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Grey Wolf Fact File

Appearance

The grey wolf has a familiar body shape as they are the ancestors of our domestic dogs. They have a thick coat of fur which helps to trap body heat and keep them warm. This fur color varies greatly across their range not only being grey as their name may suggest. Possible colors include black, brown, grey and almost entirely white. On the underside they are typically lighter in color.


On the face they have a long muzzle and large ears which assist them with finding their prey.


Their legs are long and end with a large foot that has claws at the end of it. At the end of their body is a long, fluffy tail which measures up to 52cm (20.5in) long.


Their body measures between 1 and 1.5m (3.25-5ft) long and weighs 16-60kg (35-132lbs). Sizing is highly variable across their range and the habitats they call home. Males are typically larger than females.

Diet

The grey wolf is a carnivore. Their diet includes large mammals such as moose, wild boar and wapiti along with smaller animals such as the American beaver, snakes, lizards and fish. Carrion will also be consumed. In areas where they live near humans they may eat trash.


Some prey items they consume may weigh as much as 10 times the weight of the wolf.


When prey is caught they may eat as much as (9kg) 20lbs in one sitting. These large meals helps them to survive for up to one week between meals.


Hunting takes place in a group known as a pack. Larger packs are able to hunt larger prey items which smaller packs go after smaller prey.

grey wolf

Scientific Name

Canis lupus

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Weight

16-60kg (35-132lbs)

Length

1-1.5m (3.25-5ft

Lifespan

Wild 7-8 years

Captive 20 years

Diet

Carnivorous

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Range

Grey wolves have a wide range across North America, Europe and Asia. They can be found in the following countries – Afghanistan; Albania; Armenia; Austria; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Belgium; Bhutan; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bulgaria; Canada; China; Croatia; Czechia; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Greenland; Hungary; India; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Israel; Italy; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Kyrgyzstan; Latvia; Libya; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Mexico; Moldova; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; Nepal; Netherlands; North Macedonia; Norway; Oman; Pakistan; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia; Serbia; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Syrian Arab Republic; Tajikistan; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United States; Uzbekistan; Yemen.


The species has gone extinct in Japan, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Habitat

Due to their large range the gray wolf lives in a number of habitats including forest, shrubland, grasslands, wetlands and deserts. They appear able to survive in most habitats.

grey wolf

Reproduction

Breeding season is variable across their range. In southern parts of the range it occurs from October to February.


A dominant pair leads the pack and are the only members of the group which will mate. Courtship may begin months before the female comes in to estrus.


Following a successful mating and a gestation period of 62-63 days the female will give birth to a litter of pups. This litter will include 5-7 pups.


At birth the pups are blind and cannot hear. It will take 10-14 days for the eyes to open. Pups are initially fed milk and then transition to eating meat which is regurgitated by the adults for them.


Females give birth in a den which is located near water and may be in a cave, under foliage or tree root or by taking over the den of another animal such as the coyote. Females may use several dens while raising the pups and she carries them in her mouth between these.


Once cubs leave the den the parents will teach them to hunt. They reach adulthood in a year but they may remain with the pack longer than this.


After leaving the pack the young will need to roam and find a mate with which they can obtain a territory. During this period they may travel up to 800km (500miles) to achieve this.


Some rare hybrids with the coyote or domestic dog have been recorded.


Sexual maturity occurs between 2 and 4 years old. They will continue to reproduce for 10-11 years.

Behavior

Grey wolves form a pack known as a pack. These include seven to eight adults and their pups. The group is lead by an alpha male and female who lead the group at their den site and on hunts. They also establish the territory.


The most famous vocalization made by the grey wolf is their howl. This can carry up to 10km (6miles) and is used to define their territory warning packs to stay away from one another. Other vocalizations they make include a soft growl and a snarl.


Each wolf has a unique howl and this allows member of their own pack to tell them apart.


In parts of Canada the grey wolf is a proficient swimmer and they mill move between islands.


While the typically run at a lower speed the grey wolf can reach 64km (40miles) per hour.

grey wolf

Predators and Threats

The grey wolf represents the apex predator in their environment with their only threats being other wolves and humans.


During the 1960s they were almost hunted to extinction in the United States. Farmers persecuted the species as the wolves would eat their livestock. To date their range has been reduced by around one-third.


Wolves are seen as a threat to the safety of humans but attacks from them are rare.


Humans have also hunted them for their fur. Another threat they face is habitat fragmentation and destruction.

Quick facts

The grey wolf is the largest wild member of the canid family.


Grey wolves are the ancestors of our domestic dogs. It is estimated they were first domesticated by humans in East Asia around 15,000 years ago.


They are the third most widespread animal on Earth after humans and livestock.


Grey wolves are also called the timber wolf.

grey wolf

Photo Credits

Public Domain/USFWS

References


Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK


Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley, p.


Martin, R., Bryan, K., Cooper, D. and Bond, S., n.d. The Animal Book. Lonely Planet.


Nationalgeographic.com. 2020. Wolf | National Geographic. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/g/gray-wolf/> [Accessed 2 November 2020].


National Wildlife Federation. 2020. Gray Wolf | National Wildlife Federation. [online] Available at: <https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Mammals/Gray-Wolf> [Accessed 2 November 2020].


Defenders of Wildlife. 2020. Gray Wolf. [online] Available at: <https://defenders.org/wildlife/gray-wolf> [Accessed 2 November 2020].


WWF. 2020. Timber Or Grey Wolf | WWF. [online] Available at: <https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/our_focus/wildlife_practice/profiles/mammals/wolf_timber_intro/> [Accessed 2 November 2020].


Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) Fact Sheet. c2014-2019. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed 2020/11/02]. http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/ graywolf.


Boitani, L., Phillips, M. & Jhala, Y. 2018. Canis lupus (errata version published in 2020). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T3746A163508960. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T3746A163508960.en. Downloaded on 02 November 2020.

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