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Species Profile: Gray Wolf (Canis lupis)

Species Profile: Gray Wolf (Canis lupis)

Species Profile: Gray Wolf (Canis lupis)

Taku Conservation Program

 

By Ellen Iida (College of the Atlantic)

 

Wolves, the largest member of the canine family, can weigh 100 to 150lbs, and can grow up to 5-6ft of body length. The tracks, similar to that of a large dog, can be up to 13cm, and are placed in a straight line with the hind feet slightly overlapping. Though on this trip we did not get to see this creature, we could find lots of tracks and scat, made of moose or caribou hair, bits of hoof and sometimes bones.

Being large themselves, wolves also need extensive land for territory, covering 50 to 230miles per pack—almost 10 miles per wolf, although disperser wolves are known to travel much longer distances; one wolf has been found in Montana, travelling all the way from the Canadian Rockies. The territory can vary in habitat, as long as it has abundant supply of prey animals, especially large ungulates such as moose, deer or caribou, which they hunt in packs. They are also known to eat small animals as well, such as beaver, hare, fish (especially salmon,) and birds.

Wolves are highly social animals, depending on the pack to hunt down animals often larger then themselves. The pack ranges around 6 to 10 wolves, is family based, and always has one pair of dominant alpha male and female. The pack is regulated by a strong rule of dominance and subordination—a strict hierarchy exists within the pack and going against it may have severe consequences. Wolves communicate a great deal without making a sound, through facial and body expressions—ruffled hair, and exposed teeth may show aggression, while a tail between the legs, exposure of stomach and urination can show subordination. Howling is also an essential form of communication—wolves howl to communicate with distant pack members, to show territory, to just to be sociable. The howl is highly individualized, so wolves can tell apart pack members from the howls.

Wolves can start mating when they are around two years old. Mating happens in February or March, with an average litter size of five to seven pups. Only the alpha pair is allowed to mate, but the whole pack contribute to raising the pups, who learn to hunt through playing games with their siblings. Grown pups either stay in the pack, or disperse to create their own pack.

 

wolfpck1

 

Wolves, though originally found all across North America above Mexico, have been exterminated in most of the United States, because of damage to livestock, reduction of game animals, and the fear that they will also attack humans. We are all familiar with the stories with the wolf always being the cunning and cold-blooded villain. Naturalists such as Joseph Grinnel and Aldo Leopold fought against this extermination movement, claiming that the loss of predators disrupt the ecosystem. Predator populations keep the prey population in check—the loss of predators have in many places led to frequent eruptions of deer, who then over-browse vegetation, reducing the diversity of plant species and altering forest structure. Recently, the wolf population has been increasing, as efforts to re-introduce wolves have started taking momentum.

 

Photos: http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/005/cache/grey-wolf_565_600x450.jpg, http://www.cosmosmith.com/images/wolfpck1.jpg

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