Gray Wolf Information, Photos, Facts & Trivia
The Gray Wolf is a cunning and noble predator. Legendary for its hunting prowess, it provokes wonder, fear and awe.
The Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) is known for its fierce appearance, excellent hunting ability, and pack behavior. With a howl that can travel great distances through the wilderness, a beautiful coat of fur, and the ability to adapt to a myriad of environments, the wolf is also a creature that has played a major role in many mythologies and fairy tales. American Expedition is proud to present Information, Interesting Facts & Trivia, Photos & Artwork, and Habitat Information for Gray Wolves.
Gray Wolf Information
Gray wolves, also known as "timber wolves" or "common wolves," are the largest members of the wild canid family. The average measures between 3.5 and 5.5 feet long, and weighs approximately 80 pounds. Despite their name, a wolf’s fur can range in color from almost pure white to black. The most common shade is tawny brown.
Gray wolves are social animals, and form packs of up to 12 members, usually consisting of a nuclear family. Wolf packs contain a dominant, or “Alpha” male and female, their offspring, and other wolves not related to the dominant pair. All of the wolves have a rank that determines their roles and hierarchy in the pack. Wolves are well known for their distinct sound: the howl. This unique noise can travel for several miles. Wolves howl for a number of reasons, including communication with other packs and with their own pack over long distances, to gather a pack for a hunt, to warn off intruders, or to attract mates.
Wolf mating season is from January to February and is usually limited to the alpha pair, although males will sometimes mate with subordinate females as well. The alpha female will have litters of up to 6 pups each year. During their first months, pups are completely dependent on their mother's milk. They are gradually weaned so that when they are seven months old, they are ready to start hunting with the adults. Raising the wolf pups is a responsibility shared by all members of the pack, and young wolves will typically stay in their pack for two to three years. Eventually, the young wolves will leave to join other packs, or find a mate and form their own packs. A wolf's average life span is 6-8 years, although the record wolf life span is around 20 years.
Gray wolves once had one of the largest ranges of any species, surpassed only by humans. It spanned throughout Eurasia, North America, and Africa, covering the entire continental northern hemisphere. Currently, the gray wolf inhabits a reduced portion of its range, largely due to human activity and habitat destruction. Data suggests that there were up to at least 400,000 wolves in the U.S., but presently there are only about 9,000 in the United States.
Gray Wolf Facts & Trivia
- Wolves are typically the apex predators in their range, challenged only by tigers and humans.
- The female alpha wolf makes a den and stays with her cubs for several weeks, while other wolves from the pack bring her food. After several weeks go by, the female alpha emerges for a short while to find her own food, but returns to the den immediately after.
- Wolves are monogamous, they stay with the same mate for life.
- The gestation period for a wolf is only about 63 days.
- A wolf pup’s eyes open 15 days after being born.
- Gray wolves develop strong bonds between the fellow wolves in the pack.
- In colder regions, wolves can reduce the flow of blood near their skin to conserve warmth.
- Wolves have very dense outer fur in the winter, with shorter underfur and long, coarse guardhairs. They will shed most of their underfur and some guard hairs in the spring, and then grow the fur back in the autumn.
- Wolves usually have longer hair on their back front quarters and neck, which almost form a crest.
- A wolves winter fur is especially well adapted to the cold, and can help it comfortably withstand temperatures of up to -40° when curled up. Wolf fur does not collect ice when warm breath is condensed against it.
- Female wolves typically have smoother fur than males.
- As a wolf ages, the hair on the tip of the tail, nose, and forehead may turn white.
- The gray wolf's sense of smell is relatively weak compared to some hunting dog breeds; however their auditory perception is sharp enough to hear the fall of leaves.
- 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 will chase their prey if it flees, and are good sprinters, capable of hitting speeds of up to 38 miles per hour. They are also highly capable distance runners, and have been known to chase deer up to 12 miles.
- 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.
- Wolves have 42 highly specialized teeth. Their canines, or "fangs," measure around 2-1/2" long, and they also have large molars for crushing and grinding bones. The jaws of a wolf are extremely powerful, and the wolf has a biting capacity of between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds per square inch.
- Gray wolves were hunted nearly to extinction in the continental U.S. due to the threats they posed to human safety and livestock. Today, their population is mainly confined to northern regions with sparse human populations and areas to which they have been reintroduced, like Yellowstone.
Wolves can thrive in a variety of environments from the tundra to the woods, forests, grasslands, or even deserts. Wolves require large areas capable of supporting stable populations of their prey. The range of a wolf pack typically varies from 80 to 300 miles, depending on the number of prey species inhabiting the region. In extreme northern regions, territories can cover over 1,000 square miles.
What Do Wolves Eat?
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, such as rabbits, snakes, mice, birds, fish, and beavers.
Wolves can go longer than a week without eating, with one known case of a wolf surviving for 17 days without food.
Wolves have 42 highly specialized teeth. Their canines, or "fangs," measure around 2-1/2" long, and they also have large molars for crushing and grinding bones. The jaws of a wolf are extremely powerful, and the wolf has a biting capacity of between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds per square inch.
Wolves & People
For Native Americans, wolves were a special creature that deserved utmost respect. They were known as a guide to the spiritual world, and therefore well respected. Native Americans admired the courage and patience of wolves, and tried to imitate them. Some tribes gave all of the credit of their hunting ability to the wolves, saying they learned to hunt by watching the wolves.
Native Americans felt that they also had a lot in common with the wolves. Both cared for their family and defended them from danger, both hunted for a living, and both were very social. As a result of all of these similarities, native Americans felt a deep and inseparable bond with the wolves.
A wolf’s winter fur is well adapted to the cold, and can help it comfortably withstand temperatures of up to -40° when curled up.
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Wolves can thrive in a variety of environments from the tundra to the woods, forests, grasslands, or even deserts.
Wolves play a large part in Native American cultural practices, legends, mythology, and folklore.
Wolves will tilt their heads up while howling in order to project their calls over long distances.
Wolves howl for many reasons. They may howl to communicate with other wolves or to warn off other predators.
It is a myth that wolves howl at the moon; the night is simply just the time they are active. It is easy to see how this misunderstanding was formed.
A wolf pack contains a dominant, or “alpha,” male and female. The female alpha is usually the only wolf in the pack to reproduce. She mates with the alpha male.
Despite their name, a wolf’s fur can range in color from almost pure white to black. The most common shade is tawny brown.
Wolves develop strong bonds between the fellow wolves in the pack.
Wolf fur does not collect ice when warm breath is condensed against it.