Gray wolves, or timber wolves, are canines with long bushy tails that are often black-tipped. Their coat color is typically a mix of gray and brown with buffy facial markings and undersides, but the color can vary from solid white to brown or black. Gray Wolf!
Gray wolves look somewhat like a large German shepherd. Wolves vary in size depending on where they live! Wolves in the north are usually larger than those in the south.
Today gray wolves have populations in Alaska, northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin, western Montana, northern Idaho, northeast Oregon. Wolves can thrive in a diversity of habitats from the tundra to woodlands, forests, grasslands and deserts.
Wolves communicate through body language, scent marking, barking, growling, and howling! Much of their communication is about reinforcing the social hierarchy of the pack. When a wolf wants to challenge another wolf, it will growl or lay its ears back on its head. A playful wolf dances and bows!
Wolves live in packs!
Most packs have four to nine members, but the size can range from as few as two wolves to as many as 15. Occasionally a pack can increase to 30 members, until some individuals break off to find new territory and form their own pack.
Wolves typically mate for life. In the northern United States, they breed from late January through March. The breeding season is earlier for wolves living farther south. Wolves are pregnant for about 63 days and usually birth four to six pups!
Pups are born blind and defenseless
The pack cares for the pups until they fully mature at about 10 months of age when they can hunt on their own. Once grown, young wolves may disperse. Dispersing wolves have been known to travel 50 to 500 miles.
Wolves have unique howls, like fingerprints, that scientists (and other pack members) can use to tell them apart.
Pervasive in mythology, folklore, and language, the gray wolf has had an impact on the human imagination and has been the victim of levels of misunderstanding that few animals have shared. Wolves were domesticated several thousand years ago, and selective breeding produced dogs.
The wolf is built for travel
Its long legs, large feet, and deep but narrow chest suit it well for life on the move. Keen senses, large canine teeth, powerful jaws, and the ability to pursue prey at 60 km (37 miles) per hour equip the wolf well for a predatory way of life.
A typical northern male may be about 2 metres (6.6 feet) long, including the bushy half-metre-long tail. Standing 76 cm (30 inches) tall at the shoulder, it weighs about 45 kg (100 pounds), but weight ranges from 14 to 65 kg (31 to 143 pounds), depending on the geographic area. Females average about 20 percent smaller than males.
A danger to humans
Early human societies that hunted for survival admired the wolf and tried to imitate its habits, but in recent centuries the wolf has been widely viewed as an evil creature, a danger to humans (especially in Eurasia), a competitor for big game animals, and a threat to livestock.
The Eurasian population probably exceeds 150,000 and is stable or increasing in most countries. And most afford the wolf some degree of legal protection!
Worldwide, wolves still occupy about two-thirds of their former range. Although often thought of as wilderness animals, wolves can and do thrive close to people when they are not excessively persecuted and food is available.
Wolves primarily use their hunting energy to target large hoofed animals like deer, moose, bison, mountain goats, sheep, elk, and caribou. Despite the wolves’ extremely acute hunting skills, most of the animals they stalk eventually escape. Wolves are also opportunistic hunters, and will target small prey if it is available to them!
Wolves can eat as much as 22 pounds of meat in one sitting. Eating large amounts after a big kill in necessary because their hunts take so much effort and are not often successful. Wolves can go longer than a week without eating, with one known case of a wolf surviving for 17 days without food!
Under natural conditions, the food of wolves consists of the larger herbivores — deer and pronghorns. But when such game is scarce they turn their attention to mice, ground squirrels, and rabbits.
The young pups normally spend considerable time in stalking and capturing small mice. Where natural foods are scarce and domesticated livestock available, wolves soon learn that such items are satisfactory substitutes.