The gray wolf (Canis lupus) goes by a many names such as the timber wolf or western wolf. Wolves are typically pretty social, intelligent, and kind creatures that live in groups called packs. The amount of wolves in a pack can vary greatly, but they usually consist of 5-8 members. These wolves tend to develop strong social bonds within their packs. Packs are led by the alpha male and/or female. The alpha pairs are usually the biological parents of the pack, since it usually consists of their offspring. Speaking of offspring, wolf pups are born blind, deaf, and essentially defenseless. They are cared for by the pack until they are about 10 months old since that’s usually when they can hunt on their own. Once these wolves are a year old, some may leave the pack to simply join others, or to breed. These wolves have been known to travel from 50 to 500 miles (80-805km). Wolves are also considered to be keystone predators, since they help maintain a balanced ecosystem, and are apex predators.
Fun Fact: The wolf totem symbolizes a strong connection to your instinct or intuition. It also stands for having high intelligence, loyalty, and communication.
Body and Skeletal Structure:
Gray wolves vary in size depending on where they live in. However, males are usually larger than the females. For example, male wolves usually range from being 5ft to 6.5ft long (1.5m-1.98m), and generally weigh from 75 to 145 lb (34-65.8kg). Meanwhile, the females typically range from 4.5ft to 6ft (1.4m-1.8m), and weigh from about 60-100 lb (27.2-45.4kg). Also, most wolves have a height between 2-3ft (61-92cm). Gray wolves are actually the largest living members of its family.
Fun Fact: The heaviest wolf ever reported was found in east central Alaska, weighing 175 pounds (79.4kg).
Fun Fact: Wolves can run up to speeds ranging from 31 to 37mph (miles per hour).
Their fur coloring also varies depending on where they reside. Their fur colors can range from being white with gray to brown to tawny, and to some being nearly all uniform black or white. The gray fur coloring does tend to dominate though, hence the name, the Gray wolf. Thick fur is also present among these wolves. The outer layer of fur is composed of coarse guard hairs while below it, a soft undercoat is present. Wolf fur tends to grow thicker during autumn and winter. This fur sheds during the late spring, and this results in the wolf having a short summer coat.
Wolves are carnivores, meaning they primarily eat meat. They usually prefer to eat large hoofed animals (ungulates) such as deer, bison, elk, and moose. However, they do hunt smaller animals like beavers and hares as well.
Fun Fact: Wolves eat an average of 20 to 30 pounds (9.07-13.6kg) of meat in a single meal.
Most wolves live from about 8 to 13 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live for more than 15 years.
Mating Season: January – March
Gestation Period: 63 days
Litter Size: 4-7 pups
Communication and Behavior:
Communication allows wolves to care for and feed their young, defend their territory, bring down large prey successfully, and more. Wolves have a complex communication system ranging from barks and whines to growls and howls. They also communicate through body language and scent marking. Most of the time, communication is used to reinforce the social hierarchy of the pack.
- When a wolf wants show its submissiveness to another, it will usually crouch, whimper, tuck its tail in, lick the other wolf’s mouth, or roll over on its back.
- When a wolf is challenging another, it’ll usually growl or lay its ears back on its head.
- When a wolf is playful, it tends to “dance” and bow.
- When a wolf wants to signal a warning, it’ll typically bark.
- When a wolf wants to communicate from a long distance, pull the pack back together, or to warn strangers away, the wolf will typically howl.
Fun Fact: The lowest ranking wolf of the pack is called the omega.
Habitat and Range:
Gray wolves can survive in a wide variety of habitats where suitable food is available, although it’s generally absent from heavily populated human settlements and areas of intensive cultivation. They can be found in forests, tundras, taigas, plains, mountains, and even deserts.
Although gray wolf populations are stable worldwide, they are considered to be very vulnerable on a regional level. This is due to habitat loss, trapping, shooting, poisoning, and more.