There are three species of wolves in the world: the gray wolf (Canis
lupus), the red wolf (Canis rufus) and the Ethiopian (or Abyssinian)
wolf, (Canis simensis). Some researchers believe the Ethiopian wolf
is not a wolf, but actually a jackal.
2. What are the subspecies
of the gray wolf? (top)
The gray wolf, Canis lupus, lives in the northern latitudes around
the world. There are five subspecies of the gray wolf in North America
and seven to 12 in Eurasia. The currently recognized subspecies
in North America are:
- Canis lupus baileyi, commonly referred to as the Mexican
wolf or lobo.
- Canis lupus nubilus, referred to as the Great Plains
or buffalo wolf.
- Canis lupus occidentalis, known as the Rocky Mountain wolf or Mackenzie Valley wolf.
- Canis lupus lycaon, commonly referred to as the eastern
- Canis lupus arctos, known as the arctic wolf.
Subspecies are often difficult to distinguish from one another.
This is because they interbreed where their ranges overlap so that
their populations tend to blend together rather than form distinctive
boundaries. The different traits we see in subspecies are likely
the result of geographic range, available habitat, and prey base.
Skull dimensions, overall size, fur color, and the length of appendages
are some of the characteristics that differ between subspecies of
3. What is a pack of wolves?
Wolves usually live in packs which consist of the adult parents,
referred to as the alpha pair, and their offspring of perhaps the
last 2 or 3 years. The adult parents are usually unrelated and other
unrelated wolves may sometimes join the pack.
4. How many wolves are in a pack?
Pack size is highly variable because of birth of pups, dispersal,
and mortality. Generally, a gray wolf pack has from six to eight
wolves, but in Alaska and northwestern Canada some packs have over
Red wolf packs are generally smaller than gray wolf packs and usually
have 2 to 8 members, but a pack of 12 is known in the wild.
5. What is a pack territory size?
Territory size is highly variable. Gray wolf territories in Minnesota
range from about 25 to 150 square miles, while territories in Alaska
and Canada can range from about 300 to 1,000 square miles.
Red wolf territories can be from 10 to 100 square miles, but the
territories of red wolves reintroduced into North Carolina have
been 38 to 87 square miles.
6. When do wolves breed? (top)
Wolves breed at slightly different times, depending on where they
live. For example, gray wolves in the Great Lakes Region breed in
February to March, while gray wolves in the Arctic may breed slightly
later in March to April.
Red wolves usually breed in January or February.
7. What is the gestation period
of a wolf? (top)
The gestation period of gray and red wolves is usually around 63
8. How many pups are born in
a pack each year? (top)
A pack normally has only one litter of pups each spring, but in
areas of high prey abundance more than one female will give birth
in each pack. An average litter size for gray and red wolves is
4 to 6, but several may die if natural prey is not readily available.
9. How much do wolf pups weigh?
Gray wolf pups weigh 1 pound at birth, while red wolf pups weigh
less than a pound at birth.
10. How much do adult wolves
Adult female gray wolves in northern Minnesota weigh between 50
and 85 pounds, and adult males between 70 and 110 pounds. Gray wolves
are larger in the northwestern United States, Canada, and Alaska
where adult males weigh 85 to 115 pounds and occasionally reach
Adult female red wolves weigh 40 to 75 pounds, while males weigh
from 50 to 85 pounds.
11. How big are wolves? (top)
The average length (tip of nose to tip of tail) of an adult female
gray wolf is 4.5 to 6 feet; adult males average 5 to 6.5 feet. The
average height (at the shoulder) of a gray wolf is 26 to 32 inches.
The average length (tip of nose to tip of tail) of an adult red
wolf is 4.5 to 5.5 feet. The average height (at the shoulder) of
an adult red wolf is about 26 inches.
12. How big is a gray wolf’s
The size of a wolf’s track is dependent on the age and size of
the wolf, as well as the substrate the track was made in. A good
size estimate for a gray wolf’s track size is 4 1/2 inches long
by 3 1/2 inches wide. In comparison, a coyote’s track will be closer
to 2 1/2 inches long by 1 1/2 inches wide. Only a few breeds of
dogs leave tracks longer than 4 inches (Great Danes, St. Bernards,
and some bloodhounds).
13. How many teeth does an adult
wolf have? (top)
Adult gray and red wolves have 42 teeth, while adult humans have
14. How strong are a gray wolves’
The massive molars and powerful jaws of a wolf are used to crush
the bones of its prey. The biting capacity of a wolf is 1,500 pounds
of pressure per square inch. The strength of a wolf’s jaws makes
it possible to bite through a moose femur in six to eight bites.
In comparison, a German shepherd has a biting pressure of 750 pounds
per square inch. A human has a much lower biting pressure of 300
pounds per square inch.
15. What do wolves eat? (top)
Gray wolves prey primarily on large, hoofed mammals such as white-tailed
deer, mule deer, moose, elk, caribou, bison, Dall sheep, musk oxen,
and mountain goat. Medium sized mammals, such as beaver and snowshoe
hare, can be an important secondary food source. Occasional wolves
will prey on birds or small mammals.
Red wolves primarily prey on white-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits
16. How much do wolves eat?
Gray wolves can survive on about 2 1/2 pounds of food per wolf
per day, but they require about 5 pounds per wolf per day to reproduce
successfully. The most a gray wolf can eat in one sitting is about
Red wolves eat an average of 5 pounds of food per day, but have
been known to eat up to 12 pounds in one sitting.
17. How many prey do gray wolves
kill per year? (top)
In Minnesota, wolves kill the average equivalent of 15 to 20 adult-sized
deer per wolf per year. Given the 1997-98 estimate of 2,450 wolves
in Minnesota, that would equal about 36,750 to 49,000 deer killed
by wolves. In comparison, from 1995-1999 hunters killed between
32,300 to 78,200 deer each year in Minnesota’s wolf range. In addition,
several thousand deer are killed during collisions with vehicles
Gray wolves in the wild have an average life span of 6 to 8 years,
but have been known to live up to 13 years in the wild and 16 years
in captivity. Red wolves in the wild have an average life span of
8 to 9 years, but have been known to live up to 12 years in the
wild and 16 years in captivity.
19. What do gray wolves die
The natural causes of wolf mortality are primarily starvation,
which kills mostly pups, and death from other wolves because of
territory fights. While not usually a big problem, disease such
as mange and canine parvovirus can be a concern in small and recovering
populations. Injuries caused by prey results in some deaths. Human-caused
mortality including legal, illegal, and accidental causes, can be
high in some populations. Pup mortality rates are highly variable,
but approximately 40 to 60% of wolf pups die each year.
20. How fast can gray wolves
Wolves will travel for long distances by trotting at about five
miles per hour. They can run at speeds of 25 to 35 miles per hour
for short bursts while chasing prey.
21. How far can gray wolves
Wolves may travel 10 to 30 miles each day in search of food. Dispersing
wolves, those leaving packs in search of their own mate, have been
known to travel distances of 550 miles away form their home territory.
Bibliography International Wolf Center. Canis lupus: Meet the Gray Wolf. Ely,
Minnesota: International Wolf Center; 1996.
Lopez, Barry H. Of Wolves and Men. New York City, New York:
Charles Scribner’s Sons; 1978.
Mech, L. David. The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered
Species. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press;
North Carolina Zoological Park Web site http://www.nczooredwolf.org/
Burt, W. H. and R. P. Grossenheider. A Field Guide to the Mammals
of North America North of Mexico. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin
The Red Wolf Coalition Web site http://www.redwolves.com/index.html