characterized one male wolf as lordly, timid, and luxury-loving. Another wolf, a female, was described as being fearless, happy, playful, and inventive. A different female was described as a hearty, affectionate, not jealous, and of the undemanding sort. One male was seen as aggressive. Another female was described as being sober, gentle, and withdrawn. Others who have enjoyed the company of wolves have described some individuals as confident, tolerant, and generous natural leaders, as wild and playful, as supportive and full of affection, as strong but kind, patient, and dignified, as not confident, less tolerant or easy-going, as happy, resilient and stern, and as relaxed, kind, lovable and never harsh.

Humans must play roles in society, often described as the masks they must wear to operate within cultures. Wolves must wear these masks also. They must role play within their packs based on their status, and they are acting. They could just as easily change from being a dominant wolf to a submissive wolf and vice versa as conditions change and show all the traits associated with those roles. A wolf's real personality is often hidden under the character of his or her social position.

Intelligent, non-aggressive, and friendly with the ability to make strong emotional attachments are among the traits we can generalize about the wolf. Individual traits are as varied and as similar as our own. The wolf's most indispensable personality trait is the ability to exist as part of a pack, to form attachments with other wolves. They are social animals of the first order. The presence of an understood hierarchy serves the crucial purpose of eliminating conflict. The pack has a defined social structure of five to ten wolves, one that enhances their survival by collective hunting and population control. Social relationships are maintained by vocalization, postural and facial expressions. Due to an understood dominance hierarchy, pack members rarely injure one another. Fatal encounters with other wolf packs are avoided by the use of territories with overlapping boundaries, which are held by scent marking and howling.


The teeth of a wolf are adapted for their role as predators. They are similar to other large meat eating animals such as lions and tigers. Wolves need large powerful jaws for attacking and holding on to their prey. The sagittal crest the bone on the top of the skull, is where the jaw muscles are attached and immense power is concentrated in a wolf’s jaw. It has a crushing pressure of nearly 1,500 pound per square inch, compared to about 750 for a German Shepherd dog. The jaws themselves are massive with teeth specialized for stabbing, shearing, and crunching bones. Their jaws also open farther than those of a dog.

Wolves have 42 teeth compared to 32 for humans. Their teeth are specialized for stabbing, shearing and crushing bones. The first four teeth, front and bottom, are small and are called incisors, used for nipping and gnawing meat from the bone. The largest are the canines, or fangs, which measure over two inches long including the part within the jaw. The canine teeth on the top and bottom of the jaw are robust and can interlock so that the wolf can grip and hold on to struggling prey. Wolves will aim for the nose, rump or throat of the prey in order to bring it down. Once the wolf has grabbed hold on the prey, it will use the great strength in its jaw muscles to hang on. Their premolars are used for slicing and grinding. The back teeth, or carnassial molars, are specially designed to crush bones and mash the meat. They are heavy and large, better suited to bone crushing than those of other canids, though not as specialized as those found in hyenas. Their crushing force is sufficient to break open most bones, as well as cut through half inch rope with one snap. The last molars are used for pulverizing and grinding food.

Besides hunting, wolves' teeth serve other purposes as well. Adults carry wolf pups with their teeth. They are also weapons used against other predators or threatening wolves. Wolves also use their teeth as "ritual weapons". They may show the some of the incisors and canine teeth in a "submissive grin". "Bared teeth" is an early warning of the possibility of an attack, especially if the muzzle is wrinkled. Just before a wolf bites, its mouth will be wide open. Thus teeth play a role in hunting, protection and communication.


Next to smell, the sense of hearing is the most acute of the wolf's senses. Wolves can hear as far as six miles away in the forest and ten miles away on the open tundra. They can hear well up to a frequency of 26 kHz, which is greater than that of the fox. Some researchers believe that the actual maximum frequency detected by wolves is much higher, perhaps up to 80 kHz. By comparison, the upper auditory limits for humans is 20 kHz, and less as they age. According to some naturalists, wolves' hearing is greater than that of the dog. The triangular upright ears of the wolf are designed for picking up sound. Wolf hearing is sharp enough to detect the fall of leaves in autumn. The legend that wolves fear the sound of string instruments may have a basis in fact, as captive wolves in the Regent's Park Zoo were showed signs of intense distress when hearing low minor chords.


Wolves have keen eye sight and are quick to detect the slightest movement of anything in front of them. Being major predators, their eyes are on the front of their heads, and they have probably a little less than 180-degree vision, unlike their prey species, which can see over 300 degrees of a circle. Wolves’ eyes have an extra lens for night vision. A light-reflecting layer on a wolf’s eye called the tapetum lucidum (“bright tapestry”) causes a wolf’s eyes to glow in the dark and may also facilitate night vision. While a wolf’s color perception and visual acuity maybe be inferior to a human’s, a wolf’s eyes are extremely sensitive to movement. Their eyesight is not as powerful as that of dogs, though their night vision is the most advanced of any Canidae.


The sense of smell in the wolf is highly developed, as would be expected in an animal possessing numerous scent glands. It is up to 100 times greater than found in humans. Wolves have 280 million scent cells – more than the number of visual receptors in their retinas – whereas humans have only about 5 million. Wolves can detect odors that are hundreds to millions of times fainter than what humans can detect. The wolf often walks with its head down, nose close to the ground. They rely on their noses for two of the most basic activities: hunting and communicating with other wolves. Smells, more than sights or sounds, determine where a wolf will travel next. While hunting, moose are most often detected first by smell. Wolves commonly hunt into the wind, and by doing so can smell moose from 300 yards away. A moose with jaw necrosis is vulnerable, and wolves can almost certainly smell that a moose has jaw necrosis before even seeing it.

The distance any scent can be detected is governed by atmospheric conditions but, even under the most favorable conditions, 1.75 miles denotes a particularly keen sense of smell. Wolves usually travel until they encounter the scent of some prey species ahead of them. They then move directly toward the prey in an effort to capture it. However, their sense of smell is relatively weak when compared to that of some hunting dog breeds, being able to detect carrion upwind no farther than 2 to 3 km. Because of this, they rarely capture hidden hares or birds, though they can easily follow fresh tracks. Captive wolves are known to be able to detect what foods their handlers have eaten by smell.


The determination of taste in wolves is made difficult by the influence of smell, which very often plays a major role in the way a food tastes. Wolves have taste receptors for the four taste categories: salty, bitter, sweet, and acidic. Felines on the other hand, do not respond to sweetness. The sweetness receptivity is useful to wolves because sweet berries and other fruits have a minor role in their diet. In captivity wolves love eating watermelon and other sweet foods they rarely encounter in the wild. Sometimes wild wolves will raid farmland for sweet tasting food.


Wolf legs are long, allowing them to take longer steps and to run better. They have large feet, averaging between four and five inches long, with non retractable claws. Their front feet are larger than their back feet. They have five toes on their front feet and four on their rear feet. They run on their toes, which helps them to stop and turn quickly and to prevent their paw pads from wearing down. It also lengthens their legs, making it possible for them to run faster. Long legs make it possible to take longer steps as it runs. Some have compared it to running on stilts. As wolves walk, they usually place their hind foot in the track left by the front foot, thus making their tracks appear as a straight line. This is one way to distinguish wolf tracks from those of dogs who tend to zig-zag as they walk.

A wolf's front feet are larger than its hind feet, and the toes spread more. The hind foot often lands in the print made by the front foot on the same side. Wolves' paws help them when they run through the snow. Basically they act as snow shoes. When they are running over snow or muddy ground their big feet act like snowshoes and help the wolves feet not sink in the snow. With their large paws, they are able to run quickly and swiftly across and on top of the snow. Wolves have an extra web between their toes for snow walking. The warmth of their footpads is regulated independently of the rest of the body, and is maintained at just above tissue-freezing point where the pads come in contact with ice and snow. They can travel great distances covering up to 200 km in 48 hours. Wolves are also capable of running at speeds of 56 to 64 km (34 to 38 miles) per hour, and can continue running for more than 20 minutes, though not necessarily at that speed. Wolves are fast runners, partly because they have long legs like stilts. Long legs make it possible to take longer steps as it runs. In cold climates, wolves can reduce the flow of blood near their skin to conserve body heat.


Gray Wolves have very dense and fluffy winter fur, with short underfur and long, coarse guard hairs which give the coat its color. The coat is a thick layer of soft and fine fur topped by long hair. 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 lankier and less robust in summer because their coat thins out. They moult some of their coats in late spring or early summer to adapt to the climate. Most of the underfur and some of the guard hairs are shed in late spring or early summer, and grow back in the autumn. The longest hairs occur on the back, particularly on the front quarters and neck. Especially long hairs are found on the shoulders, and almost form a crest on the upper part of the neck. The hairs on the cheeks are elongated and form tufts. The ears are covered in short hairs which project from the fur. Short, elastic and closely adjacent hairs are present on the limbs from the elbows down to their Achilles tendons.

Winter fur is highly resistant to cold. Their fur coat grows about 3 inches thick during winter. Wolves in northern climates can rest comfortably in open areas at −40° by placing their muzzles between the rear legs and covering their faces with their tail. Wolf fur provides better insulation than dog fur, and like wolverine fur, it does not collect ice when warm breath is condensed against it. Their fur shuts out moisture, so when snow gets onto their fur it doesn't melt, and keeps the wolf dry. In warm climates, the fur is coarser and scarcer than in northern wolves.

Female wolves tend to have smoother furred limbs than males, and generally develop the smoothest overall coats as they age. Older wolves generally have more white hairs in the tip of the tail, along the nose and on the forehead. The winter fur is retained longest in lactating females, with some hair loss around their nipples. Fur length on the middle of the back is 60 to 70 mm. The length of the guard hairs on the shoulders generally does not exceed 90 mm, but can reach 110 to 130 mm.

Coat colour ranges from almost pure white through various shades of blond, cream, and ochre to grays, browns, and blacks. Differences in coat colour between sexes are largely absent, though females may have redder tones. Fur colour often has a camouflage purpose, although some scientists believe that the blended colors have more to do with emphasizing communication gestures during interaction. Patterns of color in facial hair accentuate expressive features. Black coloured wolves, which occur through wolf-dog hybridization, rarely occur in Eurasia, where interactions with domestic dogs has been reduced over the past thousand years due to the depletion of wild wolf populations. They are more common in North America. About half of the wolves in the reintroduced wolf population in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park are black. In southern Canada and Minnesota the black phase is more common than the white, though gray coloured wolves predominate.

In Wisconsin, wolf fur is usually gray or brown mixed with black, white and tan. During the winter, fur gets darker on the neck and rump. The color of a wolf's fur can vary, although gray is the most common color. Wolves may also have black, reddish or even white fur. In fact, the wolf has one of the widest ranges of color of any mammal in North America. The color helps to camouflage the wolf by allowing it to blend into its surroundings. Wolves that live in dark wooded areas, often have dark fur. In places where the plants change colors throughout the year, the wolves that inhabit the area can have fur of many shades of color. White and light-colored fur predominate in the arctic, while black and gray are common in the subarctic and boreal forest regions. Gray prevails in the south. The wolves in north-western Montana are predominantly gray (45% ) or black (55% ).

When wolves hunt the color of their fur can help them get closer to their prey without being seen. The colors of the fur can blend in well with the background colors in the landscape, causing them to disappear from sight of prey. To protect themselves when it rains or snows, wolves have three "capes" of fur on their back. These hairs grow in bundles and the hair on these capes can be five inches long. Water runs off these capes like it runs off of a raincoat. These layers of fur help keep a wolf warm even in temperatures reaching 40 degrees (F) below zero. The wolf will also use its tail to keep warm in winter by wrapping it around its face when lying down.

Wolf pups are born with fuzzy, dark hair. As they get older, their hair lightens. Old wolves have gray-white hair. Wolves use their hair to communicate. By raising or flattening its hair, a wolf may signal aggression, anger or dominance. By holding its "hackles", or the hair on the back of its neck stiff, a wolf signals aggression or dominance. The hair around the face can also puff out making the wolf's aggressive stare look even larger to an enemy.


Wolves are known to wash mud from there coats in rivers and streams. They depend on their thick coats in winter, so it is not surprising that they spend part of their leisure time grooming themselves. It is also likely that grooming other pack members helps reinforce the social bonds that tie the pack together. Two wolves will lick each others coats, nibbling gently with their teeth to remove foreign matter. Reciprocal grooming is especially common during courtship. Injured wolves are intensely groomed by other pack members, providing both physical and mental comfort.

Cleaning the fur, skin and orifices of foreign material by licking, chewing or scratching is done by a solitary wolf. Licking by the tongue generally moves in the same direction as the fur. Chewing is done by taking small sections of the area to be cleaned between the front teeth and making short, quick biting motions, moving in the same direction as the fur. Scratching is generally performed by the hind paws, but sometimes the front paws. The head is lowered to the body, a paw is raised to the fur and begins to rapidly move up and down. It is finished when the muzzle no longer touches the body or when all four paws are relaxed.

Wolf Pelts

Wolf pelts were once valuable as clothing, objects for trade and for ruffs or coats. Today wolf pelts are primarily used for scarfs and the trimmings of women's garments, though they are occasionally used for jackets, short capes, coats, mukluks and rugs. Possibly their main use is as a trimming for winter coat hoods, to protect the faces of humans from the cold. The quality of wolf pelts rests on the density and strength of the fur fibre, which keeps the fur upright and gives the pelt an appealing bushy aspect. These characteristics are mostly found in northern wolf populations, but gradually lessen further south in warmer climates. North American wolf pelts are among the most valuable, as they are silkier and fluffier than Eurasian pelts The pelts of wolves killed by poison are mostly worthless.

Pelts were also used in North American Indian ritual dances and worn by some shamans, or medicine men. They were important to many Indian tribes and considered by some to be powerful medicine. Sacred articles were wrapped in wolf skin called "wolf bundles". Some tribes also wove wolf hair and buffalo hair together in small sacred blankets. Native American hunters used wolf pelts as a disguise to allow them to creep close to the buffalo to get a good shot. They knew that buffalo were quite accustomed to having wolves walk among them. They did not fear wolves unless they were vulnerable because of disease, injury, or if guarding their young.

In Medieval Europe, pelts were considered the only practical aspect of wolves, though they were seldom used due to the skin's foul odor. In Scandinavian folklore, wolf-skin girdles assisted in transforming the wearers into werewolves. Several Native American tribes used wolf pelts for medicinal purposes, though some Inuit tribes favor dog skin over wolf skin, as the latter is thinner and more prone to tearing when sewn. The Pawnee wore wolf skins as capes when exploring enemy territories. The United States Army used wolf skin for parkas during the later stages of WWII and the Korean War to protect the faces of soldiers from frostbite. In the Soviet Union, between 1976 and 1988, 30,000 wolf pelts were produced annually. Recent statistics indicate that 6,000 to 7,000 wolf skins are internationally traded each year, with Canada, the former Soviet Union, Mongolia and China being the largest exporters. Canada has the largest wolf population in the world, no legal protection of wolves whatsoever, and exports more wolf pelts than any other country. The United States and Great Britain are the largest importers. Overall, the harvesting of wolves for their fur has little impact on their population, as only the northern varieties, whose numbers are stable, are of commercial value. Wolf trapping for fur remains a lucrative source of income for many Native Americans.

Running and trotting

Wolves walk, trot, lope, or gallop. Their legs are long, and they walk at about 4 miles (6.4 km) per hour, but can reach speeds of 35 mph during a chase. A wolf can normally run about 20 miles (32 km) per hour, and up to 40 miles (56 km) per hour when necessary, and can continue running for more than 20 minutes, though not necessarily at that speed. Their usual mode of travel is to trot, which they do at various speeds, generally between 8 to 10 miles (12.8 to 16 km) per hour. They usually trot around 5 miles (8 km) per hour. Wolves can keep up this pace all day and have been known to cover 60 miles (96 km) in a single night. They have been clocked at speeds of over 40 miles (64 km) per hour for a distance of several miles. Wolves do not run at full speed until they get close to their prey as possible. At that point, they make a high-speed chase to test the animal.

In the wild, wolves may range up to 30 to 125 miles per day and from a standing position can jump vertically 6 to 8 feet. In cold climates, wolves can reduce the flow of blood near their skin to conserve body heat. The warmth of the footpads is regulated independently of the rest of the body, and is maintained at just above tissue-freezing point where where the pads come in contact with ice and snow. Wolves are very comfortable in the water, and do not hesitate to wade through icy streams or swim across short stretches of lake. In summer, wolves often bathe in streams to keep cool, and they will readily follow prey into water.

Wolves are also great leapers. One female wolf was documented as leaping over 30 feet in a single bound.


Wolves love to play. They shoulder one another, bump bodies together, flop tails over each other's backs, and leap up placing forepaws around others' necks. Play especially in cubs, develops strength and hunting skills, and aids in establishing pack communication and hierarchy. It enriches their minds, and keeps them active, as well as in high spirits. Play is an activity often observed within a pack. The intention to play is often signaled by the gesture well known to dog owners of dropping the front quarters into a crouch position, with a smiling face and wagging tail. Adult wolves stage mock fights, play chase, and leap on each other. The ambushing of unwary pack members is a favorite game. When they are not hunting or sleeping, wolves are usually out exploring or playing. Wolves are fond of water and love their daily swim, which also helps to eliminate ticks and fleas. They can swim distances of up to 8 miles (13 kilometers) aided by small webs between their toes.

Play is vital to every stage of a wolf’s life. It allows wolves to release pent-up energy, hone their physical skills, and maintain social bonds. It also gives pack members opportunities to ease tensions and cross barriers generated by the pack’s hierarchical structure. During play individuals often change roles. Wolves often play with tremendous energy but rarely harm one another. Not uncommonly, dominant animals play the clown, acting submissively toward those of lower status, perhaps testing their physical mettle or just their limits of fun. Observing these subtle and shifting relationships makes us realize that wolves show aggression, affection, humor and most characteristics of humans.

Cubs will wrestle and play fight. They watch other adults and try to imitate them. Some wolves can do this for hours. Sometimes they will pretend to hunt and will capture bones of a carcass near by. It is what they consider their prize. Other adolescent wolves years will play tag and chase each other. The sign for this to lay down and have there rump in the air. Their tails are usually wagging. Wolves play tag, push and shove, wrestle, and flag – which is played with a piece of hide from a dead animal. A wolf grabs the hide and the other wolves try to catch him and take it away from him.

One of the more popular games wolves play is push and shove. In this game, the wolves try to grab each other by the fur on the neck and pull the other wolf around. It is sort of like a wrestling match. The classic play stance includes ears that are back and pointed up. The wolf is saying, lets play. It is up to another wolf to agree to play. Wolves will also use the play bow. The wolf spreads its legs apart and bows down, something dogs also do.

Group play is common. Tag is a favorite game played by a group of wolves. The object of tag is to pick out one wolf and nip at him. The wolf that was picked out is considered "it". A little while later, another wolf will be "it". An example would be a wolf chasing another wolf and nip him on the rear. The wolf that was nipped will then have to chase the other wolf. Wolves never seem to tire of this game, and like to play it on frozen lakes.

Wolves also play alone. They rub themselves in the snow and lie on their backs to make the wolf equivalent of a snow angel. When it is all done and the play is over it is time to stretch out and take a long deserved nap.


Wolves can suffer injuries from large animals of prey that defend themselves when attacked. When the pack attacks a large moose or bison they may be injured from kicks, and if the prey has antlers or horns it can cause a lot of damage. Wolves can be trampled under hooves, and Artist George Catlin reported an 1844 attack on a buffalo by a pack of wolves in which two of the wolves were crushed to death under the hooves of the animal. Other wolf injuries are caused by falls from rock ledges, drowning in swift rivers, fights with other wolves over territory or near mating season, attacks by bears, and infections from porcupine quills. In Denali National park in Alaska two wolves were killed in an avalanche.

The most common cause of death for wolves is conflict with humans over livestock losses. Wolf predation on livestock is fairly uncommon, but wolves that do prey on them are often killed to protect the livestock. Another serious threat is human encroachment into wolf territory, which leads to habitat loss for wolves and their prey. Man also causes injuries and death to wolves with leg-hold traps, illegal hunting, poisoning, and hitting wolves with cars. Overall, the greatest threat to wolves is human fear and misunderstanding about the species. Many fairy tales and myths misrepresent wolves as villainous, dangerous demons.

Life Span

In the wild wolves can live up to 13 years or more, but in a protected wolf park, zoo, or a controlled area of land a wolf can live to be up to 16 years old. Most wolves usually live to be to around 8 years of age. The record wolf life span is about 20 years of age. Life in the wild is difficult for the wolf, with human population taking up more and more wolf habitat, and with wolf hunters after them, a long life span is unlikely. In a controlled environment they can live longer because they are safe from the outside dangers of traps, snares, enemies and poisons. Wolves in the wild have a lifespan of 5 to 10 years and have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.

The life of a wolf is difficult and typically short. The chances of cubs survival are highly variable. In some years for some packs most or all cubs die. In other years, most or all survive. Of the wolves that survive their first six to nine months, most are dead by three or four years of age. Every year, one in four or five adult wolves dies in a healthy wolf population. Alpha wolves tend to be the longest lived. They commonly live for between six and nine years. Usually only about a half of the cubs born in a year survive to their first birthday. Of the cubs that survive their first year, only about one or two of every ten rise to the level of Alpha. Most die without ever reproducing, and few wolves ever live long enough to grow old. These rates of mortality are normal, even when humans are not involved in the death of wolves.

Wolves are intensely social. They are born into a family, and spend most of their time with other wolves. Wolves know each other very well. They live in a world where one out of every four or five of the wolves they know die. The causes of wolf deaths are primarily lack of food and being killed by other wolves in conflict over food. This fact contradicts the perception of wolves as wasteful gluttons, as they are usually portrayed. Most wolves die in the process of dispersing. Dispersal is a tremendous risk, but one worth taking. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is reproducing. Reproduction is very unlikely within the pack to which a wolf is born. It is better to risk death for some chance of finding a mate and a territory than to live safely but have virtually no chance of reproduction. Dispersing wolves suffer higher mortality rates, but once they have established a territory their chances of survival are much better.

Wolves suffer from diseases such as canine parvovirus, canine distemper, and heart worm. However, the biggest factor in wolf mortality is human: illegal shooting, illegal trapping, and being hit by cars. Studies of the deaths of the wolves in Wisconsin that have been radio collared show that 60% die from human causes. Thus if wolves are to survive in Wisconsin, three conditions must exist: they need an adequate supply of prey such as deer, hares and beaver; they need access to large areas of habitat where they will be away from human danger; and they need people to understand the wolf and its habits and to possess a willingness to coexist.


For cooperation to exist between any group of animals, some type or form of communication is necessary. Among wolves, communication is a highly developed skill. Without this skill, constant and clear communication between pack members would not be possible. Like humans, wolves use three main avenues of communication: olfactory (scent), postural (body language) and vocal. Scientists recognize at least ten different categories of sound, such as howls and growls. Each is believed to communicate a different, context-dependent message. Wolves also have an elaborate body language. As subtle as body language can be, even scientists recognize communication to be taking place by the positions of about fifteen different body parts (ears, tail, teeth, etc.). Each body part can hold one of several positions (tail up, out, down, etc.). There could be hundreds to thousands of different messages communicated by different combinations of these body positions and vocal noises. Scientists understand just a fraction of what wolves are able to communicate to each other. The wolf submissive position is displayed by means of body language: ears back, head down, tail between the legs, or a raised leg to expose the stomach and genitalia.

Body Language

Wolves use body language and facial expressions to communicate with each other, one of the few animals that communicate this way. Unlike other animals, wolves have a variety of distinctive facial expressions they use to communicate and maintain pack unity. Dominant wolves will freely look other animals directly in the eye to declare and reinforce their superior rank. Posture is used to indicate the wolf’s position in the pack. Submission to a dominant pack member is indicated by a cowering stance and whining. The submissive wolf will lick the dominant wolf’s face. A wolf will growl, snarl, lay back its ears, and raise the hair on its back to let another wolf know to back off. When two wolves have a disagreement, both of them may bare their teeth and try to look as fierce as they can. The less dominant wolf usually gives up and the fight is canceled. The less dominant wolf will roll over to show that it has given up.

Postural communication in wolves is composed of a variety of facial expressions, tail positions and piloerection (goose bumps). Aggressive or self assertive wolves are characterized by their slow and deliberate movements, high body posture and raised hackles, while submissive ones carry their bodies low, sleeken their fur and lower their ears and tail. When breeding males encounter subordinate family members, they may stare at them, standing erect and still with their tails horizontal to their spine. The pre-caudal scent glands may play a role in expressing aggression, as combative wolves will raise the base of their tails whilst drooping the tip, thus positioning the scent glands at the highest point.

A great deal of the communication among wolf pack members involves body language. Specialized behaviors and postures have evolved that help to reduce the aggression between individual animals. This body language helps the pack live together and function as a harmonious unit. Facial expressions are among the most obvious visual ways in which wolves express emotions.

Wolves use body language to convey the rules of the pack. A wolf pack is very organized. Rule number one says that the pack is made up of leaders and followers. The pack leaders are the male parent and the female parent – usually the father and mother of the other pack members. They are likely to be the oldest, largest, strongest and most intelligent wolves in the pack. They are known as the Alpha wolves and are usually the only members of the pack to produce cubs. Any wolf can become an Alpha. However, to do so, it must find an unoccupied territory and a member of the opposite sex with which to mate. Or, more rarely, it moves into a pack with a missing Alpha and takes its place, or perhaps kills another Alpha and usurps its mate. The Alpha male and female are dominant, or in charge of the pack. To communicate dominance, the Alphas carry their tails high and stand tall. Less dominant wolves exhibit submissive behavior by holding their tails down and often lower their bodies while pawing at the higher ranking wolves.

There are two levels of submissive behavior: active and passive. Active submission is a contact activity in which signs of inferiority are evident such as crouching, muzzle licking and tail tucking. The behaviors typical of active submission are first used by cubs to elicit regurgitation in adults. These behaviors are retained into adulthood by subordinate wolves, where they function as a gesture of intimacy and the acceptance of the differentiation of the roles of the wolves that are involved. Active submission occurs often as a form of greeting, and involves the submissive wolf approaching another in a low posture, and licking the other wolf's face.

Passive submission usually occurs as a reaction to the approach of a dominant animal, and consists of the submissive wolf lying partly on its side or back, exposing the vulnerable ventral side of its chest and abdomen and allowing the dominant wolf to sniff its anogenital area. The subordinate wolf may also abduct its rear leg to allow for anogenital inspection by the dominant wolf. If two wolves have a disagreement, they may show their teeth and growl at each other. Both wolves try to look as fierce as they can. Usually the less dominant wolf, the subordinate one, gives up before a fight begins. To show that it accepts the other wolf's authority, it rolls over on its back. Reactions to this behavior may range from tolerance (the dominant wolf standing over the submissive wolf) to mortal attack, particularly in the case of a trespassing alien wolf. Following the dominance rules usually keeps the wolves in a pack from fighting among themselves and hurting each other.

Wolves convey much with their bodies. If they are angry, they may stick their ears straight up and bare their teeth. A wolf who is suspicious pulls its ears back and squints. Fear is often shown by flattening the ears against the head. A wolf who wants to play dances and bows playfully.

Generally, bared teeth with ears erect and pointed forward indicate a threat by dominant wolves. Conversely, closed mouths, slit-like eyes and ears pulled back and held close to the head indicate subordinate behavior. Wolves also use tail positions to communicate emotion. Threatening wolves hold their tails high, almost perpendicular, while submissive wolves lower themselves before dominant pack members, tails tucked between their legs.

Passive submission usually occurs as a reaction to the approach of a dominant animal, and consists of the submissive wolf lying partly on its back and allowing the dominant wolf to sniff its anogenital area. Active submission occurs often as a form of greeting, and involves the submissive wolf approaching another in a low posture, and licking the other wolf's face. A subordinate wolf will cringe towards the leader with tail low and bent legs, ears back and down, in a submissive nature. At other times, active submission involves a group of subordinate wolves surrounding the dominant wolf with their noses up against it. Sometimes the pack will howl. Various facial muscles, eyes, ears and the nose are extremely important when wolves are expressing their feelings. Bared teeth, an open mouth, ears erect and pointed forward indicate a threat by a dominant wolf.

A snarling wolf, or one that has tightened its lips to expose its teeth, is surely a something most people would avoid. This is exactly what the snarling wolf intends. A snarl among wolf facial postures is a display that could have several different motivations. However all possess a common theme: a greatly disturbed wolf. The basis behind a snarl is to display the teeth, which in many species is known as a posture of threat or defense. Bears, large cats, and even some sharks are commonly known to perform a type of snarl when confronting potential danger. Wolves will snarl for both aggressive and defensive reasons. A dominant wolf may snarl at a submissive wolf during a dominance display, or a submissive wolf may snarl in return as a sign of defiance against a dominant wolf. The position of the lips and teeth are the same in both cases, however the eye and body position is much different.

Wolves use eye position as an important form of communication, both within their pack and toward other animals around them like us. A dominant or aggressive wolf has an elevated body posture with eyes staring directly at the submissive wolf, whereas a submissive wolf has a lowered body posture with an averted gaze. Gray Wolves will look one another in the eye, as humans do, when communicating a greeting, dominance behaviors, and other social gestures. Wolves communicate regularly through subtle and sometimes dramatic facial postures, however, humans have become quite stoic in facial postures through time probably because of our heavy dependency on verbal communication. Still, most humans maintain very subtle posturing through their eyes, a trait captive wolves can learn to decipher. Hence, eye contact with any canine, from your dog to a wild wolf, is a beneficial action that promotes social communication and bonding. There may be times when eye contact is not appropriate with an unknown canine that exhibits potential hostile behaviors, such as growling and snarling.

The process of avoiding direct eye contact, known as averting gaze, will show the aggressive canine that you mean to avoid a fight. In wolves, a submissive wolf regularly averts gaze when a dominant wolf attempts a dominant display toward them. During drastic submissive displays, the submissive wolf will even open their eyes wide when averting gaze, thus showing the whites of their eyes. This behavior is thought to be the most dramatic of submissive eye postures.

Another behavior to avoid with unknown canines, especially wolves, is the fixed or aggressive stare directly into their eyes. Such a stare is a blatant challenge of that canine's rank and social status. If performed toward a dominant wolf, a reciprocal challenge and fight is likely to ensue. High ranking wolves use this technique to assert their rank over submissive pack members or as a challenge to another trespassing wolf pack.

When wolves are together, they commonly indulge in behaviors such as nose pushing, jaw wrestling, cheek rubbing and facial licking. The mouthing of each others' muzzles is a friendly gesture, while clamping on the muzzle with bared teeth is a dominance display. Dominant wolves may assert themselves by straddling over a subordinate family member. At a kill, wolves will protect the carcass from afar from other wolves by flattening their ears outwardly, thus indicating that they are covering something belonging to them.

One of the most obvious communication postures observed in wolves is tail position. Although the positioning of the tail is one of the most frequently observed communication techniques, it is also one of the simplest forms of communication. There are two factors to evaluate when discussing tail posture: elevation and movement. The elevation of the tail correlates to the hierarchy rank of the individual, generally the higher the tail placement the higher the wolf's rank. There are five different tail heights that have become the standard in explaining all tail positions. A T1 tail posture is when the tail is at full height, pointing straight up in the air. This position is typically reserved for the Alpha pair of the pack. A T2 tail is when the tail extends in a straight line pointing away from the body, parallel with the spine and ground. This position is usually utilized by beta males and other high ranking members. A T3 tail occurs when the tail is held at a relaxed state, or pointing straight toward the ground. Most mid-ranking wolves maintain T3 tails. A T3.5 tail is when the tail points at the ground like a T3, however the tail is pressed against the back of the hind legs in this lower rank posture. Finally, a T4 tail, which is usually reserved for omegas, is when the tail is tucked against the abdomen between the legs. Each individual wolf can alter their tail posture as necessary to communicate their dominance or submission. For example, a mid-ranking wolf may display a T2 tail when near an omega, but then quickly change the posture to a T3 or T3.5 if an alpha approaches the area.

The movement of an individual's tail is also an important communication factor. Wolves wag their tails like dogs. However contrary to most dog owners, we do not describe the behaviors as a sign of happiness. Generally, wolves wag their tails when there is an increase of energy or excitement occurs. There are two specific styles of tail wagging that wolves perform: rigid or fluid movement. A rigid tail (like a pendulum) wag means the wolf is excited and has dominant tendencies. A fluid, or snake-like wag typically is a signal of play or greeting toward other pack members. The elevation and movement of each wolf's tail work together to describe the behavior of each individual. So, a wolf who is rigidly wagging a T1 tail is exhibiting intense dominance, however a wolf fluidly wagging a T3 tail is probably soliciting social play with other pack members. Wolves can alter their tail posture rapidly in order to maintain coherent communication within the pack structure. Tail posture is an important tool wolves use to maintain hierarchy stability through accurate communication.


The wolf has a complex vocal communication system ranging from whines to growls, howls, whines, whimpers, squeaks, yelps, snarls, and moans. Wolves rarely bark, but they may do so as an alarm call or during play. They do not bark as loudly or continuously as dogs do, but may bark a few times and retreat from perceived danger. Barking has a fundamental frequency between 320 to 904 Hz, and is usually made by startled wolves. Wolves may bark when their den is disturbed of if they are surprised at a kill. In captivity they may learn to bark more often if they hear dogs doing it. Typically, on rare occasions a wolf will utter one "woof" to other wolves. The "woof" basically means "Red alert!", "Did you see that?", and so on. This "woof" is the origin of the wolf's name. The wolf is one of the very few animals that can tell you what it is. Wolves growl when they are attempting to threaten another wolf or are behaving aggressively. Growling has a fundamental frequency of 380 to 450 Hz, and is usually emitted during food challenges. Cubs commonly growl when playing. One variation of the howl is accompanied by a high pitched whine, which precedes a lunging attack. Whining is associated with situations of anxiety, curiosity, inquiry and intimacy such as greeting, feeding cubs and playing. Whimpering tends to serve as either a submissive or friendly greeting sound, since young cubs and wolves attempting to appear submissive often whimper.

A wolf howl can last anywhere from 3 to 11 seconds. Pack members recognize each others voices. Wolves howl to assemble the pack, usually before and after hunts, to pass on an alarm especially at a den site, to locate each other during a storm or unfamiliar territory, and to communicate across great distances. When a wolf becomes separated from his pack, it howls. The other members of his pack respond, giving him a sound to guide him home. During a hunt, howling may be used to signal the location of each wolf to other members of the family. The pack will scatter out and use howls to keep in contact with each other. If a wolf finds prey or food, it will call the others with a special howl. Howling is the one form of communication used by wolves that is intended for long distance. A defensive howl is used to keep the pack together and strangers away, to stand their ground and protect young cubs who cannot yet travel from danger, and protect kill sites. A social howl is used to locate one another, rally together and possibly just for fun.

The howl of a wolf is mostly described as deep and mournful. Theberge and Falls described it as: "The howl is a continuous sound from about half a second to 11 seconds in length. Most of the time, the pitch remains constant or varies smoothly, and may change direction as many as four or five times. Total intensity does not greatly vary throughout." A howling session by a single wolf lasts an average of 35 seconds, during which the animal howls several times. A howling session by a pack lasts an average of 85 seconds. It is initiated by one wolf, and after its first or second howl one or more others may join in. It is extremely difficult to assess how many wolves are howling if there are more than 3 or 4. Fuller found that more than 80% of wolf howls were heard at 0.9 miles (1.5 km) and less, but none were heard at greater than 1.5 miles (2.5 km). This research was conducted in flat, wooded terrain. There are many misconceptions regarding the reasons why wolves howl. Contrary to popular belief, wolves do not howl for the sake of howling at the moon and despite the traditional imagery, wolves do not always sit when they howl, they often remain standing. Under ideal conditions, a wolf's howl can be heard from as far away as 10 miles (16 kilometres).

Except for high-pitched yapping if cubs are present, wolf howls almost never include barking. The howls of coyotes are higher pitched than wolf howls and usually include yapping and barking before, during, and after howling. The howling of large breeds of dogs are sometimes difficult to distinguish from wolves, but dog howls almost always include some barking and are usually associated with human activity.

Wolf howling consists of a fundamental frequency which may lie between 150 and 780 Hz, and consists of up to 12 harmonically related overtones. The pitch usually remains constant or varies smoothly, and may change direction as many as four or five times. Wolves from different geographic locations may howl in different ways. The howls of European wolves are much more protracted and melodious than those of North American wolves, whose howls are louder and have a stronger emphasis on the first syllable. The two are however mutually intelligible, because North American wolves have been recorded to respond to European-style howls made by biologists.

Howling can also serve as a declaration of territory or a sign of protection such as protecting a fresh kill. Large packs of wolves will howl more than smaller packs of wolves. This is because smaller packs do not want to draw unnecessary attention to themselves. Adjacent packs may respond to each others howls, which can mean trouble for the smaller of the two. Therefore, wolves tend to howl with great care.

Wolves howl at various levels of tones and pitches which tends to prevent a listener from accurately estimating the number of wolves involved. This concealment of numbers makes a listening rival pack wary of what action to take. For example, confrontation could mean bad news if the rival pack gravely underestimates the howling packs numbers. People have often guessed, based on listening to howls, that a pack of wolves contained up to 20 individuals, when there were only 3 or 4. Wolves tend to howl the most during the twilight hours, usually before the adults go and hunt and on their return. Wolves also tend to howl more during their breeding season and throughout rearing of cubs. The cubs in turn will begin to howl and will be provoked into howling sessions quite easily. Such random howling usually has a communicative intent and has no adverse consequences so early in a wolfs life. Howling becomes less random as wolves learn to distinguish howling pack members from rival wolves.

Sometimes wolf packs howl together just for the fun of it. One wolf starts howling and the others join in. While they don't howl at the moon, they do howl more when it's lighter at night, which occurs more often when the moon is full. Male wolves give voice through an octave, passing to a deep bass with a stress on "O", while females produce a modulated nasal baritone with stress on "U". Cubs almost never howl, while yearling wolves produce howls ending in a series of dog-like yelps. Howls used for calling pack mates to a kill are long, smooth sounds similar to the beginning of the cry of a horned owl. When pursuing prey, they emit a higher pitched howl, vibrating on two notes. When closing in on their prey, they emit a combination of a short bark and a howl. When howling together, wolves harmonize rather than chorus on the same note, thus creating the illusion of there being more wolves than there actually are. Lone wolves typically avoid howling in areas where other packs are present. Wolves do not respond to howls in rainy weather and when satiated.

Although all the functions of howling are not known, scientists think that one of the main reasons wolves howl is to assemble the pack. Another possible function of howling is to claim territory. Some experts think that wolves can identify other wolves through their howls. Whines are used often at the den site and are used primarily by the adult female. They are thought to be sounds of affection. Growling conveys aggressiveness and usually comes from dominant wolves posing a threat. Some experts think barking signifies alarm, while others think it is the call of the chase. It could also indicate any kind of excitement. Whimpering may be used by a mother to indicate her willingness to nurse her young. It is also used to indicate "I give up" if they are in a submissive position and another wolf is dominating them.

Wolves howl to greet one another, announce their location, define their territory, and call the pack together. They 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 pitch of a howl is constant or, if it varies, does so smoothly. 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.

Other vocalisations of wolves are usually divided into three categories: growls, barks and whines. Barking has a fundamental frequency between 320 to 904 Hz, and is usually emitted by startled wolves. Wolves do not bark as loudly or continuously as dogs do, but will bark a few times and retreat from perceived danger. In captivity, wolves may learn to bark more often if they hear dogs doing so. Barking is used as a warning. A mother may bark to her cubs because she senses danger, or a bark or bark-howl may be used to show aggression in defense of the pack or territory. Usually barking is done within the pack to try to get something in motion. It can be a signal that the pack is in danger so they need to run. It can be a signal that it is time for the pack to move on from a certain area. Sometimes the Alpha male will bark to get the attention of the beta female. It is all part of the structure and organization within the pack.

Growling has a fundamental frequency of 380 to 450 Hz, and is usually emitted during food challenges. Cubs commonly growl when playing. Growling is used as a warning. A wolf may growl at intruding wolves or predators, or to indicate dominance.

Wolves howl to contact separated members of their group, to rally the group before hunting, or to warn rival wolf packs to keep away. Lone wolves will howl to attract mates or just because they are alone. Each wolf howls for only about five seconds, but howls can seem much longer when the entire pack joins in. One variation of the howl is accompanied by a high pitched whine, which precedes a lunging attack. Whining is associated with situations of anxiety, curiosity, inquiry and intimacy such as greeting, feeding cubs playing. Yet both aggressive and defensive snarls inform the counterpart that the snarling wolf is highly antagonized and is ready to become physically engaged with the other if necessary. When handling social captive wolves, this is a posture humans obviously wish to avoid, while wild wolves will likely never exhibit such a posture toward humans. The only possible exception to this is if a human surprises a wolf when near food. Wolves are highly defensive of their food and will growl and snarl at most anything that approaches it. Submissive wolves will even snarl at dominant wolves when food is present, which usually causes the dominant wolf to avoid the situation. Although a snarl appears dangerous, it is a posture that is actually meant to avoid a physical confrontation by serving as a final warning before attack. When wolves snarl they rarely become involved in aggressive encounters, because the behavior serves as a communication tool rather than a sign of war. Furthermore, snarling has no basis in predatory behavior, and wolves never snarl at prey. A snarling wolf simply means to warn you to back off.

Social relationships are maintained by vocalization, and postural and facial expressions. Due to an understood dominance hierarchy, pack members rarely injure one another. Fatal encounters with other wolf packs are avoided by the use of territories with overlapping boundaries, which are held by scent marking and howling. Although wolves are usually afraid of humans, they will respond to human howls. Biologists have found that wolves will respond to humans imitating their howls.

The howl of the wolf can be heard from miles around. It is the trademark by which these very animals are known. A wolf may howl for a variety of reasons but the main one involves being able to identify where the rest of the pack it belongs to happens to be. These howls can also be identified as a way to warn other packs in the area that they are stepping into territory that has already been claimed by another. In order for the howl to be effective, a wolf has to bend the neck upwards and that is where legends such as those that they are howling at the moon come from. With the head lower the howl isn’t effective. This is what allows them to get the high pitched volume. Each wolf has a slightly different sound which is why other pack members know they are being called.

The howl is also a way to get the members of the pack worked up and excited about going hunting. They may howl in unison at this point before they go out there to look around. Think about how a sporting team rallies with the coach and makes a shout out before they take their positions. That is the same way with the howl. It is rumored that howling wolves during the day means they are rabid. This is not true as you can hear them any time, but night is when they are the most active. You don’t need to be afraid if you hear them though. The howls can be heard for many miles away so they likely aren’t nearly as close to you as they may sound.

Low growls are often used by the Alpha male and the beta female. They are signs to keep the other members of the pack in order. The omega wolf is the lowest ranking one of all in a pack. They will often try to move forward in a group but these growls will remind them of where they rank.

Hissing is a way for the wolves within a pack to show aggression towards each other. It isn’t very often that they do so. For the most part they get along well. They may hiss at the cubs to warn them not to do something or when their behavior is becoming too playful for the overall security of the pack. The older wolves can engage in this type of play with each other for fun, but from the untrained observer these sounds and actions may look like a fight.

A combination of calls are used to help keep tabs on cubs as well as other members of the pack. They may separate to scout out areas for food. The calls give them a built in way to check in on a regular basis. It also allows those that have found potential food sources to call the other wolves in the pack to come help them. Whining and whimpering are often ways that the younger cubs communicate with their parents and other pack members. They are soon taught the more effective types of communication to use though.


Olfactory communication among wolves consists primarily of scent marking. Scent marking is used to clearly mark the boundaries of territories, to claim and defend that territory from other packs, to mark food ownership and to act as a sort of road map for the pack itself. Because wolves have scent glands between their toes, they leave their personal signature wherever they walk. Urination is the most common form of scent marking for wolves. Understanding and respecting each other's communication leads to cooperation. Cooperation allows wolf packs to bring down larger prey than individual wolves could do on their own, ensures the care and feeding of the young and allows wolves to defend their common territory. Wolves are very territorial animals and do not readily share it with wolves who are not members of their pack. They communicate and mark their territories by scent. Often they do this by urinating near the edges of their territory, and on stumps, rocks and logs that are within their territory. Most of this is done by the dominant wolves, usually the Alpha male.

Wolves have a very good sense of smell, about 100 times greater than humans. They use this sense for communication in a variety of ways. Wolves mark their territories with urine and scats, a behavior called scent-marking. When wolves from outside of the pack smell these scents, they know that an area is already occupied. It is likely that pack members can recognize the identity of a pack mate by its urine, which is useful when entering a new territory or when pack members become separated. Dominant animals may scent mark through urination every two minutes. When they do so they raise a leg, this dominant posture utilizes multiple forms of communication and is called a "Raised Leg Urination" or RLU.

Wolves will also use urine to scent mark food caches that have been exhausted. By marking an empty cache, the animal will not waste time digging for food that isn't there.

Wolves use their sense of smell to communicate through chemical messages. These chemical messages between members of the same species are known as "pherimones." Sources of pherimones in wolves include glands on the toes, tail, eyes, anus, genitalia and skin. For example, a male is able to identify a female in estrus by compounds (pherimones) present in her urine and copulation will only be attempted during this time. Of course, their sense of smell also tells them when food or enemies are near.


Wolves are extremely social animals who mostly live in packs. A pack may contain up to 30 wolves, but rarely does. Most consist of eight wolves, not including the young. Each pack has a leader called the Alpha male. His mate is the Alpha female. The leader in the pack is usually the biggest and strongest, but not necessarily. He is like a king. Other wolves in the pack usually do what the lead wolf wants. Some packs are led by Alpha females. The Alpha male and female are the oldest members of the pack and the ones with the most experience in hunting, defending territory, and other important activities. The Alpha male communicates with the other wolves roughly and strongly, showing its dominant power. He will not let the other wolves mate because the stronger the parent wolves, the stronger the cubs. Under the Alpha wolf is the beta wolf. The beta wolf, however, is not much different than the other wolves. Betas can be either male or female, and if something happens to one of the Alphas the beta will most likely move up in rank. The remainder of the pack is typically composed of adolescent wolves, one to four years old, several cubs and an omega. An omega wolf can be either male or female and is the scapegoat, the lowest ranking member of the pack. The omega lives on the fringe of the pack, serves as both a stress-reliever and instigator of play, usually eats last, and does not sleep with the pack.

However, the old idea of an aggressively dominant Alpha wolf in Gray Wolf packs has recently been discredited by wolf biologists and researchers. So-called "Alphas" in packs are merely the breeding animals. According to wolf biologist Dr. L. David Mech, "Calling a wolf an Alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or a doe deer as an Alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so Alpha adds no information. However, there may still be a use for the term Alpha in rare cases involving large packs, The one use we may want to reserve for Alpha is in the relatively few large wolf packs comprised of multiple litters. In such cases the older breeders are probably dominant to the younger breeders and perhaps can more appropriately be called the Alphas.”

Wolves usually live in packs of adult parents (the Alpha pair) and their offspring of the last few years. The adult parents mate for life, 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. The size depends on many variables including the current numbers of the wolf population, the abundance of food, and social factors within the wolf pack. A pack normally has only one litter of cubs each spring, and 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 cubs are born in April through June and they emerge from the den at about one month of age. The entire pack helps feed and care for the cubs. They bring food, which is then brought to the mother by the Alpha male, the only other pack member who is allowed to approach the den. All pack members take turns looking after the cubs once they emerge from the den. The mother carries them in her mouth to the first of a series of rendezvous sites or nursery areas. These become the center of pack activity for the summer months. By August the cubs can roam two or three miles from these rendezvous sites, and by September the sites are abandoned as the cubs follow the adults.

At birth wolf cubs weigh about one pound and are darkly furred. They are deaf, blind, have little or no sense of smell and cannot regulate their own body heat. For their safety, wolf cubs are born in a den. Wolf dens can be in rock caves abandoned by other animals, in the hollowed bases of large trees, or in shallow surface beds. More commonly, pregnant female wolves dig dens themselves, often as early as three weeks before the pups are born. Wolves prefer their den sites to be located on elevated areas near water. Dens are typically tunnels that extend six to fourteen feet into the earth. At the end of the tunnel is an enlarged chamber where the newborn cubs are kept. The age of the cubs when the pack abandons the den is not known, but it is usually about four months after birth. Some believe it to be between eight and ten weeks after the pups are born. Between the time the cubs leave the den and the next winter, the young wolves remain at rendezvous sites while the adults hunt the surrounding countryside. When adults return from the hunt, the cubs lick the muzzles of the adult animals, and the wolves regurgitate predigested food for the young cubs.

Wolf cubs vary greatly in size. By August, the cubs weigh about 40 pounds, 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. The juveniles and cubs under two years old do not have permanent positions within the pack hierarchy. They take orders from their parents and older brothers and sisters, and their relationships with each other change frequently. During their play and other activities, they are constantly testing one another to find out who will eventually be the top wolf in their age group.

Packs are nomadic nuclear families and may range more than 250 miles. Wolves can run up to 40 miles an hour and can easily cover 50 miles a day. In the Arctic, their territories can be as large as 1,000 square miles. These wolves must travel large distances to find enough prey to feed the pack. In Wisconsin and Minnesota, the range is much smaller, around 50 to 150 square miles. Neighboring wolf packs may share a common border. But their territories seldom overlap by more than a mile and this area will often be treated as a buffer zone between the two.

During the time when the Alpha female has her cubs in the den, the pack stays in one place. Other than that time, they are always on the move. Wolves live, travel and hunt in packs of 4 to 7 animals on average. Packs include the mother and father Alpha wolves, their cubs, several subordinate or young animals, and occasionally adopted immature wolves. The Alpha male and female are the pack leaders that track and hunt prey, choose den sites and establish the pack's territory. Wolves develop close relationships and strong social bonds. They often demonstrate deep affection for their family and may even sacrifice themselves to protect the family unit.

From birth until its last dying day, a wolf is inextricably linked to other wolves in a complex web of social relationships. The basis for these relationships is sharing food with some, depriving it from others, reproducing with another, and suppressing reproduction among others. Most wolves live in packs, a community sharing daily life with three to eleven other wolves. Wolf cubs depend on food from their parents. Relationships among older, physically mature offspring are fundamentally tense. These wolves want to mate, but Alphas repress their attempts. Therefore, mating typically requires leaving the pack, known as dispersal. But dispersal is dangerous. While biding time for a good opportunity to disperse, these subordinate wolves want the safety and food that come from pack living. They are sometimes tolerated by the Alpha wolves to varying degrees. The amount of tolerance depends on the degree of obedience and submission to the will of Alpha wolves. For a subordinate wolf, the choice is typically to acquiesce or leave the pack. When it leaves, the long, drawn-out howl of a lone wolf will hopefully attract another unattached wolf. The two new Alphas then find suitable territory to start a pack of their own. Disperser wolves may be as young as eight months or as old as four and a half years. Most often wolves leave the pack when they are about a year and a half old.

Alphas lead travels and hunts. They feed first, and they exclude from feeding whomever they choose. Maintaining Alpha status requires controlling the behavior of pack mates. Occasionally a subordinate wolf is strong enough to take over the Alpha position. Wolf packs know about their neighbors. Alphas exclude non-pack members from their territory, and try to kill trespassers. Mature, subordinate pack members are sometimes less hostile to outside wolves – they are potential mates. Being an Alpha wolf requires aggression, control, and leadership. Not surprisingly, Alpha wolves usually possess higher levels of stress hormones than do subordinate wolves, who may not eat as much, but have far less stress.

Pack members are usually, but not always friendly and cooperative. They travel and hunt in a group and perform almost all activities in the company of other wolves. Wolves from other packs are usually, but not always enemies. Managing all of these relationships in a way that minimizes the risk of injury and death requires sophisticated communication with elaborate facial and body language. Accurately interpreting and judging these communications requires intelligence. Communication and intelligence are needed to know who friends and enemies are, where they are, and what may be their intentions. These may be the reasons that most social animals, including humans, are intelligent and communicative. Like humans, wolves communicate with voices. Pack mates often separate temporarily, and when they want to rejoin they often howl. They often howl to gather family members before or after a hunt. Wolf packs also howl to other packs, warning them to stay out of their territory, because wolf packs do not amalgamate. Wolves communicate with scent and the most distinctive use of scent is territorial scent marking. Scent marks are placed at the borders of the pack's territory by the Alpha male to warn other wolves or predators to stay out. Wolves will place their scent of urine or scat on rocks, stumps, logs, ice chunks, or sticks pointing from the ground.

Territories may overlap, although wolf packs very seldom confront one another. Some wolves leave their packs to become lone wolves. Loners may start their own packs if a mate and a vacant area can be found. Wolves as young as five months and as old as five years have been recorded to leave their packs to start their own families, though the average age is 11 to 24 months. Reasons for dispersal include the onset of sexual maturity and competition within the pack for food and breeding.

A pack is made when a male and a female wolf meet each other and stay together. As a mated pair, they find a territory to settle in and raise cubs most years. Their cubs stay with them until they are old enough to leave home, usually by the time they are 3 years old and conditions are right to start a family or pack of their own. A pack is a permanent core of a mated pair plus their continuously dispersing offspring. In most larger packs, there are two separate hierarchies in addition to an overbearing one. The first consists of the males, led by the Alpha male and the other consists of the females, led by the Alpha female. In this situation, the Alpha male assumes the top position overall in the pack. However, in some cases during the mating season the Alpha female takes total dominance even while the cubs are still in the den. This is for the rest of the pack to know that she is the one to serve. She also decides where the den will be. With this in the packs' mind, they go in search of food and bring it back to the den either for the hungry female or for the cubs.

The male and female hierarchies are interdependent and are maintained constantly by aggressive and elaborate displays of dominance and submission. Control of breeding rights is one of the key privileges held by Alpha wolves. Alphas are usually the only wolves in the pack to breed and they actively and sometimes aggressively prevent other adult wolves in the pack from breeding. If the other adults want to breed they usually have to leave their pack and set up elsewhere. Another privilege for the Alpha pair is access to food. When a large prey has been captured, they have first rights to eat as much as they want, along with their cubs. In times when food is scarce, the other adults in the pack may have to disperse and fend for themselves. However, wolves tend to feed amicably when there is adequate food.

In large packs of wolves there is sometimes a "second in command". These are known as the beta wolves, which typically take on the role of raising the Alpha pair's offspring, often becoming surrogate mothers or fathers to the cubs while the Alpha pair are absent. Beta wolves are the most likely to challenge their superiors for the role of the Alpha, though some betas seem content with being second and will sometimes even let lower ranking wolves push ahead of them for the position of Alpha should circumstances make it necessary (death of the Alpha, etc.) More ambitious betas, however, cannot wait for the top spot and will challenge the Alpha sooner or disperse from the pack to create its own. Sometimes if the Alpha is an aging wolf, he will give up his position submissively and allow the beta to take his place.

A healthy Alpha will fight a challenger intensely to keep his leadership, sometimes resulting in each one being injured. The loser is usually chased away or may be killed as other aggressive wolves contribute to the opposition. This kind of dominance encounter is more common during the mating season. Wolf rank order within a pack is established and maintained through a series of ritualized fights, and posturing best described as ritual bluffing. Wolves prefer psychological warfare to physical confrontations, meaning that high-ranking status is based more on personality or attitude than on size or physical strength. Rank, who holds it, and how it is enforced varies widely between packs and between individual animals. In large packs full of easygoing wolves, or in a group of juvenile wolves, rank order may shift almost constantly.


When most humans in the Northern Hemisphere seek shelter indoors and limit activity during winter, wolves are at their most active. There are two main reasons for this. First, Gray Wolves are built for cold weather, so as the chill seems to bite into human nerves, wolves do not feel the same effect. The double layer of fur in wolves seals out the cold temperatures and snow, creating a comfortable environment for wolves. Actually, the high temperatures of summer are oppressive to the heavily furred wolves, although they do moult for summer. Thus, winter is a more active time of the year for them. The second reason is because it's their annual breeding season. Wolves breed only once a year, during the winter months so the cubs will be born in the spring, when food is plentiful and the weather less severe. The season begins in late December and proceeds until late February or early March. Most of this period is simply behavioral preparation for mating, which only occurs for a few days up to two weeks at the completion of the season.

Wolves actually begin an increase in sexual hormone production around October, but obvious breeding behaviors begin to show in December as a general increase in dominance among the hierarchy. Both Alpha male and Alpha female step up their dominance frequency and severity toward all submissive members in an effort to reaffirm their breeding rights. As the season progresses, the Alpha female will then begin to solicit attention from the Alpha male, or other males. She does this by performing behaviors that appear to be playful. She will approach the Alpha male and paw at his back or head, place her head across his back, or just simply stand or walk next to him, usually touching. In the beginning, the Alpha male usually returns a snap or growl in response to her advances. Other females may have the same behavior toward the Alpha or other males, but are usually disciplined if caught by the Alpha female. Then the females of the pack begin their estrus cycle, usually within a few days of one another. Once this occurs, the males of the pack begin to pay attention to the female advances.

The Alpha female then increases her "flirtatious" advances toward the Alpha male, plus performs the ultimate sexual solicitation behavior of pushing her rump against the Alpha male's rump or side and moving her tail to the side, exposing her genitalia. This posture only occurs during peak breeding season and is an excellent indicator of the next stage of the season, actual mating. Once the Alpha male catches on to her advances, he will then begin to reciprocate the play-like behaviors of placing his head over her back and sparring with her while both are standing on their hind legs, an action that resembles dancing. Soon after, he will then pair bond to the Alpha female, which is an act of guarding her from all other males who may attempt to mate with her. She is fertile at this stage and no other wolf is permitted within close proximity to his chosen mate. Usually the other pack members avoid the Alpha pair during this time and observe the two from a distance.

Mating occurs over several occasions each day for anywhere between two days to two weeks. The intercourse process is exactly the same act as domestic dogs perform. When ovulation is complete and intercourse ceases, the Alpha pair no longer exhibit solicitation behaviors toward one another and essentially all dominance and hierarchy behaviors return to normal very quickly, sometimes even overnight. After the season is complete, all wolves seem to be exhausted and then enter into a very low energy period of the year, springtime. At the completion of the 63 day gestation period, packs with a successful breeding season welcome new cubs into their family in April or May.

Breeding season can vary from January in low latitudes to April in high latitudes. A wolf pack will alternate between a stationary phase from spring through summer and a nomadic phase in autumn and winter. The stationary phase involves caring for cubs at a den or home site. During summer, most movements are toward or away from the cubs, and adults often travel and hunt alone. By autumn, cubs are capable of traveling extensively with the adults, so until the next whelping season the pack usually roams as a unit throughout its territory in search of prey. Though often only the highest ranking male and female in a pack will breed, all members of the pack are involved in raising the young. Mortality factors affecting wolves include persecution by humans, killing by other wolves, diseases, parasites, starvation, and injuries by prey. Most wolves live less than 10 years in the wild.

The Gray Wolf generally mates for life. In areas with low wolf densities, wolves are usually monogamous. Mated pairs usually remain together for life if one of the wolves does not die. Upon the death of one mated wolf, pairs are quickly re-established. Since males often predominate in any given wolf population, unpaired females are a rarity. Polygamy does occur, but primarily in captive situations. Multiple litters are rarely successful, due to infanticide by the pack's females. The age of first breeding in wolves depends largely on environmental factors. When food is abundant or when wolf populations are heavily managed, wolves can rear cubs at younger ages in order to exploit the newly available resources. Captive wolves have been known to breed as soon as they reach 9 to 10 months of age, while the youngest recorded breeding wolves in the wild were 2 years old. Females are capable of producing cubs every year, with one litter annually being the average. Unlike coyotes, wolves never reach reproductive senility before they die. Incest rarely occurs, though inbreeding has been reported in Saskatchewan and Isle Royale.

The breeding season is usually January through March. Only the Alpha male wolf and female wolf in a pack mate to prevent over-population. Lower-ranking males do not mate and often suffer from a condition of stress and inhibition that has been referred to as “psychological castration”. Lower-ranking females are sometimes so afraid of the Alpha female that they do not even go into heat. The mother gives birth 63 days later, roughly in April or May, to a litter of 4 to 8 cubs, each weighing about 1 pound. The cubs are born in a den, where they will stay for the first 6 to 8 weeks of their life. When the cubs are first born they cannot see, hear or maintain warmth and they need constant care from their mother. The pack cares for the cubs until they mature at about 10 months of age. By to 8 weeks of age, the cubs will venture out of the den and begin their life of learning how to be a predator. The pack hierarchy is subject to change, especially during breeding season. Usually only the Alpha pair breeds, although the entire pack assists in the raising of the pups. When cubs becomes sexually mature at two years, they may stay with the pack or start one of their own.

Estrus typically occurs in late winter, with older females entering estrus 2 to 3 weeks earlier than younger females. Before the rut ensues, wolf packs will temporarily dissolve until the end of the mating season. The Alpha female wolf has only 5 to 7 days of estrus, when she is able to conceive. During this time, the Alpha pair will sometimes move out of the pack temporarily to prevent interruption from other pack members. When breeding season arrives breeding wolves begin to get more affectionate with each other. This occurs in anticipation of the females ovulation cycle. When the female finally goes into a period called 'estrus', the Alpha male and Alpha female wolves spend a lot of time together usually in seclusion. Pheromones in the females urine and the swelling of her vulva, tell the male she is ready to mate. During the first 5 days of estrus, the female will shed a lining of her uterus and will be unreceptive to the male. Following this, she will begin ovulation and mating will occur. During the period of mating, the two wolves become physically inseparable for anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes, during which time the male wolf will ejaculate multiple times. When receptive, females will move the base of their tails to one side, exposing the vulva. During mating, the pair is locked into a copulatory tie which may last 5 to 36 minutes. An average size wolf produces roughly 1.2 cubic inches of sperm. Because estrus in wolves only lasts a month, the males do not abandon their mates to find other females to inseminate as dogs do.

If other adult wolf members of the pack mate, the Alpha female wolf will be aggressive towards the other female wolf and usually the Alpha male wolf will chase the other adult male wolf out of the pack. It is common for one litter of cubs to be born to one pack of wolves. It is rare for two litters to occur unless the Alpha male has mated with another subordinate female. This is usually when the Alpha female wolf gets aggressive. The Alpha female will try to prevent this by aggressively dominating other females and physically separating them from the Alpha male wolf during the mating season. On rare occasions, subordinates do mate with other wolves as well. Wolves who decide to mate, will go through what is called a “courting period”. This will normally last for a day before the pair actually mate.

During pregnancy, female wolves will remain in a den located away from the peripheral zone of their territories, where violent encounters with other packs are more likely. Old females usually give birth in the den of their previous litter, while younger females typically den near their birthplace. The gestation period lasts 62 to 75 days, with cubs usually being born in the summer period. The average litter consists of 5 to 6 pups. Litters of 14 to 17 occur 1% of the time. Litter sizes tend to increase in areas where prey is abundant. Wolves bear relatively large cubs in small litters compared to other canid species. Cubs are born blind and deaf, and are covered in short soft grayish-brown fur. They weigh 300 to 500 grams at birth, and begin to see after 9 to 12 days. Their milk canine teeth erupt after one month. Cubs first leave the den after 3 weeks. At 1.5 months of age, they are agile enough to flee from danger. Mother wolves do not leave the den for the first few weeks, relying on the fathers to provide food for them and their young. Unlike wolf mothers, the fathers do not regurgitate the cubs' food, but carry them pieces from a kill. If the mother dies prior to the cubs' weaning period, they are suckled by the pack's other females. The Alpha female appoints one of the lesser females to become the “babysitter” when she is not in attendance. The “babysitter” will also lactate in order to feed the pups. Cubs begin to eat solid food at the age of 3 to 4 weeks. Cubs have a fast growth rate during their first four months of life, and during this period a cub's weight can increase nearly 30 times. It is believed that both male and female wolves can continue to breed in this manner until at least 10 years of age.

The reproductive behavior of introduced wolf packs in Yellowstone is unusual, as they often have multiple breeding females who mate with lone male wolves that encroach upon the pack territories during the mating season. These so called "Casanova wolves" are young males that, having failed to procure mates or territories after leaving their pack, mate with the daughters of already established breeding pairs from other packs. Unlike males from established packs, Casanova wolves do not form pair bonds with the females they mate with. Because of the great abundance of prey in Yellowstone, female wolves there can bear multiple litters in this way.

The den is usually on high ground, near and open water source. During this time, the cubs will grow and become more independent. The cubs will begin to explore the area just outside the den, gradually roaming up to a mile away from it. At 4 weeks old, the cubs' milk teeth have appeared and they begin to eat regurgitated food. At 6 weeks old they are weaned. During the first few weeks the cubs are developing, the Alpha mother will stay with them alone. Eventually, the rest of the pack will join in with the rearing of the cubs in some way or other. The wolf cubs stand a better chance of surviving when more wolves contribute to their care, such as bringing them food and guarding them from danger. At 2 months old, the wolf cubs will be moved to a safe place which they will reside in while some of the adult wolves go hunting. One or two adult wolves will stay behind to watch over the cubs and keep them safe.

Cubs can utter their first howls at 4 weeks and begin to emerge from the den at 3 to 5 weeks. They are lead out of the den by the Alpha male who whimpers and howls. Cubs are weaned at approximately 5 weeks. After a few more weeks of development and growing, the cubs are sometimes allowed to join in on the hunts. The wolf cubs are only allowed as observers, however, until they are about 8 months old, by which time they are large enough to actively participate. The cubs receive first rights on anything killed regardless of their low rank within the pack. Letting the cubs fight for the right to eat, results in a secondary ranking being formed among them and lets them practice the dominance and submission rituals that will be essential to their future survival in pack life. Wolves typically reach sexual maturity when they are around 2 to 3 years old. At this time, a wolf may feel the need to disperse from its pack, find a mate and start a pack of its own in its own territory.


Wolves live in a variety of habitats as they move from place to place. Where food is scarce, there are not many wolves, but they can be found easily where food is plentiful. Wolves will live in dens made of hollowed out tree trunks, caves, thickets, and holes dug into the ground. Wolves use different places for their night time rest. Places with cover are preferred during cold, damp and windy weather, while wolves in dry, calm and warm weather readily rest in the open. During the autumn to spring period, when wolves are more active, they willingly lie out in the open, whatever their location. Dens are usually constructed for cubs during the summer period. When building dens, females make use of natural shelters such as fissures in rocks, cliffs overhanging riverbanks and holes thickly covered by vegetation. Sometimes the den is the appropriated burrow of smaller animals such as foxes, badgers or marmots. An appropriated den is often widened and partly remade. On rare occasions, female wolves will dig burrows themselves, which are usually small and short with 1 to 3 openings. Wolves do not line their dens, a precaution against parasites. The den is usually constructed not more than 500 metres away from a water source. Resting places, play areas for the cubs and food remains are commonly found around wolf dens. The odor of urine and rotting food emanating from the den area often attracts scavenging birds such as magpies and ravens. As there are few convenient places for burrows, wolf dens are usually occupied by animals of the same family. Though they mostly avoid areas within human sight, wolves have been known to inhabit dens near homes, paved roads and railways.

As the snow melts in the spring, all Gray Wolf packs begin preparation for one the most exciting times of the year – the birth of cubs. Breeding season for wolves begins in December and usually terminates in early March, with the actual mating occurring typically in late February. Wolves have a 63 day gestation, which means cubs are born in April or May. This annual event is perfectly timed so cubs are not subjected to the extreme cold of winter immediately upon birth, plus most other Northern hemisphere mammals are birthing at the same time. This is not a coincidence, but rather an evolved pattern so the pack has ample prey in the form of elk or deer fawns, which means more food to share with the new cubs.

Another benefit of the spring season is the ground is quite soft due to being saturated from snow melt, and is easy to dig into. Packs create a den for the mother to birth her puppies in, and then the cubs and the mother reside in this den for the first several weeks after birth. The mother stays with the cubs while the pack hunts, or a "cubsitter" is appointed by the pack to watch over the puppies when the mother must leave. Either way, the cubs remain in or near the den for the first few months of their life. After the cubs are too large to inhabit the den, they are moved to a rendezvous site, where they stay while the pack is away hunting. Now considered sub-adults, the wolves will never use a den again in their life, unless one of them later becomes a mother herself. Dens are only used for birthing puppies, not as a sleeping area or to escape the weather as you may think. In captivity, wolves will occasionally use dens to escape dominance from other members, but this is not a natural behavior, rather an ingenious way to use the available environment to cope with the negative aspects of captivity.

Wolf dens are located near water and are usually dug into well-drained soil on a south-facing slope. They can be dug under a boulder, among tree roots, or in cut banks, hollow logs or other features. Wolves often appropriate and enlarge coyote or fox dens. Den entrances measure about 18 inches (45 cm) in diameter and are usually large enough for a thin human to squeeze through. The passageway, which may be straight, forked or hooked, is 4.5 to 17.5 feet (5.3 m) long with a chamber measuring approximately 18 inches high by 48 inches wide by 41 inches deep (46 by 122 by 104 cm). There is no bedding is in the den. If the den has been used in the last several years, bones will be scattered about and well-defined trails will radiate from the den. It is common for dens to be reused, often for several years. Often other diggings are found near the den. These holes are of lesser diameter and usually do not extend inward as far as the den.

Baby wolves are about a pound each. The number of babies is usually five but can be as high as 14. About 12 days after they are born the babies open their eyes. By the time they are two weeks old, they may come out to the entrance of the den. They learn how to hunt when they are three months old. Very young wolves will establish a dominance order among themselves, and this helps them in later years. Wolves don’t hibernate in their dens. When the weather is bad, they may curl up in a ball and let snow drift over them to provide extra insulation. They sleep in the open as they don’t have many predators to fear. One member of the pack will stay alert and act as a guard to warn the others of danger.

A study showed that nearly all dens existed within the core area of the pack's territory, or the area used most frequently by the pack. The most important factors in selection of a den site were determined to be adequate canopy (or large tree) cover, herbaceous vegetation nearby, small logs and rocks near the site, and the proximity to a water source (usually within 100 m). Many dens were visually obscured from a close range by vegetation, making the dens difficult to locate. This is probably important for protection of the cubs from predators including humans.

The study also found that human made structures such as roads were not a significant factor in choosing den sites, therefore providing more proof that wolves can probably coexist closely with human society. Most dens were dug under a fallen tree root system or under a rock or similar large item, probably to help support the roof of the den. The soil type of the den site was deemed important, as most dens possessed a sandy-type soil that allowed easy drainage thus preventing the den from being flooded. Managers now have better knowledge of potential den areas so protection from humans can be accomplished by closing certain high potential den areas to human activity during the birthing season. This would allow packs to birth and care for their cubs undisturbed, leading to healthier wolf populations in the future.


Usually only the alpha pair will produce a litter. This protects the pack from having more members than it is able to feed. The Alpha pair will mate in January through to March, depending on the latitude. Animals in the highest latitude usually have the latest season. Cubs are born sixty three days later in the spring and the entire pack takes a part in raising the litter, usually four to seven dark gray cubs. Delivery is made in a den, usually about 6 to 12 feet long and one and a half to two feet in diameter. Over half of the litter may die within the first year. Although the Alpha pair are usually the only wolves in a pack to mate and produce cubs, in areas where prey is abundant and life is mostly stress-free, multiple litters within a pack can occur.

Wolf cubs get a lot of love and care form the moment they are born. Their parents ensure they are well fed kept clean and protected constantly. Wolf parents are among the best parents in the world. The mother stays with the cubs for weeks after they are born. She usually doesn’t have to leave to hunt because the father or other member of the pack provides food for her. As the cubs grow older they start exploring the world and other family members start playing a roll in their lives. The young wolves learn to respect older wolves and begin to find their place in the pack.

A wolf cub’s eyes are blue at birth. All human babies also have blue eyes, and it is simply the absence of colour in their eyes. Their eyes turn yellow by the time they are eight months old, or they may become green or amber. Cubs develop at an incredible rate that varies greatly in growth and size. They are born in late April, after just a two-month pregnancy. Cubs are born deaf, blind, and weigh no more than a can of soda pop. At this time, cubs can do basically just one thing – suckle their mother’s milk. In order for a new born wolf cub to urinate, its mother has to massage its belly with her warm tongue. Within a month they weigh ten pounds, can hear and see, and explore and play around the den site. They stay inside the den for a few weeks, then eventually play outside the den regularly and are weaned from their mother's milk. They are still too young to hunt, however. Babysitter wolves – typically females about a year or two old – watch them while the mother goes hunting with the rest of the pack. The cubs during this time play by chewing bones, animal skins, and learning to move in a small pack. These skills are very important later on in life.

The parents and sometimes one or two year old siblings bring food back to the den site, where the pack feeds their cubs and aged family members by regurgitating food. By about two months of age (late June), cubs are fully weaned and eat only meat. By three months of age (late July), cubs travel as much as a few miles to rendezvous sites, where cubs wait for adults to return from hunts. In August they weigh about 40 pounds (18 kg) and have puppy like features – feet "too big" for their bodies, legs "too long", a blunt nose, and a shorter, less bushy tail. Wolf cubs have nearly adult-sized feet by late July.

At six or seven months of age (late September), they have adult teeth, are eighty percent their full size, and travel with the pack for many miles to hunt and patrol their territory. As they travel in the group, the cubs learn to keep up and eventually are able to hunt alongside their parents. When food is plentiful, most cubs survive to their first birthday. But often food is scarce and no cubs survive. Eventually the whole pack leaves the den site. A wolf may disperse from its pack when it is as young as 12 months old. In some cases a wolf might disperse and breed when it is 22 months old – the second February of its life. From 12 months of age onward, wolves look for a chance to disperse and mate with a wolf from another pack. In the meantime, they bide their time in the safety of their pack. Wolves mature sexually at around 22 months of age.


A lone wolf is a wolf that lives independently rather than with others as a member of a pack. They are typically older wolves driven from the pack, perhaps by an alpha male, or young adults in search of new territory. Rather than openly challenge the dominance of the pack leaders, many young wolves between the ages of 1 and 4 years leave their family to search for a pack of their own. Some wolves simply remain lone wolves. These lone wolves may be stronger, more aggressive and far more dangerous than the average wolf that is a member of a pack. However, lone wolves have difficulty hunting, as wolves' favorite prey, large ungulates, are nearly impossible for a single wolf to bring down alone safely. Instead, lone wolves will generally hunt smaller animals and scavenge carrion. Departing from the pack may be more difficult than enduring the challenges within it. Occasionally, a lone wolf will encounter another lone wolf of the opposite sex, and the two may start a new pack.

Lone wolf is also a term used for humans who exhibit characteristics of introversion, shyness, a strong preference for independence, prefer solitude, or who work alone. In literature, the term is used to establish a character as aloof and emotionally unable or unwilling to directly interact with other characters in the story. A stereotypical lone wolf will be dark or serious in personality. He is often taciturn, and will distinguish himself through his reserved nature. A paradoxical additional term used describes someone who spends enough time with a group to be considered a member but not enough time to be very close to the other members. Such people tend to not take part in the group activities or get-togethers. When applied to military or security groups, it refers to someone who frequently acts on their own accord, insists on working alone, refuses to work with most of if not all members of the group, and goes against the plans of missions and attempts to complete tasks alone.

Geographic Distribution

The Gray Wolf, also known as the wolf, was once the world's most widely distributed mammal, the largest extant wild member of the Canidae family. Though once abundant over much of Eurasia, North Africa and North America, the Gray Wolf inhabits a small fraction of its former range due to widespread destruction of its territory, human encroachment, and the resulting human-wolf encounters that led to extermination campaigns. Nonetheless, the Gray Wolf is regarded as being of least concern for extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, when the Gray Wolf population is considered as a whole. Today, wolves are protected in some areas, hunted for sport in others, or may be subject to population control or extermination as threats to livestock, people, and pets.

Today Gray Wolves can be found in Canada and the following portions of the United States: Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Mexican wolves are found in New Mexico and Arizona where they were reintroduced. Historically, Gray Wolves have the largest range of any land mammal, other than humans. They have lived in all habitats in the Northern Hemisphere except for tropical forests. American wolves are now found in a few northern states, including parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and the upper peninsula of Michigan. They live in Alaska and in most of Canada. The wolf is the largest wild canine in North America. Gray Wolves can be gray, white, black or silvery. Some have facial markings that resemble those of huskies or malamutes. The Gray wolf is also called a timber wolf. They live in packs, although some will travel alone as lone wolves looking for a mate or pack to join.

Wolves once ranged over much of North America north of Mexico City, except for parts of California. Today their status varies by country, state and province. Canadian and Alaskan wolves number in thousands and are in excellent biological condition. Wolves have expanded from Canada to the northern Rocky Mountains since the 1970's, establishing themselves southward in Montana, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming. In 1994, wolves from Alberta and British Columbia were captured and introduced into Yellowstone National Park, where they had been extinct since the 1930's. A similar introduction took place in 1998 in the Apache National Forest in Arizona. There is a small isolated group of wolves on Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, but the wolves are believed to be suffering from the effects of reduced genetic variability. In 1991 the population was reduced from 50 to 12 wolves.

The Gray Wolf used to range throughout the U.S. Due to its predatory nature, it was seen as a threat to cattle. Many wolves were exterminated as part of government programs aimed at protecting livestock. However, wolves were blamed for a lot more than they actually were responsible for. They tend to have difficulty adapting to human induced changes, and are often referred to as an indicator species – a species indicating an environmental condition such as a disease outbreak, pollution, species competition, or climate change. Wolves do not seem to be able to adapt as readily to expanding civilization the way coyotes do. While human expansion has seen an increase in coyotes, it has caused a decline in wolf populations. Despite not being at risk for extinction, local populations of wolves are still threatened. One threat is genetic bottlenecking caused by population fragmentation. Human populations have isolated small pockets of animals, which then suffer the effects of inbreeding. Studies have shown that the reproduction rate in wolves is strongly related to genetic diversity and isolated wolf populations are greatly affected by the introduction of the genes of even a single additional wolf. The North American Gray Wolf population in 1600 was 2,000,000. Today the population in North America is approximately 81,000. There are an estimated 70,000 wolves in Canada, 6,000 to 7,000 in Alaska and more than 5,000 in the lower 48 states. These numbers do not include captive "pet" wolves in the USA, and some estimate that there are as many as 2,000,000.

The United States as a whole has over 11,000 wild wolves which are increasing in number in all their ranges. Wolf recovery has been so successful that the United States Fish & Wildlife Service removed the western Gray Wolf from the federal endangered species list on March 28, 2008. Due to the controversy over wolf shootings, a coalition of environmental groups sued the federal government to put the Gray Wolf back on the Endangered Species list. On July 18, 2008, a federal judge ruled in favor of renewed endangered species protection. Alaska has a stable population of 6,000 to 7,000 wolves which are legally hunted from August to April as a big game species. Minnesota has a population of 3,000 wolves which are legally protected, though they are occasionally culled for depredation control. Minnesota is currently the only US state to have a livestock damage compensation program. Minnesota has been granted complete control over its wolf population, and its wolf management plan establishes a minimum population of 1600 wolves. Both Wisconsin and Michigan each have healthy populations of 600 wolves as of 2008. Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have an approximate population of 1,700 wolves. Two Gray Wolves were captured in north-central Washington state in July 2008, one of which was a nursing female. This is the first evidence of reproducing wolves in the state since the 1930's. In northeast Oregon, also in July 2008, wolf howls were heard by biologists who identified at least 2 adults and 2 cubs. This is the first confirmed breeding pair in Oregon. As of January 14, 2009, the Bush administration removed the Canadian Gray Wolf from the Endangered Species List in every American state except Wyoming.

Population Estimate: 5,000 - 8,000
Status Report: Wolves are hunted and trapped in season as big game and fur bearers and through government-sponsored management programs
Prey Species: Moose, caribou, sheep, deer, beaver, goat

Population Estimate: 15
Status Report:Endangered
Prey Species: Deer, elk

Population Estimate: 57 on Upper Peninsula Mainland; 17 on Isle Royale National Park
Status Report: Endangered, but increasing populations
Prey Species: Moose, white-tailed deer, beaver, snowshoe hare

Population Estimate: 1,200 to 2,000
Status Report: Threatened; protected species
Prey Species: White tailed-deer, moose, beaver, snowshoe hare

Population Estimate: 65
Status Report: Endangered, but increasing in population
Prey Species: Deer, elk

North Carolina
Population Estimate: 50 ( red wolves)
Status Report: Experimental nonessential reintroduction status
Prey Species: White-tailed deer, raccoon, nutria

Population Estimate: 6 (red wolves)
Status Report: Experimental nonessential reintroduction status in Great Smokey Mountains National Park
Prey Species: White-tailed deer, raccoon

Population Estimate: Uncertain; possibly 5 or fewer
Status Report: Endangered
Prey Species: Deer, elk

Population Estimate: 50 to 57
Status Report: Endangered, but increasing population
Prey Species: Deer, beaver, snowshoe hare

Population Estimate: 14 reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park
Status Report: Endangered, experimental nonessential reintroduction status
Prey Species: Deer, elk

The wolf has been extinct in Mexico since the 1970's when the U.S. and Mexican governments cooperated to capture all remaining wild Mexican wolves and initiate a captive-breeding program in an attempt to save the local subspecies. In Mexico it has full but unenforced protection leading to a population decline because of persecution and habitat destruction. The Mexican Wolf was reintroduced into the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona in 1998 as part of a captive breeding program. There are now at least 42 wild Mexican wolves in the southwest United States.

Canada has about 70,000 wolves, the largest wolf population in the world. They are legally considered a big game species, though they are afforded protection in 3% of Canada's territory. The Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon have 5,000 wolves each, British Columbia has 8,000 wolves, Alberta 4,200, Saskatchewan 4,300, Manitoba 4,000 to 6,000, Ontario 9,000, Quebec 5,000 and Labrador 2,000. Canada currently has no livestock damage compensation programs.

Wolf populations generally seem to be stable or increasing in most Bern Convention nations. Limiting factors in member nations include a lack of acceptance of wolves due to concerns on livestock and dog predation and competition with hunters. Although properly regulated wolf harvests and control have been largely accepted as compatible with maintaining wolf numbers to economically acceptable levels, over hunting and poaching are recognized as the main limiting factor in European wolf populations.

With the exception of the Great Britain and Ireland, wolves were widespread in Europe during the 18th century. Wolves were exterminated from all central and northern European countries during the 19th century and the post World War II period. Remnant populations remain in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and Finland, though Eurasian wolves have been recovering naturally in several parts of Europe. They are recolonizing France, Germany, Sweden and Norway. The largest populations now occur in eastern Europe, primarily in Romania, the Balkans and Poland. Portugal has a stable wolf population of 200 to 300 which is afforded full protection. Compensation is paid for livestock damage.

Spain's wolf population is estimated at 2000 and growing. Wolves are considered a game species, though they are protected in the southern regions of the country. Compensation is paid for livestock damage, though this varies according to regional laws. The number of wolves in Switzerland is uncertain, having been guessed at 1 or 2 individuals. Wolves are afforded protection, and livestock damage compensation is paid by Cantons.

In Italy, wolves are a protected species, with current estimates indicating that there are 500 to 800 wolves living in the wild. The largest concentrations of wolves occur in the Italian national parks in Abruzzo, mostly in the Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise, in Calabria, in the Pollino, on Appennino Tosco-Emiliano, and, more recently, on the Alps. Isolated individuals have been sighted in the vicinity of human populated areas such as Tuscany, Bologna, Parma and Tarquinia. Wolves have also been sighted denning 25 miles from Rome, with one small population living in the regional park of Castelli Romani. Currently, Italian wolf populations are said to have been increasing at a rate of 6% a year since the 1970's, though 15% of the total Italian wolf population is reported to succumb annually to illegal poaching and road accidents. Compensation is paid by regional governments for livestock damage. Italy's leading wolf biologist, professor Luigi Boitani of the Sapienza University of Rome, expressed concern that the Italian wolf recovery may have been too successful, due to a large portion of the public refusing to concede to the possibility of rising wolf populations requiring management in the future.

Wolves migrated from Italy to France as recently as 1992, and the current French wolf population is said to be composed of 40 to 50 individuals and growing. Estimates in 2005 put the figure at between 80 and 100. Under the Berne Convention, wolves are listed as an endangered species and killing them is illegal. Official culls are permitted to protect farm animals if there is no threat to the national population as a whole. Compensation is paid for livestock damage.

Wolves were first spotted in Germany in 1998, and are thought to have migrated from western Poland. Currently, there are around 35 wolves in 4 packs now roaming the heaths of the eastern German region of Lusatia, and they are now still expanding their range to the west and north. Under German law, wolves are a protected species, though there are no livestock damage compensation programs.

Scandinavia has a population of over 200 wolves that is shared between Sweden and Norway. The Norwegian population is located in the south-east, close to the Swedish border, and consists of 12 to 18 wolves. The population is protected and compensation is paid for livestock damage. Sweden has a protected population of around 200 wolves that is growing, and compensation is paid for livestock damage. The Swedish wolf population is restricted to forested areas in mid-Sweden. In Denmark the last wolf was shot in 1813, but in 2009 and 2010 there was speculation that a wolf had crossed the border from Germany. The Scandinavian wolf population is open to some immigration from Finland, which has a stable population of 116 to 123 wolves. Wolves are legally hunted only in areas with high reindeer densities. Compensation for livestock losses are paid by the state and insurance companies. The Finnish population is connected to the large Russian wolf population.

Estonia has a stable wolf population of around 200, down from around 500 in the middle of 1990's. The official standpoint considers the optimal population to be 100 to 200. At rough scale the distribution range includes the whole country. In 2007 a new version of the law on nature conservation introduced compensation for livestock damage, paid by the state.

Lithuania has a population of 300 to 400 wolves, which are increasing in number. The species is not protected, and only insured livestock receives compensation. Latvia has an unprotected population of 600 wolves, a decline from 900 in the middle of 1990's. No compensation is paid for livestock damage. Belarus is home to a population of 1,500 to 2,000 wolves. With the exception of specimens in nature reserves, wolves in Belarus are largely unprotected. They are designated a game species, and bounties ranging between €60 and €70 are paid to hunters for each wolf killed. This is a considerable sum in a country where the average monthly wage is €230. No compensation is paid for livestock losses.

Poland has an increasing population of 700 to 800 wolves which are afforded legal protection except in the Bieszczady Mountains. Compensation for livestock losses is not paid. The Ukraine has an unprotected but stable population of 2,000 wolves. No compensation is paid for livestock losses. Many of the wolves live in the Zone of alienation north of Chernobyl, where they face few natural threats. This also applies to the Belarusian part of the zone. The Czech Republic has a stable and protected population of 20 wolves, though there are no livestock damage compensation programs. Slovakia has a stable population of 350 to 400 wolves which are protected, though with some exceptions. No compensation is paid for livestock losses.

Slovenia has a population of 70 to 100 wolves and increasing. As of 1991, they are a protected species, and compensation is paid for livestock losses. Croatia has a stable population of around 200 wolves. As of May 1995, they are a protected species, and the willful killing of wolves can result in a fine equivalent to $6,000. However, according to Dr. Djuro Huber of the University of Zagreb, illegal wolf killings increased after the protection scheme began, resulting in the deaths of 40 wolves. Compensation is paid for livestock losses. Bosnia and Herzegovina is thought to have a population of 400 wolves, though they are decreasing in number and are afforded no legal protection. Compensation for livestock losses is not paid. The former State Union of Serbia and Montenegro has a stable population of 500 wolves, though it is unknown if they are afforded any protection and no compensation is paid for livestock damage.

Hungary has a stable population of 50 wolves which are protected, though with some exceptions. No compensation is paid for livestock damage. Romania has an increasing population of 2,500 wolves which are granted legal protection. Some wolves have successfully established themselves in Braşov. In November 2009, one wolf was seen feeding from garbage bins in Târgu Mureş. No compensation is paid for livestock damage. Bulgaria has a stable population of 800 to 1,000 wolves which are granted no legal protection. Wolves are considered a nuisance and have a bounty on them. No compensation is paid for livestock damage.

Greece has a stable population of 200 to 300 wolves which are legally protected. Compensation is paid for livestock losses, with over 80% of it from insurance. The Republic of Macedonia has an increasing, yet unprotected population of 1,000 wolves, with no livestock compensation programs. Albania has a protected population of 250 wolves which are increasing in number, though no compensation is paid for livestock losses.

Turkey has population of about 7,000 wolves. There are some local extinctions especially in the western parts of Turkey and the wolf population is declining in Turkey as a whole. Historically, the wolf has officially been considered a pest species and so it was hunted throughout the year without any limits. It was only in 2003 that the wolf received the status of a game species. Although wolves in Turkey are not legally protected, the status of a game species means that wolves can only be hunted with a license using established quotas which are restricted to hunting seasons. No compensation is paid for livestock damage.

Although wolves in Russia have no legal protection, they number about 45,000, and are probably increasing in numbers in some regions such as Koryak Okrug and Kalmykia. Some villages in Chechnya's Nadterechny district have been reporting increasing wolf numbers since the decrease of military activities. On the other hand, in more populated regions of Central and Southern Russia the number of wolves is very small. In some regions, bounties are paid for the destruction of wolves and their dens. Wolves live in comparatively few numbers in the Sikhote-Alin region due to competition with increasing tiger numbers. This competitive exclusion of wolves by tigers has been used by Russian conservationists to convince hunters in the Far East to tolerate the big cats, as they limit ungulate populations less than wolves, and are effective in controlling the latter's numbers. No livestock damage compensation is paid.

Greenland has a population of 50 to 100 wolves which are afforded protection in approximately 90% of their range, though no compensation is paid for livestock damage.

With the exception of Israel and Saudi Arabia, there is little information available on wolves in the Middle East. The Arabian Peninsula is home to an estimated 300 to 600 wolves which, though hunted year round in all Middle Eastern countries except Israel, are relatively stable and protected by the inaccessibility of the northern mountains and central and northern deserts. Israel has a stable population of 150 unprotected wolves. No livestock damage compensation is paid. Saudi Arabia has a stable population of 300 to 600 wolves which are given no legal protection. No livestock damage compensation is paid.

The presence of wolves in Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia was confirmed in 2011, when a comparison was made between the DNA of golden jackals, Holarctic wolves (most modern wolves are of this ancestry), the Indian wolf, and the Himalayan wolf (which are considered older lineages than the main Holarctic wolf lineage) revealed that North African wolves are more closely related to Indian and Himalayan wolves than they are to golden jackals, a species which they were associated with in the past.

Syria has an unprotected, unknown number of wolves, thought to be roughly numbering 200. No livestock damage compensation is paid. Lebanon has a population of 50 wolves which are afforded no legal protection, nor is livestock damage compensation paid. Jordan has an unprotected, unknown number of wolves, thought to be roughly numbering 200. No livestock damage compensation is paid.

Kazakhstan has a stable population of about 30,000 wolves. About 2,000 are killed yearly for a $40 bounty, though the animal's numbers have risen sharply. No livestock damage compensation is paid. Turkmenistan has a stable population of 1,000 wolves which are unprotected. No livestock damage compensation is paid. Uzbekistan has a stable population of 2,000 wolves which are unprotected. No livestock damage compensation is paid. Kirgizstan has a stable population of 4,000 wolves which are unprotected. No livestock damage compensation is paid. Tajikistan has a stable population of 3,000 wolves which are unprotected. No livestock damage compensation is paid. Mongolia has a stable population of 10,000 to 20-000 wolves which are given no legal protection, nor is livestock damage compensation is paid.

There are currently no recent or reliable estimates on wolf populations in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan.
Canada's wolf population is stable, and is even increasing in some areas. In certain regions of Canada, wolves are protected; in others, they are hunted and trapped.

In the two areas of Africa where wolves remain, they are highly endangered. In fact, the Ethiopian wolf Canis simensis is considered the most critically endangered canid in the world.

Population Estimate: 30
Status Report: Highly endangered; the wolf receives no protection and faces heavy persecution
Prey Species: Hares,livestock

Population Estimate: 500
Status Report: In danger of extinction,the wolf is protected by law in Ethiopia
Prey Species: Rodents,particularly giant mole rats

Alberta, Canada
Population Estimate: 4,000 to 5,000
Status Report: Classified as fur bearers-hunted and trapped
Prey Species: Moose,caribou,sheep,deer,beaver,goat,elk,bison

British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Canada
Population Estimate: 8,000 to 10,000
Status Report: Classified as game species and fur bearer- hunted and trapped
Prey Species: Moose,caribou,sheep,beaver

Northwest Territories, Canada
Population Estimate: 5,000 to 15,000
Status Report: Classified as fur bearers-hunted and trapped
Prey Species: Moose,caribou,sheep,deer,beaver,goat

Ontario/Quebec, Canada
Population Estimate: 10,000 to 12,000
Status Report: Classified as fur bearers-hunted and trapped
Prey Species: Moose,caribou,deer,beaver

Population Estimate: 50 to 100
Status Report: Threatened;protected year-round throughout most of its range
Prey Species: Musk-oxen,caribou

Around the world there are an estimated 200,000 wolves in 57 countries, compared to more than 2 million in earlier times.


Afghanistan: 1,000
Albania: 250
Belarus: 2,000 - 2,500
Bosnia & Herzegovina: 400
Bulgaria: 800 - 1,000
Canada: 60,000
China: 10,000
Croatia: 100 - 150
Czech Republic: 20
Egypt: 30
Estonia: 200
Ethiopia: 500 - 1,000
Finland: 116 - 123
France: 40 - 50
Germany: 35
Greece: 500
Greenland: 50 - 100
Hungary: 50
India: 1,500
Iran: 1,000
Israel: 120 - 150
Italy: 500 - 800
Jordan: 200
Kazakhstan: 30,000
Kyrgyzstan: 4,000
Lebanon: 50
Latvia: 900
Lithuania: 300 - 400
Macedonia: 1,000
Mexico: 20
Mongolia: 10,000 - 20,000
Norway: 12 - 18
Poland: 800
Portugal: 200 - 300
Romania: 2,500
Russia: 45,000
Saudi Arabia: 300 - 600
Serbia & Montenegro: 500
Slovakia: 350 - 400
Slovenia: 70 - 100
Spain: 2,000
Sweden: 200
Syria: 200 - 500
Tajikistan: 3,000
Tibet: 2,000
Turkey: 1,000
Turkmenistan: 1,000
Ukraine: 2,000
United States: 11,000
Uzbekistan: 2,000
Yugoslavia: 2,000

TOTAL: 196,346


According to an old Russian proverb, "The wolf is kept fed by its feet." It is common for a wolf to cover twenty miles overnight on a hunt. The farthest recorded distance in a twenty four hour period was 125 miles by a wolf being chased by hunters. Wolves travel at a five mile per hour trot. In chases, the wolf can reach speeds of between 28 and 40 miles per hour for up to 20 minutes.

Wolves are highly territorial animals, and generally establish territories much larger than they require to survive in order to have a steady supply of prey. Territory size depends largely on the amount of prey available. In areas with an abundance of prey, the territories of wolf packs are smaller. Wolf packs travel constantly in search of prey, covering roughly 9% of their territory per day, and average 25 km (15 miles) per day. The core of their territory is on average 35 square km (14 square miles), in which they spend 50% of their time. Prey density tends to be much higher in the territory's surrounding areas. Despite this higher abundance of prey, wolves tend to avoid hunting in the fringes of their territory unless desperate, due to the possibility of fatal encounters with neighboring packs. The size of their territory may increase when the pack's cubs reach the age of 6 months, and thus have the same nutritional requirements as adults. The smallest territory on record was held by a pack of six wolves in northeastern Minnesota, which occupied an estimated 33 square km. The largest was held by an Alaskan pack of ten wolves encompassing a 6,272 square km area. In some areas, wolves may shift territories during their prey's migration season.

Wolves defend their territories from other packs through a combination of scent marking, direct attacks and howling. Scent marking is used for territorial advertisement, and involves urination, defecation and ground scratching. Scent marks are generally left every 240 metres throughout the territory on regular travelways and junctions. Such markers can last for 2 to 3 weeks, and are typically placed near rocks, boulders, trees or the skeletons of large animals. When scent marking and howling fail to deter other wolf packs from entering their territory, violence can erupt. Territorial fights are among the principal causes of wolf deaths. One study on wolf mortality in Minnesota and the Denali National Park and Preserve concluded that 14 to 65% of wolf deaths were due to predation by other wolves. In fact, 91% of wolf fatalities occur within 3.2 km (2 miles) of the borders between neighboring territories. Because trespassing can be fatal, such incursions are thought to be largely due to desperation or deliberate aggressiveness.


The wolf is the ultimate predator at the top of the food chain. Predators are not hunting for fun. Hunting is the act of obtaining food for survival. When packs hunt, the members work together as a team. Hunting requires the strength of several wolves in order to take down large animals. In fact, wolves sometimes prefer hunting large animals, although they will avoid animals that are too dangerous. They will look for animals that are easiest to catch. Wolves primarily feed on medium to large sized ungulates, sometimes 10 to 15 times larger than themselves. They are not fussy eaters. Medium and small sized animals preyed on by wolves include marmots, hares, badgers, foxes, polecats, ground squirrels, mice, hamsters, voles and other rodents, as well as insectivores. They frequently eat waterfowl and their eggs, especially during their moulting period and winter, when greasy and fatty meat helps wolves build up their fat reserves. When such foods are insufficient, they will prey on lizards, snakes, frogs, rarely toads and large insects. In times of scarcity, wolves will readily eat carrion, visiting cattle burial grounds and slaughter houses.

Wolf packs in Astrakhan hunt Caspian seals on the Caspian Sea coastline. Some wolf packs in Alaska and Western Canada have been observed to feed on salmon. Cannibalism is not uncommon in wolves. During harsh winters, packs often attack weak or injured wolves, and may eat the bodies of dead pack members. However, they are not known to eat their young as coyotes sometimes do, although it is claimed they have when starving. Humans are rarely, but occasionally preyed upon. Wolves will supplement their diet with fruit and vegetable matter, eating the berries of mountain ash, lily of the valley, bilberries, blueberries and cowberry. Other fruits include nightshade, apples and pears, which provide needed vitamins and minerals. They enjoy visits to melon fields during the summer months. Wolves can survive without food for long periods. Two weeks without food will not weaken a wolf's muscle activity.

In Eurasia many wolf populations are forced to subsist largely on livestock and garbage in areas with dense human activity, though wild ungulates such as moose, red deer, roe deer and wild boar are still important food sources in Russia and the more mountainous regions of Eastern Europe. Other prey species include reindeer, mouflon, wisent, saiga, ibex, chamois, wild goats, fallow deer and musk deer. The prey animals of North American wolves have largely continued to occupy suitable habitats with low human density, and cases of wolves subsisting largely on garbage or livestock are exceptional. Animals commonly preyed on by North American wolves include moose, deer, elk, sheep, caribou, beaver, rabbits and mice. Beavers are an important food source when larger prey are not available. They spend a lot of time on shore in the fall and spring cutting wood for their food supply. Since beavers are easy to catch on land, wolves eat more of them in the fall and spring than the rest of the year. In the winter, beavers stay in their lodges or travel safely under the ice, making it difficult for the wolves to feed on them. Wolves therefore rely on deer and hares in winter. They are also scavengers and sometimes eat animals that have died due to other causes like starvation and disease.

The breeding pair typically monopolizes food in order to continue producing cubs. When food is scarce, this is done at the expense of other family members, especially non-cubs. This is in marked contrast to the feeding behaviors of dholes and African wild dogs, who give priority to their cubs when feeding. The breeding pair typically eats first because they usually work the hardest in killing prey. They may rest after a long hunt and allow the rest of the family to eat unmolested. Once the breeding pair has finished eating, the rest of the family will tear off pieces of the carcass and transport them to secluded areas where they can eat in peace. Wolves typically begin feeding by consuming the larger internal organs of their prey, such as the heart, liver, lungs and stomach lining. The kidneys and spleen are eaten once they are exposed, followed by the muscles.

Livestock depredation has been one of the primary reasons for hunting wolves, and is a severe problem for wolf conservation. As well as causing economic losses, the threat of wolf predation causes great stress on livestock producers, and no foolproof solution of preventing such attacks short of exterminating wolves has been found. Wolves typically resort to attacking livestock when wild prey is depleted. In Eurasia a large part of the diet of some wolf populations consists of livestock, while such incidences are rare in North America, where healthy populations of wild prey have been largely restored. However, certain wolves may become "addicted" to livestock, as the stomach lining of domestic ungulates has a higher calorific value than that of wild herbivores. The majority of losses occur during the summer grazing period. Untended livestock in remote pastures are the most vulnerable to wolf predation. Some nations help offset economic losses to wolves through compensation programs or state insurance.

Sheep are the most commonly taken livestock species in Europe, domestic reindeer in northern Scandinavia, cattle and turkeys in North America, goats in India and horses in Mongolia. As wolves tend to attack large prey from behind, cattle may be more vulnerable to wolves than horses because the latter are better able to defend their hind quarters with powerful kicks. Different subspecies of the wolf may prefer different animals. Small bodied wolves rarely molest adult cattle, while large northern wolves are able to kill fully grown steers and sometimes horses unaided. The number of animals killed in single attacks varies according to species. Most attacks on cattle and horses result in one death, while turkeys, sheep and domestic reindeer may be killed in surplus. Wolves mainly attack livestock when the animals are grazing, though they will occasionally break into fenced enclosures. Injuries caused by wolves on large bodied livestock include docked ears and tails, as well as slash wounds on the lower legs. In some cases, wolves do not need to physically attack livestock in order to negatively affect them, because the stress livestock experience in being vigilant for wolves may result in miscarriages, decreased weight gain, and a decrease in meat quality. In Minnesota between 1978 and 1984, an average of 24 farms suffered losses from wolves. This is out of a total of 12,000 farms. Most of the farms hit by wolves lacked adequate fencing or guard dogs. Both Wisconsin and Minnesota have programs to reimburse farmers for livestock losses from wolves

Wolves will kill dogs on occasion, with some wolf populations relying on dogs as an important food source. They generally outmatch dogs, even large ones, in physical confrontations because of their larger heads and teeth and much stronger bites. The bite of a wolf has twice the pressure of a German Shepherd dog. Also, the fighting styles of wolves and dogs differ significantly. While dogs typically limit themselves to attacking the head, neck and shoulder, wolves will make greater use of body blocks, and attack the extremities of their opponents. In Croatia, wolves kill more dogs than sheep, and wolves in Russia appear to limit stray dog populations. Wolves may display unusually bold behavior when attacking dogs accompanied by people, sometimes ignoring nearby humans.

Wolf attacks on dogs may occur both in house yards and in forests. On village outskirts, wolves may set up ambushes for dogs, with one wolf soliciting the dog to follow it and lead it to another wolf. In some areas, livestock guardian dogs are fitted with wolf collars in order to protect themselves from wolf attacks. Wolves however may learn to avoid the spiked collars just as they do the antlers of ungulate prey, and still kill guard dogs. Attacks on hunting dogs are considered a major problem in Scandinavia and Wisconsin. The most frequently killed hunting breeds in Scandinavia are harriers, with older animals being most at risk, likely because they are less timid than younger animals, and react differently to the presence of wolves. Wolf-caused injuries on dogs are often located on the back, thighs and hind legs. The fatal wound is mostly a bite to the back of the neck. Large hunting dogs such as Swedish elkhounds are more likely to survive wolf attacks due to their better ability to defend themselves.

Wolves usually hunt in packs or sometimes individually. A wolf will nearly always eat what it catches almost completely. They have more advantages when hunting in packs because they are intelligent animals working together and are able to take down animals that are much larger and stronger than an individual wolf. Wolves are strict carnivores and to stay alive, they must eat some sort of food to provide energy and nutrients for their body. Wolves do not kill for sport, but for survival. When wolf packs hunt, they often set up ambushes to catch prey. They cull out weak or sick animals as they don’t have the speed to run down a healthy deer. The pack will charge a group of deer and quickly determine which is the weakest one. That is the animal they will try to catch. If a deer turns and fights, the wolf pack may move on to easier prey. Injury from a deer’s sharp hooves can lead to the death of a wolf.

Wolves have large stomachs and can devour 20 to 25 pounds of food at any one feeding time. However, wolves are able to survive without food for up to 2 weeks or even longer if prey is scarce. Their digestion is very efficient, with all but 5 percent of large meat feeds able to be digested. Any splinters of bone that are not broken down somehow become wrapped in undigested hair, which protects the intestines from injury.

Cubs are fed by the adults who regurgitate fresh meat from their stomachs, or carry back fresh pieces of meat to the den. Wolves play an important role to other animal herds. Because wolves only hunt and eat sick or weak animals, they are actually helping the herds regain strength by ridding them of burden animals. For example, if there is a sick deer in a herd which is eating food, eliminating the sick deer will reduce the possibility of it infecting other deer and weakening the herd more. And it will make more food available to needy youngsters and therefore performs an important natural function in the eco-system.

Wolves live and hunt mainly in their own territory and the pack members will guard and defend their territory from other intruding wolves. Territory size depends on the availability of prey. If prey is scarce, territory size can be as small as 25 to 30 square miles. However, if prey is plentiful, wolf territory can cover up to 80 to 90 square miles. A hunt will begin with pack members gathering and greeting each other by howling. These howls will deter other wolves from entering into the pack's territory. The wolves begin their hunt by wading through their territory until they come across an animal for prey.

The wolf will approach the prey in the opposite direction of the wind to avoid the animal from detecting the wolf scent and running away. The wolves will close in slowly, sometimes in single file. As soon as their prey is aware it is being pursued and tries to escape, the chase begins. The wolves chase their prey and once caught, bite their animals by attacking the rump or sides. Large animals with horns are usually attacked this way so the wolves avoid being injured by the horns which are used as weapons against the wolves. Once down, the animal will be weakened and killed with a bite to the throat or snout. Then it is dragged away for all to feed upon. Wolf hunts can last minutes or hours depending on whether attacks are successful or not. If an attack fails, the wolves will continue to hunt until they are successful. It is a matter of survival.

Wolves are carnivores, meaning they live almost exclusively off of meat. When hunting in a pack, wolves often try to capture and kill deer, moose, caribou, bison, wild sheep, wild goats or musk oxen, and these large ungulates (hoofed animals) make up most of a wolf's diet. Although wolves hunting in packs tend to capture such large prey, lone wolves will on occasion bring down a large hoofed animal or one of its calves. During spring, wolves often prey upon juvenile ungulates. Wolves will also eat smaller animals like beavers, rabbits, hares, voles, fish, muskrats, lemmings, raccoons, shrews, marmots, woodchucks, shellfish, ground squirrels, mice and birds. In many parts of North America, beavers make up a large part of wolves' diets. Wolves hunting alone often catch such animals. Wolves will also eat animal carcasses they have found but did not kill themselves. Wolves will also eat insects, earthworms, grasshoppers, eggs, or garbage and, when especially hungry, vegetable matter, such as berries or nuts, though none of these items make up a significant part of a wolf's diet. They will also eat grass as a purgative. The grass will purge their digestive system when they eat something that upsets their stomach. Beaver can make up 60% of the wolves' diet during the summer. Wolves will sometimes turn to eating domestic livestock as well. Under threat wolves will purge their stomach contents to make their bodies lighter for flight.

To avoid using too much energy catching their food, wolves prey on weaker members of a herd, such as old, young or sick animals. In summer, when the herds migrate, wolves eat mice, birds and even fish. They may also eat carrion. Wolves eat their food very quickly, probably to protect it from being stolen, and to decrease the chance of attack from other predators. They eat the best parts first, and come back later for the remainder, as they can't afford to be wasteful. They will hide food in the snow, or icy soil, which helps to preserve it, and protect it from scavengers. Wolves and other animals, including bears and cougars, will cover partially eaten meat with dirt. You should never approach one of these camouflaged carcasses because the animal may not be far away. Bears and cougars will defend these partially eaten carcasses. Wolf packs may or may not, but it’s best not to take the chance.

Wolves can eat every 5 to 6 hours when there is plenty of food available, or they can fast and live on scraps for 2 weeks when there is less food around. 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. In Wisconsin, over half of the wolf's diet are white tailed deer, sixteen percent are beaver, ten percent hares and nineteen percent are small animals such as mice, squirrels, and muskrats. The intestines of adult wolves measure 460 to 575 cm, the ratio to body length being 4.13 to 4.62. The stomach can hold 7 to 9 kg (15 to 20 pounds) of food and up to 7.5 litres (8 US quarts) of water. The liver is relatively large, weighing 0.7 to 1.9 kg (1.6 to 4.2 pounds) in males and 0.68 to 0.82 kg (1.5 to 1.8 pounds) in females.


In biology scatology (or coprology) is the study of feces. Scatological studies determine a wide range of biological information about an animal, including its diet, health, where it has been, and parasites such as tapeworms. The word derives from the Greek σκώρ meaning "feces".

Wolf scat will usually contain the hair and bones of its prey. Scats can be 1½ to 2 inches in diameter and some plant material may be present such as grass or seeds. Scats are runny and black after wolves have fed on fresh meat. Then they gradually become firmer and more formed. Wolf scats usually have ungulate fur and/or bones in them. The volume is similar to a large dog's scat. Scat deposits may be many miles apart if wolves have not fed recently.

The scats of a black bear that has been eating meat are similar to wolf scat, but with a larger volume and a different odor. Mountain lion scats are more segmented than wolf scats but are similar in size, volume and content. However, mountain lions often cover their scats with leaves, sticks and dirt. Considerable overlap exists between the size of wolf and coyote scats. Both animals eat small mammals, and coyotes scavenge and sometimes kill ungulates. The appearance of scats and proximity to people should be considered when large canid tracks are encountered. In some remote areas, large canid tracks may result from using hound dogs to hunt mountain lions.

At present there are no techniques for conclusively matching scats with the species from which it came. However, scat contains self groomed hair, and if hair identification improves, this method may work for scat identification. Also some research is being conducted using thin layer and gas liquid chromatography to determine a species based on chemical composition of fecal bioacids. This may become a useful method in the future.

Scientists collect scats without touching them and place them in sealed plastic bags, then sterilize them before the contents are examined. Canid scat may contain parasites that can be harmful or fatal if ingested or inhaled. To destroy parasites, scats are heated above 212°F for 15 minutes. This can be accomplished by using an autoclave or pressure cooker. In the wilderness each scat goes in an aluminum can with the top cut out, and these cans go in a pressure cooker that is brought up to the proper temperature and pressure on a Coleman stove.


Wolves are superbly constructed and adapted for their predator role in an ecosystem. They pursue large and small prey over different kinds of terrain: open plains, dense forest, deep snow, steep slopes and into the water if necessary. Wolves have developed lean, muscular bodies set on long, powerful legs to be able to pursue prey. They are built for endurance and running, and can average around 25 miles per hour for several miles and 35 to 40 miles per hour for short bursts. The wolf's expert hunting ability comes from a combination of speed, stamina and strategy. Because wolves have narrow chests and outward-splayed forelegs, their hind legs can move in the same track as their front legs – an advantage in covering ground efficiently. Wolves' large, well-padded feet help to spread their weight over snow and allows them to efficiently grip irregular surfaces like rocks and logs. They are very strong for their size, possessing sufficient strength to turn over a frozen horse or moose carcass.

Wolves are social predators that live in nuclear families consisting of a mated pair, their offspring, and occasionally adopted immature wolves. They primarily feed on ungulates, which they hunt by wearing them down in short chases. Gray Woves are typically top-level apex predators that have virtually no predators of their own. They are at the top of the food chain. Only humans and tigers pose significant threats to them.

Biologists have studied wolves to see how many animals they bring down. Hunting can be dangerous for a wolf, because some animals that wolves hunt have dangerous weapons to defend themselves against attack. One moose was seen killing a wolf, and for this reason wolves try to find a moose that is old or sick, or one that is bogged down in the snow so it can not use its dangerous hooves to defend itself. The antlers and the hooves of a large animal like a moose or a caribou can injure or kill an attacking wolf. Deer and elk have hard hooves that can crack a wolf’s bones. Big horn sheep can butt with their heavy horns and cripple a wolf. Perhaps their favorite prey is moose. An average male moose weighs 1200 pounds and may stand over 6-½ ft tall at the shoulder. The hooves of a moose can easily kill a wolf. As hunters, wolves have a low success rate. In one study, researchers found that wolves caught only one out of 16 moose’s that they went after. Another study showed that for every twelve moose tracked, only one was caught

Although wolf packs do cooperate strategically in bringing down prey, they do not do so as frequently or as effectively as lionesses do. Unlike lions, wolves rarely remain with their pack for more than two years, thus they have less time to learn how to hunt cooperatively. Contrary to lion prides, food acquisition per wolf decreases with pack size. Overall, single wolves or mated pairs typically have higher success rates in hunting than do large packs. Single wolves have occasionally been observed to kill large prey such as moose, bison and muskoxen unaided. When hunting, wolves will sometimes attempt to conceal themselves as they approach their prey, although they typically make their presence known. With ungulate herds, they then either attempt to break up the herd, or isolate one or two animals from it. If the targeted animal stands its ground, the wolves either ignore it, or try to intimidate it into running.

When chasing small prey, wolves will attempt to catch up with their prey as soon as possible. With larger animals, the chase is prolonged, in order to wear the prey out. Wolves usually give up chases after 1 to 2 km (0.62 to 1.3 miles), though one wolf was recorded to chase a deer for 21 km (13 miles). Sometimes a single wolf will distract the herd with its presence, acting as a decoy, while its pack mates attack from behind. Wolf packs may also set up ambush trails. Indian wolves have been observed to chase gazelle herds through ravines where other wolves lie in wait within holes dug prior to the hunt. Russian wolves will set up ambushes near water holes, sometimes using the same site repeatedly. Both Russian and North American wolves have been observed to drive prey onto crusted ice, precipices, ravines, slopes and steep banks to slow them down. As predators, they help keep the ecosystem in balance by hunting primarily prey that is weak, sick or elderly, leaving stronger and healthier animals to survive and produce viable young. Other competing predators would be the cougar, coyote, bear and humans. In nature there is a need for both predator and prey and, although their numbers fluctuate, predator and prey can maintain the equilibrium necessary for the survival of both if given the opportunity to do so naturally.

The wolf is not a brave hunter and doesn't always catch the prey it attacks. Mature wolves usually avoid attacking large prey frontally, instead focusing on the rear and sides of the animal. They kill large prey by biting large chunks of flesh from the soft perineum area, causing massive blood loss. Such bites can cause wounds 10 to 15 cm in length, with three such bites to the perineum usually being sufficient to bring down a large deer in good health. When attacking moose, they occasionally bleed it to death by biting its soft nose. When hunting large game, the wolf pack separates out and surrounds its prey. Wolves usually bite the shoulders and flanks. While some pack members approach the prey from the rear, other wolves seize the prey by the nose. With medium-sized prey such as deer or sheep, northern wolves kill by biting the throat, severing nerve tracks and the carotid artery, thus causing the animal to die within a few seconds to a minute. The smaller southern wolves may grab the animal by the neck and stun it by jerking its head downward, hitting its nose on the ground. When prey is vulnerable and abundant, wolves may occasionally surplus kill. Such instances are common in domestic animals, but rare in the wild. In the wild, surplus killing primarily occurs during late winter or spring, when snow is unusually deep or during the denning period, when wolves require a ready supply of meat when denbound. Medium-sized prey are especially vulnerable to surplus killing, as the swift throat-biting method by which they are killed allows wolves to quickly kill one animal and move on to another. Surplus killing may also occur when adult wolves are teaching their young to hunt. The hunting skills of wolves decline when they reach mid-life, a new study suggests. Wolves' ability to kill prey peaks when they are 2 to 3 years old. This changes a long-held belief that wolves are at the top of their game for their entire adult lives.

To differentiate wolf kills from other predators' kills, Dr. L. David Mech and other researchers describe attacks by wolves on wild ungulates and domestic livestock. Wolves typically attack the hindquarters, flanks, shoulders, nose, and tail. They prefer to feed on the viscera and hind limbs. This is not obvious if the animal is attacked by a pack, as the entire carcass is usually quickly eaten.

A predator's life is not an easy one. Almost every time they are hungry, wolves must find and hunt down prey. Each predator has its own tools and hunting strategies. Wolves use their great sense of smell combined with excellent hearing abilities to help them find prey. They do chase and test their prey, looking for the animals they can kill while expending as little energy as possible and decreasing chances of injury. Large ungulates like deer, moose, elk and caribou are a wolf's primary food source. Wolves will also eat smaller animals like beaver, rabbit, mice and ground squirrel. Wolves are built for a feast or famine diet and can "wolf" down up to 20 pounds at one feeding. If wolves do not finish what they have killed, the leftovers will feed the scavengers: the fox, coyote and ravens.

They usually hunt at night and feed primarily on large hoofed mammals such as deer, caribou, elk, and moose, but sometimes eat berries, birds, beaver, fish, and insects. Animals that they kill are usually young, old, or otherwise weaker members of their populations because they are easiest to capture. Most pursuits of prey range in length from 110 yards to 3.1 miles. Healthy wolves rarely, if ever, attack humans. Their range once covered most of North America. However, today only a few upper states and Canada have a wolf population large enough to maintain itself. Wolves must travel many miles in order to find suitable prey. Scientists have estimated that one wolf needs at least ten square miles for a home territory. In the Arctic, wolves often follow their main prey, caribou, as the caribou migrate, often thousands of miles.

Wolves, because of their hunting instinct, are genetically programmed to track and pounce without provocation upon small, erratically behaving, vocalizing individuals who seem to the wolf to be distressed. Small children often appear to a wolf to be distressed prey. Running or yelling on the part of a child can trigger a predatory response in a wolf. This instinctive response is almost impossible to alter through socialization or training.

Scientists inform us that animals that have starved often die resting on their sternum with their legs folded under their sternum, while predator-killed animals are usually found lying on their side with legs extended.

Hunted Wolves

Wolves are notoriously difficult to hunt due to their elusiveness, sharp senses, high endurance in the chase, and ability to quickly incapacitate and kill hunting dogs. Historically, many methods have been devised to hunt wolves. In areas where wolves are a threat to livestock, the destruction of spring-born litters in their dens is a sure way of keeping wolf populations to a minimum. When hunting wolves with dogs, usually combinations of sighthounds, bloodhounds and fox terriers are used. The sighthounds chase and immobilize wolves until the arrival of the heavier dogs which do most of the fighting. Still hunting of wolves, alternately walking quietly and waiting concealed in the pursuit of game, is primarily practiced in areas where the terrain is too rough for hunting with dogs, though wolves are almost as hard to hunt with this method as cougars are. Because of their sharp hearing, wolves are almost impossible to stalk, even when asleep. Poisoning with strychnine was once practiced, but is now generally unpopular, as it can cause the unintentional deaths of animals other than wolves. Furthermore, wolves generally learn to recognize and avoid poisoned baits. The ideal time for wolf poisoning was during the late summer and early autumn period, when cubs were more likely to stray from their mothers and consume things they had not learned to avoid. Foothold traps are effective, as long as no long lasting human odors are present on them.

Many Native American tribes favored deadfall traps in capturing wolves. Wolf traps are sometimes accompanied by scents, usually beaver or musk deer musk and wolf urine, or baits of venison or horse meat. Traps however are not foolproof. Because of their excellent vision, wolves can detect the flaws in hidden traps, even at night, and wolves with prior experience of being trapped can teach their young to avoid them. Hunting blinds can be effective against wolves, though they are seldom used because their use requires much patience. A popular method of wolf hunting in Russia involves trapping a pack within a small area by encircling it with flag poles carrying a human scent. This method relies heavily on the wolf's fear of human scents, though it can lose its effectiveness when wolves become accustomed to the smell. Some hunters are able to lure wolves by imitating their calls, a method which is especially useful in winter and the mating season. In Kazakhstan and Mongolia, wolves are traditionally hunted with eagles and falcons, though this practice is declining because experienced falconers are few in number. Shooting wolves from aircraft is highly effective, as it allows greater visibility of wolves than hunting on the ground. However, aerial hunting is controversial, as it allows wolves little chance to escape or defend themselves. Fortunately wolves quickly learn the sound of airplanes means danger and avoid open areas when they hear planes.

Wolf Predators

Other than humans, tigers are the only serious predators of wolves. In areas where wolves and tigers share territory, such as the Russian Far East, the two species typically display a great deal of dietary overlap, resulting in intense competition. Wolf and tiger interactions are well documented in Sikhote-Alin, which until the beginning of the 20th century, had very few wolves. It is thought by some experts that wolf numbers increased in the region after tigers were largely eliminated during the Russian colonization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is corroborated by native inhabitants of the region claiming they had no memory of wolves inhabiting Sikohte-Alin until the 1930's, when tiger numbers decreased. Tigers depress wolf numbers, either to the point of localized extinction or to such low numbers as to make them a functionally insignificant component of the ecosystem.

Wolves appear capable of escaping competitive exclusion from tigers only when human persecution decreases the latter's numbers. Today wolves are scarce in tiger inhabited areas, being found in scattered pockets, and usually seen traveling as loners or in small groups. First hand accounts on interactions between the two species indicate that tigers occasionally chase wolves from their kills, while wolves will scavenge from tiger kills. Tigers are not known to prey on wolves, and there are four records of tigers killing wolves without consuming them. This competitive exclusion of wolves by tigers has been used by Russian conservationists to convince hunters in the Far East to tolerate the tigers, as they limit ungulate populations less than wolves, and are effective in controlling the wolf population.

Large wolf populations limit the numbers of small to medium sized felines. Wolves encounter cougars along portions of the Rocky Mountains and adjacent mountain ranges. Both species typically avoid encountering each other by hunting on different elevations. In winter however, when snow accumulation forces their prey into valleys, interactions between wolves and cougars become more likely. Although they rarely interact, wolves and cougars will kill each other, with packs of wolves sometimes usurping the cougar's kills. They hunt steppe cats, and may pose a threat to snow leopards. Wolves may also reduce Eurasian lynx populations.

Brown bears are encountered by wolves in both Eurasia and North America. Generally, the outcome of such encounters depends on the context: brown bears typically prevail against wolves in disputes over carcasses, while wolves mostly prevail against bears when defending their den sites. Both species will kill each other's young. Wolves will eat the brown bears they kill, while brown bears seem to only eat young wolves. American black bears occur solely in the Americas. Wolf interactions with black bears are much rarer than with brown bears, due to differences in habitat preferences. The majority of black bear encounters with wolves occur in the species' northern range, with no interactions being recorded in Mexico. Wolves have been recorded on numerous occasions to actively seek out black bears in their dens and kill them without eating them. Unlike brown bears, black bears frequently lose against wolves in disputes over kills. While encounters with brown and black bears appear to be common, polar bears are rarely encountered by wolves, though there are two records of wolf packs killing polar bear cubs. Wolves will also kill the cubs of Asian black bears. When attacking bears in daylight, wolf packs have been known to harass their quarry and wait until night before making the final assault, because wolves have better night vision than bears.

Wolves typically dominate other canid species in areas where they are in the same geographic location. In North America, incidences of wolves killing coyotes are common, especially in winter when coyotes feed on wolf kills. Wolves may attack coyote den sites, digging out and killing the pups. They rarely eat the coyotes they kill. There are no records of coyotes killing wolves, though coyotes may chase wolves if they outnumber them. Near identical interactions have been observed in Eurasia between wolves and golden jackals, with the latter's numbers being comparatively small in areas with high wolf densities. Wolves are the most important predator of raccoon dogs, killing large numbers of them in the spring and summer periods. Wolves also kill red, arctic and corsac foxes, usually in disputes over carcasses. They may eat the foxes they kill. In Asia they may compete with dholes, a wild Asian dog.

Wolves may encounter striped hyenas in Israel and Central Asia, usually in disputes over carcasses. Hyenas feed extensively on wolf killed carcasses in areas where the two species interact. On a one to one basis, hyenas dominate wolves, though wolf packs can drive off single hyenas.


Wolves appear prominently in the folklore and mythology of human cultures. In Norse and Japanese mythology, wolves were portrayed as almost god-like. In Japan, grain farmers worshiped wolves at shrines and left food offerings near their dens, beseeching them to protect their crops from wild boars and deer, while the wolf Fenrir of Norse mythology was depicted as the son of Loki. Certain cultures portrayed wolves as part of their foundation myths. In Roman mythology, the Capitoline Wolf nursed the future founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.

In the mythology of the Turks, Mongols and Ainu, wolves were believed to be the ancestors of their race, while the Dena’ina believed wolves were once men, and viewed them as brothers. Wolves were linked to the sun in some Eurasian cultures. The Ancient Greeks and Romans associated wolves with the sun god Apollo, while the wolf Sköll in Norse mythology was depicted pursuing the setting sun. Wolves were sometimes associated with witchcraft in both northern European and some Native American cultures. In Norse mythology, the völva (witch) Hyndla and the giantess Hyrrokin are both portrayed as using wolves as mounts. In Navajo culture, wolves were feared as witches in wolf's clothing. Similarly, the Tsilhqot'in believed that contact with wolves could cause mental illness and death. According to the Pawnee creation myth, the wolf was the first animal to experience death. According to the Avesta, wolves are a creation of the evil spirit Ahriman, and are ranked among the most cruel of animals. Wolves are referenced thirteen times in the Bible as symbols of greed and destructiveness. According to some folk tales, wolf brains got larger and smaller according to the phrases of the moon. Maybe people noticed that wolves have large, broad heads, but it has nothing to do with the moon. The characteristics of a wolf's skull do help to distinguish it from dogs and coyotes.