|Wolves are one of the most misunderstood animals
in the forest. Many people fear wolves and think they are a
threat to humans. Nursery rhymes and fairy tales depict wolves
as "big and bad." In reality wolves are shy and much
more afraid of us then we are of them.
Click on photo to enlarge
Did you know that wolves are closely related to dogs?
People a few thousand years ago took wolves and tamed them or domesticated
them. These domesticated wolves are now what we call dogs.
|What do wolves look like?
Wolves look like large dogs and weigh between 57-130 pounds.
The males are larger than females. Wolves range in color from
white to black but are most commonly gray with a black tipped
Click on photo to enlarge
Where do wolves live?
At one time wolves were found throughout most of the US wherever
there was an adequate food supply. Up until recently they were killed
off almost to the point of extinction. The government paid hunters
to kill wolves because they feared that wolves would try to take
livestock. Today wolves are found in Alaska, Canada, and the northern
parts of Minnesota, Idaho, Washington, Montana, and Wisconsin. Since
wolf populations are so small, they are listed as endangered in
most states. The wolves in Minnesota are only threatened meaning
they are not in immediate danger of becoming extinct.
What do wolves like to eat?
Wolves are carnivorous which means they primarily eat meat. They
have also been known to eat berries and insects. Wolves prefer to
eat large mammals such as moose, deer, and caribou but they also
eat birds, fish, mice, snowshoe hares, beavers, and muskrats. Wolves
usually hunt in packs but in the spring and summer when there is
plenty of prey available they hunt alone.
How do you tell the difference between wolves, coyotes, and
It is difficult to tell the difference between wolves and coyotes.
Coyotes are usually about half the size of wolves and they have
larger ears and longer noses. Wolves also howl in long tones, while
coyotes call out in yups and yaps.
When wolves walk they place their back feet in the print of the
front feet but dogs walk so that their prints do not overlap. Wolves
differ from dogs by having a narrow chest, longer legs, big feet
and they hold their tail down straight but not curled. Wolf tracks
are about 9-14 inches wide.
Did you know that ravens sometimes help wolves find food?
Some people have noticed that ravens circle in the air around sick
deer or moose. The wolves notice the circling ravens and realize
that prey is close by. This is a remarkable relationship because
both animals benefit-the wolves find food and the ravens eat the
How many pups are in a litter?
Mother wolves have litters of between 1-11 pups. The average
litter size is 5-6 pups. Mature wolves wait until they are
3 before becoming parents.
When are the pups born?
The wolves breed in February and March and the pups are born
2 months later. Usually only the alpha male and female are
the ones that mate, so a pack only has 1 litter of pups each
Click on photo to enlarge
Where do the mothers keep the pups?
The mother digs a den in the dirt where she can deliver her pups.
Sometimes, she finds an old beaver lodge or log to deliver hers
pups in instead of a den.
How much do the pups weigh?
When the pups are born they weigh about 1 pound and are deaf and
blind. They grow quickly and usually put on about 3 pounds each
week! After 3 weeks they can see and hear and they begin to get
At 6-10 weeks, the pups are moved to an aboveground den where they
can romp and play. As the pups get older they begin hunting with
the adults and they also learn how to survive in their environment.
The pups are very playful and they spend time imitating hunting
techniques. This gets them ready for when they set off on their
own to form their own packs.
|Did you know that other members of the pack
help raise the pups?
When the mother goes hunting, other pack members baby-sit for
the pups. When the adults return from the hunt they bring extra
food back to the pups which they carry in their stomachs. The
pups nip and bite at the adult's mouth and cheeks to make it
regurgitate. This is how the young pups feed after they are
Click on photo to enlarge
Who is the "leader of the pack?"
Wolves live in groups called packs. Packs usually consist of 4 to
8 wolves. The wolves are usually family members but sometimes two
packs will join together. The leader of the pack is the dominant
alpha male. The alpha male is the strongest wolf and he can go anywhere
and take anything. He also gets to eat first before any of the other
members. Next in charge is the alpha female and then the beta male.
The pack ranking or hierarchy is in constant change. If the alpha
male fights with another male and looses than the winner becomes
the new alpha male. Wolves show their status within the pack with
body posture, baring teeth, vocalization, and tail position. High
ranking dogs keep their tail high in the air and submissive dogs
keep their tail low between their legs.
Why do wolves hunt in packs?
Wolves hunt in packs because it is easier to catch large prey in
a team. They usually eat old or sick animals. After the hunt, the
wolves eat as much as possible and they also bury any leftovers
Why do wolves howl?
Wolves howl to communicate to one another. They howl to try and
regroup the pack, to signify the beginning of a hunt and also to
communicate to other packs about their territory. A howl starts
off low until the wolf points its' nose to the sky and the tone
gets higher. When one wolf starts howling another will join in in
a different pitch. This is a clever adaptation because the wolves
howling in different pitches makes it sound like the pack is much
Did you know that wolves are territorial?
The packs will protect their area from other packs or lone wolves.
The size of each territory depends on the amount of prey available.
In areas where there are large supplies of prey species the area
is small but when food is scarce the pack needs a large territory
How have wolves adapted to their environment?
Fur- Their thick underfur keeps them warm. The underfur is also
waterproof because it is oily. Wolves also have another layer of
fur called guard hairs.These guard hairs are smooth and hard and
they allow wolves to shed dirt and moisture so that ice does not
collect on their fur.
Hearing and smell- Wolves can hear a sound in the forest as far
as 6 miles away. This is important for them to communicate with
other pack members and neighboring packs. Wolves also have an excellent
sense of smell. They can identify animals from 1.5 miles away. This
is important for finding prey and for locating other wolves.
Legs and paws- Wolves have long legs with large paws. These allow
them to run easily through snow and water. The large feet act like
snow shoes spreading the wolf's weight out evenly across the snow.
Wolves are often running from 8-10 hours per day. Some wolves have
been spotted running 22 miles without stopping.
Why are wolves important to our forests?
Wolves are found at the top of the food chain. A food chain shows
how energy or food is passed from one living thing to another. Wolves
keep the population of old and sick animals in check. If wolves
disappear than hundreds of other animals will be affected. It is
crucial for these intelligent animals to survive in order to maintain
Next time you are in the woods in the border country, try howling
at night and then listen. A wolf pack might respond back!
Brandenburg, J. 1993. Brother Wolf: A forgotten promise. NorthWood
Press, Inc., Minocqua, WI.
Dudley, K. 1997. Wolves. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, Austin, TX.
Stensaas, M. 1993. Canoe Country Wildlife: A field guide to the
North Woods and Boundary Waters. Pfeifer- Hamilton, Duluth, MN.
Whitaker, J.O. 1998. National Audobon Field Guide to North American
Mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.