Wolf Facts

written by Sweet Mystics.  Sweet Mystics 2005

The Gray Wolf - Canis Lupus
The Most Loved; The Most Hated

Average Length (from nose to tail): males- 5 to 6.5 ft.; females- 4.5 to 5 ft.
Average Height (at shoulder): 26 to 32 inches
Average Weight: males- 70 to 110 lbs.; females- 60 to 80 lbs.

Life Span:
- 13 years in the wild
- 14 to 19 in captivity

- gray but can also be white, brownish, or black. Usually corresponds to the wolves' environment.


Ears: Wolves can hear sounds up to 6 miles away. While sleeping, its ears stand straight up. This helps catch prey and warn wolves of danger.

Eyes: Poor frontal vision beyond 100 to 150 feet. However, they have very accurate peripheral vision.

Nose: Sense of smell is 100x better than a hooman's. It's nose is essential in finding prey. The wolf can smell prey more than a mile away. It can sense the presence of an animal 3 days after its gone.

Legs: More than any other carnivore, a wolf is adapted to run. The anatomy of their front lags set them apart from other canines. Their knees turn in, their paws turn out. They can top speeds of 35-45 mph.

Teeth: 42 teeth. Four canine teeth are used for hanging onto or biting through the flesh of prey. The molars are at the back of the mouth. These specialized shearing teeth, known as carnassials is one of the reasons that wolves have managed to survive.

Coat: Wolves thick coat helps them survive the extreme cold of winters, especially in the Arctic regions.

Communication: Wolves howl to warn, to bond, to play, and to gather a hunting group. They also growl, snarl, whine, yip, whimper, and bark to communicate. They use facial expressions to show emotion and scent marking to show territorial boundaries; warn nearby packs.
Wolves are very social animals, and they communicate well with each other within the pack. Gestures of dominance and submission keep the pack in order.

- Alpha Pair sometimes mate for life
- Breeding Season: January to March
- Gestation Period: about 65 days
- Litter Size: 1-9; usually 6 pups
- At Birth: Pups have blue eyes and weigh 1 pound
-Sexual Maturity: males- 3 years old; females- 2 years old

Pack Size:
- 2 to 15 wolves *sometimes larger

Wolf Hierarchy
Highest Ranking: Alpha Pair---->Beta pair---->Surbordinates---->Omega---->Pups: Lowest Ranking

- wolves stalk and chase large hoofed animals in groups, working together to bring down the prey
- usually hunt young, sick, or weak animals
- deer, elk, moose, bison, caribou
- When hunting alone, a wolf will eat small animals such as rodents, rabbits, beaver, oppossums, and even snakes or lizards
- Occasionally, wolves will kill ranchers' livestock due to the depredation of their own natural prey by humans
- Wolves almost always prefer wild prey

The wolf has no natural predators. However, its competition includes other predators in their range such as wolverines, bears, and cougars. Also wolves tend to have problems with coyotes who try to steal carcasses after a hunt.

Threats To Survival:
- loss of habitat due to destruction, development, and encroachment by humans
- persecution by humans

Most Common Subspecies and Habitat:

North American Subspecies;

Mexican Wolf:
Canis Lupus baileyi
Mexico and Southwest United States

Buffalo Wolf:
Canis Lupus bubilus
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Upper Michigan

Mackenzie Valley Wolf:
Canis Lupus occidentalis
Western Canada and Alaska

Arctic Wolf:
Canis Lupus arctos
Far North Region and Ellesmere Island

Timber Wolf:
Canis Lupus lycaon
Eastern United States and South Eastern Canada

European Subspecies;

Scandinavian Wolf:
Canis Lupus lineeaus
Norway, Sweden and Finland.

European Wolf:
Canis Lupus lupus

/The European part under construction by WolfMoon\

- The wolf has been hunted, trapped, and poisoned by humans for centuries. The government gave bounties for killed wolves in the past. Now the government is protecting the wolf through the Endangered Species Act (ESA). With the help of wildlife societies, the wolf is slowly being restored to its natural range.
- Recovery of Timber Wolves in New York
- Recovery of the Mexican Wolf
- Reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho

- 1998 National Wildlife Federation Poll shows 76% of Americans support wolf restoration
- Incidence of rabies in wolves is extremely low
- Farmers and ranchers are often compensated for cattle killed by reintroduced wolves

The Most Hated:
- For generations the wolf was the symbol for evil; compared to the devil
- Many myths and fairy tales surround the wolf; almost always the villain
- Today, luckily, farmers have the most problems with wolves

The Most Loved:
- In recent years, the wolf has become the symbol of great hope, courage, and wilderness
- It represents all endangered species and their survival
- The wolf's beauty and mystery has intrigued many to watch, study, and protect the species
- The wolf is a survivor and it still lives on...

For more info please visit Defenders of Wildlife and International Wolf Center
European links comes later!

Wolf Behaviour

Body Language

Wolves have a rich vocabulary of visual signals that communicate social rank, mood, and intentions. Subtle changes in tail and ear positions, of body and head angle and height, making and breaking eye contact, and various facial expression show this information. Even two emotions of varying intensity, such as fear and submission, or submission and defensive threat, can be signalled at the same time. Although these displays are instinctive, a wolf learns who is who in the pack and what to expect in certain social situations. He is aware of the various roles he and other wolves play in different situations. This awareness is termed "metacommunication"--"He knows that you know that he knows." Because of this, the frequency and complexity of communications signalling can be reduced; a mere glance or slight flick of the ears suffices.


Since each wolf knows its place in the rank order, conflicts are reduced. Once a stable dominance hierarchy is established, peace reigns in the pack. Any disagreements are settled by ritualized fighting or "jaw wrestling," and sometimes just by a threat display without any physical contact at all. The alpha wolves may "police" others, subordinating an upstart with a direct stare and breaking up squabbles between two lower-ranking wolves.

What seems to be very aggressive is the pinning of whining subordinates to the ground by the growling leader. Subordinates often solicit this; such behaviour is not aggressive but is a ritual display of rank between pack members, serving to reaffirm the unity of the pack and the alliance to the leader.
As soon as a wolf gives a surrender signal and shows submission toward the other contestant, the latter will immediately stop fighting. Wolves do show chivalry!


Wolves of all ages, from four weeks of age and on, engage in play. They are by nature curious creatures, and any novel item that catches their fancy could become a play object: a stick, piece of antler, or the tail of another wolf. Wolf cubs especially engage in a form of "hallucinatory" self play, pawing, snapping at, and even chasing their own tails or spooking and pouncing on or running away from nothing, just like a kitten. A stick or strip of deer hide can be a toy for solitary play to be stalked, attacked, shaken, and "killed" or a catalyst for social play even for adult wolves. Suitable objects can be used for tugs of war, chase, and catch or even as a "dare", where one wolf dares another to steal its toy.
Then there is the social play of wolves, enjoyed by all pack members. Social play takes many forms. Hugging and wrestling are forms of contact-play which are usually started by a "let's play" bow and are especially evident during courtship. Contact play is often interspersed with brief bouts of affectionate grooming and may lead to playful fighting, chasing, stalking, and ambush, involving two, three, and more wolves.

Parental Behaviour

Much of the social life of the pack revolves around the care and rearing of young. When parents go off hunting, another adult will baby-sit. Adults play for hours with the cubs and are extremely tolerant and affectionate, but not overpermissive. Cubs soon learn their places within the pack. Little is known about how the older wolves teach cubs to hunt, but much is probably picked up by observation and imitation alone.

Socialization and Group Rituals

As cubs play and interact with each other and with adults, they become socialized or emotionally bonded at an early age. This bonding period wanes around four months and cubs begin to shy away from strangers.
Older cubs persist in mobbing the leader, licking the face, whining and tail-wagging in the same way they once did in order to solicit food from their parents. The food-soliciting and mobbing greeting toward parents become the collective "love-in" display of affection and allegiance shown by subordinate adults to the leader. Such ritual ceremonies are performed especially when wolves wake up, before they split up to hunt, and when the pack is reunited after a hunt.

Another ritual often follows this, namely the pack howl or chorus. The sound of a wolf pack in full song perhaps best exemplifies the highly evolved sociability of the wolf.

Social Bonds

A well-understood and respected hierarchy eliminates most serious conflict within the pack. Wolves are incredibly strong, and potential injuries could be fatal if wolves chose to fight one another. Hunting would be less effective without the full strength of each individual, and the pack would suffer.

Wolves possess a strong social nature. Understanding this sophisticated and highly complex social system and its dynamics is the key to understanding wolves. Each wolf assumes a particular role within the pack; a role that may change as the wolf matures and develops into either a strong, decisive individual or, maybe, a more submissive follower.

The Alpha wolves are usually the oldest and most experienced members of the pack. The alpha male and female guide the activities of the pack and share the duties of leadership; the alpha male may determine hunting strategies and take the initiative in marking his pack's territory. The alpha female makes decisions on where to establish den sites- a crucial role, as this determines where the pack will live and hunt as well.

Dominant wolves display strong personalities and must be confident decision makers. Alpha leaders have to be able to earn the respect and affection of other pack members. Lower-ranking members show this respect by approaching the alpha male or female with their bodies lowered and greeting them by reaching up to lick or nuzzle the alpha animal's face. "Top dog" in the wolf pack is an honored role and even young pups begin testing and challenging one another through play fighting to establish dominance.

Clear communication is a key element to the success of a cooperative pack- when signals from the alpha wolf are clear and are respected by other pack members, disputes can be settled quickly and without physical confrontation. Wolves communicate even complex messages in very subtle ways. A strong glance or a quick growl may be all that is neccessary to keep the peace. Even when pack members don't see eye to eye, quarrels are quickly forgotten once settled.

Subordinate pack members need time to learn the skills their leaders can teach. The health of a wolf pack cannot be measured by sheer numbers but rather by the strength and skills brought to the whole pack by individuals, each playing vital roles.

A wolf's decision to leave the security of the pack is not made lightly, as a lone wolf is quite vulnerable. Acquiring food is a dangerous and difficult proposition for a whole pack, much less a wolf on its own. Often it is confident and aggressive wolves under the age of two that choose to become dispersers and possibly leaders of their own pack. They may leave because they have been harassed by other pack members, because food supplies have become scarce in their pack's territory, or because of a need to mate that cannot be fulfilled within their pack of origin.

Enemies and Allies

In Yellowstone, the threatened grizzly bear and the reintroduced gray wolf seem to have developed a relationship since 1995. The two have been observed traveling together, and sometimes even killing together. An individual bear may even walk up to a carcass, scaring off nearby wolves. But also a sow with two cubs have been seen traveling with a couple of wolves for about a week, feeding together.

However, grizzlies are also known to prey upon wolf pups at 2 weeks of age, and wolves will chase away bears from the den area. Golden Eagles will also attempt to steal wolf pups.

Foxes have been observed stealing from wolf kills, and wolves have been know to steal fox dens. Also wolves have been known to kill foxes, though rare. Wolves usually ignore these small predators, except in the arctic region where wolves will kill a fox on sight.

One of the most interesting relationships between animals is the one that exist between wolves and raven. The raven, scavenger of food of all types, will often follow wolf packs in hopes of morsels of food. Wolves have learned to watch for circling ravens as a sign of possible food below. Also wolves and ravens may play a game of 'tag'. When the wolf wins, it is usually at the cost of the raven's life.

Wolverines may scavenge kills in the presence of other carnivores with added risk of death or injury. Where they both coexist, wolves and mountain lions may kill wolverines.

Although wolves are capable of breeding with dogs, such crosses usually happen in captivity. Most encounters between wild wolves and dogs are aggressive in nature. It is only natural a dog would be a trespasser in a wolf's territory, and small yapping dogs may be attacked as nuisances.

Coyotes will avoid wolves most times. but when encounters occour they are aggressive. Rare in nature, the cougar being a lone hunter is at a disadvantage in a fight with a wolf pack.

Evolution and Classification

Miacis, Hesperocyon, and Cynodesmus are three prehistoric carnivores that played an important part in the wolf's evolution.

The Gray Wolf: Canis Lupus

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Subphylum Vertebrata
Class Mammalia
Order Carnivora
Family Canidae
Genus Canis
Species lupus


Some of the many descriptive subspecific names once or still recognized for the gray wolf follow:

LYCAON Refers to a character in Greek mythology; Lycaon, king of Arcadia, was turned into a wolf by Zeus as a punishment. The eastern timber wolf of North America, Canis lupus lycaon.

ALCES Referring to this wolf's dependency on very large moose, which are themselves classified as Alces Alces. The Kenai Peninsula wolf, Canis lupus alces.

BAILEYI Named after the a government trapper. The Mexican wolf, Canis lupus baileyi.

CAMPESTRIS "The wolf of the open plains." The steppe wolf, Canis lupus campestris.

COLUMBIANUS The British Columbia wolf, Canis lupus columbianus.

FUSCUS "Tawny", referring to the coat color of the Cascade Mountains wolf, Canis lupus fuscus.

HUDSONICUS The Hudson Bay wolf, Canis lupus hudsonicus, ranged west and north of Hudson Bay.

LABRADORIUS The Labrador wolf, Canis lupus labradorius, had a distribution throught out northern Quebec and Labrador.

NUBILUS "Cloudy" or "cloudy gray," referring to the generally pale gray coloration of animals that once roamed the Great Plains. The Buffalo wolf,Canis lupus nubilus.

OCCIDENTALIS The "western" wolf, also known as the Mackenzie wolf, Canis lupus occidentalis.

ORION Another reference to mythology, comparing the wolf to the great hunter Orion. The Greenland wolf, Canis lupus orion.

YOUNGI Refers to a government hunter who helped spread wolf tales and lores in the 1940s and 1950s. The southern Rocky Mountain wolf Canis lupus youngi.

Some sixty million years ago, in the Paleocene, the ancestors of the wolf began to develop. They found a niche as carnivores that hunted by chasing their prey. As these creatures evolved, they developed partially retractable claws and long, thick tails. As climatic changes took place, some of these carnivores moved out of the forests and onto the plains, giving rise to bears, raccoons, weasels, and wolves. Those carnivores that continued to inhabit the trees took a seperate evolutionary path-- retaining their retractable claws and refining an ambush style of hunting-- and their descendants survive as members of the cat family.


A successful hunt depends on the cooperative efforts of the entire pack. It is vital that all members get along and understand their roles if the pack is to survive. They depend on one another to bring down the game that would certainly elude them if each worked alone.

Because huntng carries a relatively low chance of success, wolves search for easy targets. It is the vunerable animals- the crippled, the diseased, the injured, those with poor sight or hearing, and the oldest or youngest- on which the wolf survives. In eliminating these weaker animals, the wolf helps maintain strong, viable populations of large ungulates such as caribou, deer, elk, and moose.

Before a wolf pack devotes great amounts of time and energy to pursuing prey, it tests the animal it has selected. Wolves will force their potential quarry to run or stand ground in defense.

If the prey animal vigorously defends itself, the wolves will think twice about continuing the attack. If, however, an individual exhibits any sign of weakness or injury (a limp, an inattentive mother, open wounds, substantial hair loss), it will become the focus of the pack's attention regardless of the other animals nearby.

Because their prey is generally much larger and swifter than they are, wolves make great use of any advantages they can find. Moving in close before attacking, aproaching from upwind, surprising prey, or encircling prey to cut off escape routes may provide the few valuable seconds that assures a successful kill. To wear out their quarry, one wolf may sprint while others lay back, surging ahead to take over when the lead wolf tires. The pack will snap at the animal's legs, rear, and sides to weaken it further.

Prey Species;
Depend on their sharp, hard edges of their front hooves for defense. Or, if near water, they will charge in. Excellent swimmers, most deer can outpace wolves in deep water. However, their legs and hooves make moving on ice and hard-crust snow very treacherous. In these cases, wolves are likely to overcome their prey. Mature: 250-300 lbs.

The most dangerous of the wolf's prey. The moose's legs and hooves are strong defense weapons. If they choose to flee from wolves, they often seek safety in water for they are strong swimmers and they can also give a good chase on land. To find success, wolves most often take the old, sick, or disabled, or young calves that have become seperated from their mothers. Mature: 800-1500 lbs.

Hares and Rabbits:
Greatest defense is their speed, as most mature hares can outrun their hunters. Other adaptions include large ears, large eyes, and sensitive nose for early warnings. Wolves do not depend on this prey as a source of food, but will readily take them in when available.

Depend on their highly developed senses of hearing and smell to warn of danger. If cut off from the water's edge by a wolf or other predator, the beaver literally goes underground escaping through a plunge hole beneath the forest floor, then underwater to their lodge. Mature: 50-60 lbs.

Long ago, bison traveled across North America in large herds before European settlers and their guns. The bison were an important source of food for wolves. Native Americans learned much from wolves on how to effectively hunt the giant bison. Bison can smell trouble from afar, and when threatened, they use their their large horns for defense weapons. Presently, because of work to save the almost-extinct bison now their numbers have grown to safe thousands. Mature: 1000-2000 lbs.

Wild Boars:
Mostly active in the evening or at night, their acute sense of smell helps warn of danger. Their thick skin and dense layer of fat are not easy for a wolf to penerate if it is even successful in getting the chance. Wild pigs will defend themselves tenaciously and all come equipped with a set of growing tusks. Kept razor sharp, they present a formidable means of defense.

Wild Sheep:
Greatest defense is to escape to steep slopes that are not easily accessible to wolves. They stay in small herds, scanning the surroungings with their eyes that can move independently in different directions. 180-200 lbs.

Musk Oxen:
Defense from attacking wolves, they will form a circle with the young animals in the center. The adults face outwards to protect their flanks and their young. They present to their adversaries a circle of formidable horns and heavy, slashing hooves. Mature: 700 lbs.

Goat Antelopes:
Live in small herds, with two or more animals always on alert for approaching danger. Their best defense is their ability to manuever among rocky mountainsides and cliffs where predators dare not follow.


Late winter breeding takes place. The pups are born nine weeks later, usually in spring or early summer, where survival is favored. Pups born during plentiful times have the best chance of survival, meaning before the cold and snow of winter arrive.

Preparation for the birth of the pups is a group effort. While the Alpha female begins to prepare one or more dens, the other pack members store food for her to eat, burying it in caches near the den site. The pregnant female may create a den in a cave, a hollow log, or an abandoned den usually of a fox or beaver. Often the female prepares more than one den as a backup site, in case environmental conditions or encroaching animals threaten the pups. A new den may be complete three weeks before the pups are due. Most often a day before the birth, the mother will enter the confinement of the den.

Often the litter size is five or six pups, but can be as little as two or as much as eleven. At birth, pups weigh one pound, cannot hear or see and cannot regulate their own body temperature, depending completely on their mother their first weeks of life. Their mother is the only member of the pack that has contact with them during this time.

All pups have soft, fuzzy brown or black fur at birth with small, droopy ears and blunt muzzles. Within two weeks pups open their eyes and most often begin to walk at this time as well. At 3-4 weeks they will begin to develop real vision. Their eyes are a baby blue, but usually change as they mature. Up to this time, they have fed off their mother's milk. At around three weeks, pups begin to eat semisolid food regurgitated by their mother. A week later, they will begin to explore outside yet still close to the den's entrance.

The pack is overly excited when greeting the young pups as they are the pack's future. The pack members welcome the pups with licks and nuzzles, sniffing the new scents. Each wolf now takes the role of CareTaker. Each member provides food, play, and protection for the pups. Adults carry food back for the pups announcing their arrival with little squeaking noises. The pups in turn greet them squeaking, begging, tail wagging then nibble and lick the feeder's muzzle to stimulate regurgitation.

Pup Behavior;

The pups life is to eat, to sleep, and to play. Most adults are affectionate and tolerant of the playful pups, sometimes even joining in the romp sessions. Chasing, stalking, play-fighting, bounding, running, pouncing, and chewing on anything and everything meets the pup's fancy whenever it's not sleeping. As well as having fun, the pups are learning certain hunting skills and building strength and coordination. By imitating the adults, the pups are also learning to socialize; finding close relationships with the other pack members helps maintain the pack's bonds and establishes the pup's role in the dominance hierarchy.

By six weeks old, the pups try to follow adults for short distances from the den. Knowing they are not old enough to travel far or on their own, they explore all around, taking care not to stray too far from the den site. Leaves, bones, blades of grass, and pinecones are constantly investigated by the curious pups. They eagerly shadow adult wolves, chase small animals, especially birds, pounce sticks and twigs, as well as puddles of water.

Bold pups will climb all over an adult, pulling its tail and nipping its ears, as long as the adult will tolerate it. Adult wolves are very caring, patient and gentle with the pups. Even older wolves will join in a playful chase or a happy chorus of howling. No matter what the age, a wolf's qualities include friendliness, curiousity, and intelligence. Around 4 to 7 weeks, pups begin learning to howl through imitation. At eight to ten weeks old, pups have grown enough to leave the den site and join the pack at the rendezvous site. This area is about an acre and always near a source of water within the pack's territory. While the rest of the pack hunts, pups explore and play in the area under the protective eye of an adult puppy sitter.

As the season changes from summer to autumn, the young wolves are around six months of age, they show signs of growth that indicate they are ready to travel with the pack. However, the pups still have less stamina, speed and strength than the adults.

Pups aren't physically mature until they are at least two years old. Successful breeding isn't likely, for those who become the dominant wolves of the pack, until they reach three years or more.

While the pups grow stronger each day, they follow the older pack members, learn their territory and their role in the hierarchy, learn to sniff out and track prey, and to hunt skillfully.

Visual Expressions

1. Self Confidence (dominance)2. Certain Threat3. Imposing Attitude of dominance (with sideways brushing)

4. Normal Attitude (with no social pressure)5. Not-entirely-certain Threat6. Normal Attitude (similar to 4); common during eating and observing

7. Depressed mood8. Between threat and defense9. Actively casting oneself down (sideways brushing)

10. Submission11. Strong restraint (submission)Drawn by Cecilia

The position of a wolf's peripheral parts usually indicates the animal's social rank. Thus there are two extremes in posture, expressing either a very dominant or superior status, or a very inferior or subordinate rank; and there are several intermediate positions displaying different degrees of social acceptability between extremes.

The tail is a sensitive indicator of mood and status. Position, shape, and movement are all significant in this respect. Differences in these properties occur during social interactions, either friendly or status-demonstrating. Under conditions without social tension, the tail hangs loosely from a raised base.

Two extremes in tail positions can be seen. A wolf threatening or showing dominance raises its tail above the plane of its back (1,2, & 3). A submissive animal holds its tail very low, often tucked in between its legs or curved forward alongside its legs (9, 10, & 11). Wolves of intermediate rank or indivuals displaying dominance less forcefully carry their tails between these extremes (4, 5, 6, 7, & 8).

Tail movements are related to various feelings. Loose, free tail wagging indicates a general friendliness, with the swinging in inferior wolves aften extending to the entire rump and pulled-in tail. Quick, ubrupt wagging of a tail tip or the whole tail sometimes occurs during an agressive mood. A trembling vertical tail is characteristic of a high-ranking wolf meeting another wolf of high status. During mock fights, the attacker often beats its tail toward its opponent.

Vocal Communications

Wolves have complex communication, which enables them to let others know what they are thinking without any violence.


Howling is the most familiar wolf vocalisation to everyone. When wolves howl they harmonize, rather than howl the same note, making the impression that there are more wolves. This is usually to deluge neighbouring packs. It is a myth that wolves howl at the moon. In fact, they howl for many reasons, such as to assemble the pack before and after hunts, to warn neighbouring packs of their presence, to locate members of the pack over distances, and apparently they howl just for the fun of it.


Wolves infrequently bark, and when they do it is usually to indicate stress or a warning. An example is if a stranger is found approaching the den site, the alpha female usually barks to warn the stranger and to signal to the other pack members that help is needed


Like barking, growling is a sound used as a threat, or in a dominance dispute. Wolves also growl during feeding, but this sound is most commonly used playfully by pups. Usually all an Alpha has to do is use a "direct stare" accompanied by a soft growl and a subordinate will cringe, whine and slink away.


Whining is usually a sorrowful or submissive sound. There is another type of high-pitched whimper, which is a sound of intimacy. It is associated with greeting, feeding the pups, play and other situations of curiosity or anxiety.

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