written by Sweet Mystics. © Sweet Mystics 2005
The Gray Wolf - Canis Lupus
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
Threats To Survival:
Most Common Subspecies and Habitat:
North American Subspecies;
Mackenzie Valley Wolf:
/The European part under construction by WolfMoon\
The Most Hated:
The Most Loved:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Miacis, Hesperocyon, and Cynodesmus are three prehistoric carnivores that played an important part in the wolf's evolution.
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.
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.
Hares and Rabbits:
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.
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.
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.
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.