Wolf Facts

Do wolves attack humans?

wwuk-1Wolves are known by researchers to be one of the shyest of all animals in the northern wilderness and that they have high fear of humans and will walk away, even if you approach one of their kills. In 1990, a large pack of wolves moved into an Alaskan suburb of over a quarter of a million people, with not a single human was harmed by the wolves.

In India, there have been isolated occasions when ‘feral’ children have been attacked on human garage tips, maybe they were seen as competitors for the same food source. Otherwise, there are very few occasions when this has occurred and often these can be contributed to human error. Unfortunately, the myth of the wolf as a rabid man-eater still prevails.

What do wolves eat?

wwuk-20The main component of a wolf’s diet is ungulates (hoofed animals such as deer, moose, elk and caribou.) Depending on the availability, some turn to smaller prey like mice, squirrels and beavers, especially during the caribou migration periods, and have even been known to catch fish! They eat on average between 5-12 pounds of food per day, but are capable of going for days without a meal. As with domestic dogs, wolves eat grass as an intestinal scour or purgative, and also need 1-3 quarts of water per day.

Where do wolves live?

wwuk-5Wolves live above ground and only use dens for rearing pups. Wolf dens usually take the form of burrows in the ground, usually found in sandy soil. The dens are usually dug out by the wolves themselves. They have even been known to use abandoned beaver houses or dams or they may enlarge foxholes. The den may also be located in the base of hollow trees and logs or rock caves, preferably in elevated areas, close to water. Pregnant wolves dig their dens a few weeks before giving birth to the pups, and a pack may dig several dens, although these may not necessarily be situated closely together. Adult wolves tend to lie on higher areas overlooking the den only the mother is allowed to enter. If not disturbed, a wolf pack will continue to use the same den year after year.

How often to wolves breed?

The female is in oestrus in late winter, once a year. This lasts for about 5-7 days, with the most receptive time in the latter half of the oestrus. Breeding takes place between January and April, with those in the southern ranges breeding earlier than those in the north. The exception is the Abyssinian wolf that lives just north of the Equator, and may breed any time between August and December. Female wolves become sexually active in their second year, and males are fertile by the age of 22 months, although in the wild, many do not mate until they are 4 or 5 years old. The gestation period for wolves is 59-68 days.

Are wolves intelligent?

The wolf’s curiosity gives us a clear indication of its high level of intelligence. The domestic dog has a brain approximately 17% smaller than a wolf of a comparable size. Wolves learn to prey upon the more easily obtainable species in the area. The wolf has a high degree of adaptability to varying conditions. It seems able to learn readily, and remember what it has learned for long periods of time.

Why does a wolf howl?

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Wolves howl for a number of different reasons including the following:

  • To let other pack members know of their whereabouts, or to reassemble a scattered pack.
  • To attract a mate
  • To stimulate a pack to assemble for a hunt
  • Possibly to startle prey animals to move
  • They may howl upon waking
  • When disturbed, but not frightened enough to run away
  • After intense sessions of social interaction with pack members
  • To show alarm at the presence of an intruder
  • When they are stressed – lone wolf pups have been known to howl their distress

Wolves are also thought to howl just for the fun of it, as a happy / social occasion. Contrary to popular belief, wolves do not howl at the moon, and studies have shown the phase of the moon plays no role in stimulating howling’s.

Are wolves social animals?

wwuk-39The wolf pack is an extended family unit, with very close bonds between pack members (approximately 4-7 members per average pack.) A pack usually consists of one dominant breeding pair, known as the alpha male and female, plus their offspring, and adult and female subordinates, sometimes siblings of the alpha pair. The omega wolf holds the lowest rank in the wolf pack, and is often harassed.

The wolf pack is one of the most cohesive social organisations in the animal kingdom, with the social rank of each individual reinforced by an elaborate display of body posture, facial expression, movement, intimidation and harassment. This behaviour has been studied intensely by wolf biologists, both in the wild and in captivity.

How long to wolves live?

Infant mortality is high and many wild wolves die before the age of 5 years, often due to disease, parasites, injuries and food shortages during hard winters. But most mortality is directly attributed to man: legal and illegal hunting; trapping; predator control or collisions with vehicles. Captive wolves often live to the age of 13-14 years. However three of our own wolves have lived to the ripe old age of 17 years!

What senses help the wolf to survive?

The wolf has sharper vision, hearing and smell than the domestic dog, the most acute being its sense of smell, which most researches claim is up to 100 times more sensitive than humans! A dogs hearing is sixteen times better than ours, and a wolf is even more acute, with quotes stating that wolves can hear as far as six miles away in a forest and 10 miles in the open tundra. Wolves have also been known to respond to human howls from three miles away.

The wolfs ability to detect movement, particularly at night, helps with location of prey species and ultimate predation. The eyes of the wolf, however, lack a foveal pit, making it difficult for it to focus sharply at great distances. It seems that they are quite near-sighted, being able to see clearly up to a distance of seventy-five feet.

What colour is a wolf’s fur?

The colour of a wolf’s coat can vary in shade from grey, tan and brown, to pure white, or solid black. Most wolves tend to be a grey-brown colour, although it is not unusual for a wide variety of colours to be within the same litter of pups.

Many high Artic wolves are creamy-white in colour, as the white hair shafts have more air pockets than colouration pigment, therefore providing better insulation against the bitter cold. The Red Wolf and Abyssinian Wolf have reddish coloured coats.

Other variations include a saddle shaped patch of colour on the back that contrasts with the rest of the coat, or splotches of dark markings on their faces. A wolf’s tail often has a white tip.

How large are wolves?

Being the largest member of the Canid family, the adult Gray wolf stands 26-38 inches high at the shoulder, with a head and body length of 40-58 inches. The tail is 13-20 inches long. Males are on average, 15-20% larger than females. The weight of a wolf can vary between 20-175 pounds, but is usually in the 60-100 pound range. Generally, wolves in the north tend to be larger than those in the south.

Where are wolves found?

In larger numbers places include: North America, Canada, former Soviet Russia, but in smaller numbers, many of the European countries where we go for our holidays have wolves in their more remote regions such as Italy, France, Spain and Poland.

Wolf biologist, L David Mech once described the wolf as originally “the most widely distributed mammal in the world.” Habitats included the high Arctic, tundra, taiga, forests, plains and deserts, the only exception being tropical jungles.

Most wolves today are found in forested, rugged and remote regions of the Northern Hemisphere, such as Alaska. Only areas of pure wilderness (providing the absence of human interference) that will ensure the wolfs survival.