The extinct Falkland wolf, Dusicyon australis , was also a South American canid that shared but few behavioral traits with the wolf of the Northern Hemisphere. The same can be said of a rare Ethiopian canid, the Abyssinian wolf, Canis simensis. The Tasmanian wolf, or thylacine, Thylacinus cynocephalus , is a marsupial, in the same order with kangaroos and possums. The Cape hunting dog, or African wild dog, Lycaon pictus , on the other hand, has much in common with the wolf in its hunting habits and social behavior, and some zoologists have suggested that it belongs in the same genus with the wolf.
Another irregularity of taxonomy. Of them all, the wolf is perhaps the most socially evolved and intelligent.
Wolves have a high degree of social organization and have evolved a system of communication and communal interaction which stabilizes these social relationships. They may be unique in having markedly different individual personalities. In human terms, some are more aggressive or shyer or moodier, and pack society allows these individual temperaments to mature.
In one pack, for example, one wolf may be the best hunter, another have a better sense of strategy and again, to stretch for the human equivalent be called upon for it by the others. Whenever I've spoken with people who've never seen a wolf, I've found that the belief that wolves are enormous is pervasive.
Even people who have considerable experience with the animal seem to want it to be, somehow, bigger than it is. A trapper in Minnesota, a man who had caught hundreds of wolves in his life, looked at one in a trap one day and judged its weight at "eighty-five or ninety pounds. Must be sick. In Alaska, where perhaps the biggest wolves are found, a wolf that weighs more than pounds is uncommon. The largest wolf on record is a pound animal killed on 70 Mile River in extreme east central Alaska by a government hunter on July 12, A Canadian park ranger killed a pound animal in Jasper National Park in Males are generally 5 or 10 pounds heavier than females.
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An average weight for a North American wolf would be 80 pounds, less in southern Canada, more in the north. A mature European wolf might weigh 85 pounds. Wolves in the Punjab in India and on the Arabian Peninsula might average 55 pounds. I spent a couple of days south of the Alaska Range on the Susitna River one spring weighing and measuring wild wolves and when I returned home, a friend asked how wolves compared in size to his Alaskan malamute which many people think of as a sort of carbon copy of the wolf. I took a tape measure, and using the figures from my notebook for a typical male of the same age and weight came up with the following differences: The wolf's head was wider, longer, and generally larger.
Malamute and wolf were about the same in the neck, twenty inches around, but the malamute was bigger in the chest by a few inches. The wolf stood two inches taller, was three inches longer in the leg, and eight inches longer in the body. The wolf's tail was longer and had no tendency to curl over its back as the malamute's did. The wolf's track was nearly twice the size of the dog's. Both animals weighed about pounds. The wolf's coat is remarkable, a luxurious fur consisting of two layers: a soft, light-colored, dense underfur that lies beneath a covering of long guard hairs which shed moisture and keep the underfur dry.
Much of the underfur and some of the guard hairs are shed in the spring and grow back in the fall. The coat is thick across the shoulders, where guard hairs may be four or five inches long, and thins out on the muzzle and legs. By placing muzzle and unprotected nose between the rear legs and overlapping the face with the thickly furred tail, wolves can turn their backs to the wind and sleep comfortably in the open at forty degrees below zero.
Pound for pound a wolf's fur provides better insulation than a dog's fur, and, like the wolverine's fur, it won't collect ice when warm breath condenses against it. Wolves in warmer climes have shorter guard hairs and less dense underfur. The red wolf, which inhabits hot, humid areas on the Gulf Coast, has a short, coarse coat and large, pointed ears in contrast to the short, rounded ears of tundra wolves. Short ears are less sensitive to the cold; long ears are efficient dissipaters of body heat. In extreme cold the wolf can reduce the flow of blood near its skin and conserve even more heat.
A team of biologists in Barrow, Alaska, found that the temperature of the wolf's footpads was maintained at just above the tissue-freezing point where the pads came in contact with ice and snow. Warmth there was regulated independently of the rest of the body. This is a good example of the marvelous but nevertheless commonplace efficiency of design found in all wild creatures. On warm days wolves dissipate heat by panting, a weary-looking but efficient method of cooling by evaporation. And by flopping in creeks and rivers. In the s a Montana cattleman wrote that the wolves on his ranch "would lay up in the damp cool dirt among the reeds and cattails below some spring or in the cedar clumps and thickets on the north side of a high butte" on a hot day.
During hot spells wolves travel much less and restrict their hunting to the coolest hours of the night. The wolf's ability to regulate its body temperature no doubt helped it survive in a wide variety of climates, each with a wide range of temperature. In the Northwest Territories it may reach seventy degrees below zero or climb to ninety degrees on a summer day.
In the northern plains it gets nearly as cold and twenty degrees hotter. The Cascade wolf had to contend with deep snows, the British Columbia wolf with forty to fifty inches of rain in the winter. No one knows how wolves managed in all that moisture. Maybe they simply stayed out of the rain. The wolf's coat ranges in color from almost pure white through various shades of blond, cream, and ocher to grays, browns, and blacks. Among the more striking are the slate blue coats of some arctic wolves. Most white wolves are found in the north, though Lewis and Clark and many mountain men, explorers, and immigrants reported large numbers of very light wolves on the Great Plains in the early s.
The color of the coat apparently has no camouflage function, as black wolves are commonly found on the tundra and white wolves stand out against the black soils of central Russia. In southern Canada and Minnesota the black phase is more common than the white, but grays predominate. Variety in color in the same litter is the rule, though litter mates usually have the same quality of fur. The most luxuriant pelages show up among adults on the tundra, the difference between a tundra wolf pelt and a timber wolf pelt being so pronounced that the former often sells for twice as much.
There are no records I know of for albino wolves, but an aerial hunter told me of one he killed twenty-five miles east of Umiat on the arctic slope in April It was a female, with pink eyes, nose, and footpads, and weighed about eighty pounds. There are no statistics to bear this out, but when it came up in conversation, many people in Alaska -- hunters, biologists, native people -- volunteered the information that the biggest wolves they'd seen were blacks.
The great variety in pelage -- and I know of no other mammal so variously colored -- among wolves in a single area is attested to by the number of words people use to describe local wolf coloration. One Eskimo remembered trapping a spotted wolf, a black with white patches in its coat, in in the Brooks Range. Eskimos are keen observers of detail and the Nunamiut people of the Brooks Range in Alaska distinguish between male and female wolves and between lactating females and other wolves partly on the basis of differences in pelage.
Females tend to have more reddish tones in their fur, and the hair on their legs tends to be smooth, where the hair on a male's leg has a slightly tufted appearance. Pelage changes texture as the animal grows older, with females generally developing the smoothest coats. Older animals tend to have more white hairs in the tip of the tail and elsewhere, along the nose and on the forehead, for example. Lactating females retain their long winter fur longer than other wolves and show hair loss around their nipples. What hair remains on the belly around the mammae develops a red-brown stain.
The Nunamiut also point out that there are subtle anatomical differences between males and females. Females have a narrower muzzle and forehead, thinner neck, slightly shorter legs, and less massive shoulders, which makes the males seem slimmer in the waist by comparison. Two-and three-year-old females, in the opinion of these Eskimos, were also faster runners than males of the same age. These are all generalizations, of course, but valuable pieces of information in the aggregate for distinguishing the age and sex of a wolf at a distance.
The shading in a wolf's coat has a discernible and purposeful pattern. Even relatively pure black and white specimens reveal these patterns. The long, dark-tipped or grizzled, guard hairs saddle the shoulders and extend up the neck and down the spine, fading out toward the rump, where they merge with darker hairs on the top of the tail.
The underside of the tail, the insides of the legs, the belly, and the underside of the muzzle are usually light. The head is marked, particularly around the eyes and ears, in such a way as to emphasize the features of the face. The end of the tail is usually dark, with at least a few white hairs at the tip, and there is often a dark spot on the top of the tail marking the location of a scent gland.
The wolf uses a series of stereotyped body postures and facial expressions to communicate, and careful observation reveals that these signals are enhanced by shadings in the fur, making the signals more noticeable. Wolves are agile creatures but not as deft and quick as coyotes, Red wolves move in a more delicate manner than gray wolves, appearing to put less weight on the foot. In captivity red wolf-coyote hybrids have jumped into the lower limbs of trees, four or five feet off the ground.
Wolves spend an average of eight to ten hours out of every twenty-four on the move, mostly the crepuscular hours. They travel great distances and have tremendous stamina. One observer followed two wolves who broke trail through five feet of snow for 22 miles in British Columbia. The animals paused in their tracks but never lay down to rest.
Taking wolves on Isle Royale as an example, they average 30 miles of travel a day in winter. A Finnish biologist reported one pack that moved miles in a day. The naturalist Adolph Murie watched a pack in Alaska make a regular daily round of about 40 miles in search of food while the female was denning.
Tundra wolves may run for 5 or 6 miles behind caribou before accelerating to attack. Wolves are also good swimmers, though they rarely follow prey into the water during a chase. The wolf's most efficient hunting tool, after its legs get it there, is its mouth. Evolved in an elongated shape, its forty-two teeth are adapted to seize the long canines , to shear and tear the premolars , and to crush the molars.
The incisors nibble and strip the shreds of meat from bone. The carnassial teeth an upper premolar and a lower molar are specially adapted to function like a set of pruning shears, slicing meat and snipping tough connective tissues and tendons. This is enough to break open most of the bones the wolf encounters to get at the marrow. Wolves live in packs with fairly refined social structures. Packs are typically extended families of five to eight individuals but range in size from two or three to fifteen or twenty.
The largest authenticated report is of a pack of thirty-six in Alaska, though packs of more than twenty-five are rarely reported. Stories of hundreds of wolves traveling together are probably folklore. It is possible, however, from the preponderance of references in nineteenth-century magazines, to infer that packs of twenty-five to thirty animals once were rather common in northeastern Europe and central Russia. Pack size is determined by the availability of space free of other packs and by the type and abundance of game, as well as by the personal dispositions of the various wolves involved and such factors as pup mortality and overall wolf population.
Packs may break up in winter or summer, some permanently, others only for a season or a few days.
An individual pack may retain an identity over a long period of time, using the same dens year after year, hunting the same territory, and outliving founding members. Thirty-four years later, studies by another wildlife biologist revealed a pack of similar size and habits in the same place, using the same dens.
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Packs develop distinct personalities, so that a good observer can tell at a distance from their behavior alone not just from the number or pelages or in whose territory the observer might be which pack he is watching. Breeding normally occurs in February or March, usually every year. There is a physical tie during copulation that may last as long as thirty minutes, and some have suggested that this intimacy reinforces the monogamous bond and galvanizes the pack. As a rule, only one female becomes pregnant.
The pups are born sixty-three days later. April and May are the most common months. Mating and whelping take place later in the spring the farther north one moves. The pups are usually born in a den excavated for the purpose -- in a sandy esker in northern Canada, under massive tree trunks, in cut banks, or in natural cavities around boulders or in caves in other locales. In northern Alaska, females may give birth in the open in a hastily prepared depression or "pit den," as though labor had been sudden and unexpected. An excavated den is usually located high on a cut bank or otherwise situated in well-drained soil, and the location often provides a clear view of the surrounding area; but many dens, especially in wooded areas, have no view at all.
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The den is kept scrupulously clean. No bedding is used. The entrance hole is normally smaller than twenty x twenty inches; the entrance tunnel may lead back six or eight feet and then dogleg to a rounded hollow, somewhat elevated, where the pups monkeyball together for warmth. Because they have difficulty regulating their body temperature for the first few days, wolf pups require this protection from wind and weather.
Normally from four to six pups are born, but births of only one or as many as thirteen have been recorded. The pups are born deaf and blind; they can hear after a few days, will open their eyes at eleven to fifteen days, and are weaned at five weeks, by which time they are already playing at the entrance to the den. Their floppy ears stand erect at about four weeks and their first howls -- the sudden sound of which often startles them -- are heard at the same time.
The development of a hierarchy of deference in the litter is visible by about six weeks but will change many times in the months to come. Most of these pups die. Mortality ranges upward of 60 percent, for several reasons. Pups require perhaps three times as much protein per pound as their parents do, and food may be scarce. They sometimes wound each other during fights and a parent may kill and eat a severely wounded one. Distemper, listeriosis, and other diseases take a toll, as do pneumonia and hypothermia if a late winter storm hits.
A pup exhibiting any untoward behavior, like epilepsy, is killed by the adults. And occasionally an eagle, lynx, or bear may snatch one. Litter size is related to the availability of game and to the density of wolves in an area -- the more wolves, the smaller the litters. Whether or not a litter is born at all, as well as who breeds, depends on social organization within the pack. One pack might even respond to pressure from a neighboring pack with a lot of surviving yearlings in it and not breed.
The wolf's endocrine system may be responsible for all this, responding in some way to stress in the animal's environment -- how often it sees members of another pack, how much time passes between its kills -- so as to control breeding and litter size. The interesting thing is that sometimes not breeding -- during a time of famine, for example -- increases the chances for the pack to survive.
While the pups are growing up, the older wolves express strong interest in them, and the pups respond with much affection, especially toward their parents. They face-lick and nuzzle the adults, direct play at them, and huddle around them when the adults lie down. The social bond between there is so obvious that in , in an age when people believed the worst of wolves, a sportsman wrote in a book on hunting: "If the pups chance to meet their sire or dam anytime after they leave the pack they will fawn upon them and seem in their kind greatly to rejoice.
Observers in the wild, in fact, have frequently commented on how benignly a pack of wolves behaves around a carcass.
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In captivity, where wolves develop some level of neurosis, the reverse is sometimes true. Because an adult will rarely use force to get food from a pup, Konrad Lorenz has wondered if such respect for "rights" might not represent a primitive sense of morality in the wolf, one that might be expected to develop only among social carnivores. The continuation of the thought is that herbivores and other gregarious animals have no food to fight over and no social structure in which to develop a sense of morals. All this generosity and deference in caring for the pups, while less than strictly observed, is in sharp contrast of course to folk belief.
As one Russian authority wrote in "Most of the prey goes to the older wolves, particularly to the males. They intimidate the yearlings and the newborn When they mature sexually usually at two for the females, sometimes not until the next year for males , they enjoy a survival rate of about 80 percent. No animal habitually preys on the wolf and in the wild they may survive for eight or nine years. An exceptional animal may live to be thirteen or fourteen. Wolves, of course -- and it is curious how unaware we seem of this -- suffer injury, disease, and violent death as part of living.
Tigers kill them in India; bears kill them in North America. And although death does not normally occur as a result of strife in a pack, flight being the usual outcome, encounters between different packs do sometimes involve fatalities. Most wolves are parasitized to some extent, internally by tapeworms and roundworms and externally by ticks, fleas, and mites, though these external parasites are rare in northern populations. Wolves sometimes endure mange and they suffer from various cancers and tumors. Rabies and distemper are perhaps the most virulent diseases the wolf is susceptible to.
A wolf may cut its tongue on a bone and bleed to death. A wind-born seed may bury itself in the inner ear and destroy the animal's equilibrium. Porcupine quills can kill them with swelling and infection. They get cataracts and go blind. Wolves are sometimes injured by moose and other large animals and these skull fractures, broken ribs, and joint injuries can precipitate arthritis which also occurs naturally with age.
Malnutrition may bring on rickets or other diseases associated with vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In some areas wolves are subject to endemic problems. Red wolves in Texas are heavily parasitized by heartworm; wolves in British Columbia suffer fatally from salmon poisoning; wolves in Spain show a high level of trichinosis. An examination of wolves killed mostly along the Tanana River in Alaska in showed 56 had survived one or more traumatic injuries, principally, it was thought, in hunting moose -- fractured skulls, broken ribs, broken legs, and so on.
A four-year-old male with healed fractures of the front left leg, two ribs on the right side and the skull was in "fair to good" physical condition. Others had similarly recovered. The point of all this is that the woods is a hard place to get on, and yet the wolf survives. About The Author. Photo Credit:.
Barry Lopez. Product Details. Resources and Downloads. Get a FREE e-book by joining our mailing list today! Thank you for signing up, fellow book lover! The people of the city were a good people for the most part. They had struggled and strove to build this city and fought to protect it when others threatened their existence.
But the thoughts and seeing all the posts on social media today have prompted this one. I have five kids. My wife and…. Everyone has an excuse. Why you ate bullshit for dinner, or why you had to skip your workout today. Those are all easily explained excuses. When I was younger and started dating my wife Megan, her dad was not impressed. He was a pretty stern guy.