- A-Z Animals
The wolf is a member of the canid family currently found in Asia, Europe, and North America, though it was once more widespread. They are social animals, forming packs and hunting to bring down large animals like deer, elk, and moose. Wolves live over vast areas and often end up in disputes with other packs over territory.
Humans and wolves have a tense relationship as the latter may attack livestock for food, while the former tend to hunt the wolf for protection and sport.
Size: Length: 41–63 in (105–160 cm) tall; Weight: 26-175 lb (12-79.4 kg); females being less heavier than the males.
Teeth: Their teeth are heavy and large, with molars that have a flat chewing surface.
Body and Coloration: It has a robust, slender build. Wolves have a well-muscled neck, supporting its heavy head that consists of a long, blunt muzzle, broad forehead, and small, triangular ears. Their tails are longer than most other canids.
They have fluffy fur, consisting of two coats, an outer one that helps determine the color of its pelage and a smaller one underneath. These canids vary in color, with the most common ones being black, brown, gray, and white. The Arctic wolf is pure white, while the Eurasian wolf has an ocherous pelage.
Presently, wolves can be found across North America, Asia, and Europe. They used to be more widespread in the United States, Mexico, and western Europe, but their populations have dwindled and have become completely extinct in Ireland, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
Wolves live in deserts, grasslands (including Arctic tundra), forests, inland wetlands, pastures, mountainous terrain, mostly on rocky peaks and shrublands. Their habitats are dependent on the abundance of prey, turning to livestock if needed, roads, weather, and even human presence.
On average, wolves can live for 14 years in the wild.
The primary prey for wolves are large hoofed mammals. These include caribou, elk, moose, mule deer, red deer, roe deer, white-tailed deer, and wild boar. They even hunt frogs, hares, insects, reptiles, rodents, and salmon.
Wolves also eat berries and other fruits alongside carrion during food scarcity.
Larger predators can attack and eat wolves, including grizzly bears, polar bears, Siberian tigers, and even other wolves.
Wolves are monogamous, mating for life. Mating occurs when plenty of food is available as it becomes easier to raise pups with better resources. Females give birth to one litter every year on average.
The number of cubs per litter depends on the mother’s age, with younger wolves giving birth to 4-5 pups, while 6-8 pups are born of the mature ones. The mother gives birth in a den, either digging a burrow themselves or appropriating the shelter of smaller animals like badgers or foxes. These dens are close to a source of drinking water, generally allowing sunlight to enter as a form of warmth, and tend to be secluded to avoid encounters with other packs of wolves.
After a gestation period of 62-75 days, the pups will be born in spring or early summer. They are blind and deaf initially, utterly dependent on their parents for over a month. Pups have a high mortality rate, with many dying early on. The fathers have to hunt to provide food for the nursing mother for the first few weeks.
Once 3-4 weeks pass, the pups can eat solid food, and both parents begin hunting. The young wolves grow rapidly during this phase, becoming 30 times heavier. They become ready to hunt alongside their parents in autumn. At the end of 2 years, they will fully mature, but take 3 years to reach sexual maturity.
The IUCN classifies the wild wolf population as “LC” or “Least Concern”. This is because, despite facing threats like habitat loss, human contact, and competition with livestock and game species, the wolf maintains a stable population over a broad range. However, in places like Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, the wolf population is listed in Appendix I, indicating a possible decline if hunting and trading aren’t kept in check.
Currently, it is believed that around 200,000 to 250,000 wolves are left in the world.
Generally, wolves do not attack humans and actively avoid them. However, they become aggressive if cornered. Some may venture close to human habitations to search for easy food, leading to violent confrontation. In India, there are reports of wolves carrying off unattended children.
Yes, they sleep during the day and hunt at night.
While they will not actively target humans, they are uneasy in the presence of humans and may react aggressively if they are provoked.
Dogs are believed to have descended from ancient wolves, suggesting similarities in the two species.
Wolves had an indirect effect on the course of certain rivers. As a result of indiscriminate hunting, the wolf population dropped in certain areas in the U.S., allowing deer and elk to graze vegetation close to the riverbanks. This led to the soil eroding in those banks, changing the courses of the rivers next to them. Once the hunting went down and the wolf population rose again, the deer stopped grazing on the open riverbanks less frequently, allowing the vegetation to regrow, strengthening the riverbanks. This changed the course of the rivers again, leading to small pools and deeper channels.
No, they remain active throughout the winter.
No, wolves are incapable of climbing trees.
Yes, they do, but they are known to howl more.
No, they remain active through the winter months.