Gray Wolf Facts
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Class: Mammalia
- Family: Canidae
- Height: 26-32 inches at the shoulder
- Length: 4.5-6.5 ft from nose to tail-tip
- Weight: 55-130 lbs
- U.S. Population: 9,000
- Lifespan: 7-8 years in the wild, up to 12 in protected areas
- Biology: The Gray Wolf Is the Ancestor of the Domestic Dog
- Appearance: Not All Gray Wolves Are Gray
- Status: Gray Wolves Are Generally Considered to Be Endangered
- Population: There Are over 9000 Gray Wolves in the USA
- Behavior: Gray Wolves Are Both Hunters and Scavengers
- Behavior: Gray Wolves Locate Prey by Scent, but Only If It’s Downwind
- Reproduction: There Are 4-7 Pups in a Gray Wolf Litter
- Behavior: Gray Wolves Live in Packs of 7-8 Animals
- Communication: They Can Communicate Subtle Messages Using Body Language
- Communication: Wolf Howls Can Sometimes Be Heard over 50 Square Miles
- A Wolf Population Is Good for the Land
- European and US Wolves Speak Different Languages but Can Understand Each Other
- Gray Wolves Mate for Life, but There Are Casanova Wolves Too
- Gray Wolf Pups Are Fed on Their Parents Regurgitated Dinner
- Gray Wolf Have Been Known to Use Ice to Corner Their Prey
- Romulus and Remus Were Suckled by a She-Wolf
- Gray Wolves Are Partial to the Occasional Pre-match Huddle
- Being a Werewolf Was Once a Serious Crime
- Wolf Attacks Can Be Caused by Rabies
The Gray Wolf Is the Ancestor of the Domestic Dog
The most basic of gray wolf facts relates to its biological family. The gray wolf, also known as the timber wolf or western wolf, is a canid which can be found in parts of Europe, Asia, North America and Africa. Although the gray wolf is the largest member of the canidae family, it is actually also the ancestor of the humble domestic dog. It’s no coincidence that certain large dogs, such as German Shepherds, so strongly resemble wolves, as they are closely related! It is believed that the common gray wolf and the dog species diverged in Europe around 14,900 years ago.
Not All Gray Wolves Are Gray
When it comes to gray wolf facts, the clue isn’t always in the name! Of course, many gray wolves do have a grizzled gray coat of fur, and this is how we tend to depict them in books, films and cartoons. But, in fact, within the species there are several subspecies, and this leads to a lot of variety in coat color. The colors the gray wolf’s fur can be include black, cinnamon, brown, reddish and pure white. In the winter, the fur of a gray wolf is dense and fluffy, with shorter under fur and coarse guard hairs. In the springtime, the under fur and guard hairs are shed, helping the wolf keep cool for the summer. Their coats then re-grow in the autumn.
Gray Wolves Are Generally Considered to Be Endangered
If you find yourself rusty on your gray wolf facts, it could be because these creatures are simply not common any more. At one time, they were widely distributed all across Europe and North America, but their populations were drastically reduced over the centuries as they were hunted and exterminated in high numbers, and their habitats were reduced. Nowadays in North America, the range of gray wolves includes Canada, Alaska, The Great Lakes, northern Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. Generally, gray wolves favor a habitat which involves large stretches of forest and often mountainous terrain. Although gray wolves are still considered endangered in many parts of North America, there have been some recent changes to these gray wolf facts as populations begin to flourish again. In 2011, for example, they were stripped of their endangered status in Idaho and Montano and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah.
There Are over 9000 Gray Wolves in the USA
Although there are nowhere near as many gray wolves in the world as there used to be, there are some encouraging gray wolf facts which suggest that populations are increasing again. This resurgence is occurring because we have generally stopped viewing wolves as a pest or danger, and have recognized their value and beauty! Nowadays, for example, it is estimated that there are around 60,000 gray wolves in Canada, and 9,000 in the USA. There is also a scattering of smaller gray wolf populations across Europe. There are over 300 wolves on the Scandinavian Peninsula, and other small populations can be found in Germany, France and Italy. Some of the largest wolf populations in Europe can be found in Spain (2,000 wolves), The Ukraine (2,000 wolves), Romania (2,500 wolves), and Turkey (7,000).
Gray Wolves Are Both Hunters and Scavengers
When it comes to gray wolf facts, it is fair to say that these creatures are formidable hunters. Their preferred diet is ungulates − or large-hoofed mammals to you and me. Prime examples include caribou, moose, elk and deer. They are also happy to prey upon smaller creatures when they find them, including rabbits, rodents and beaver. However, despite their reputation as master hunters, wolves also feed on the carcasses of animals which have died of other causes. By scavenging in this way, they are able to feed while also conserving their energy.
Gray Wolves Locate Prey by Scent, but Only If It’s Downwind
When these magnificent animals do hunt, however, they provide us with many fascinating gray wolf facts about how they bring down their prey. Wolves use their incredible sense of smell to locate prey, although they need to catch the scent on the breeze from upwind in order to do so. When they pick up a scent, a gray wolf will stand alert and point its eyes, ears and nose in the direction of the target. Next, a wolf pack will stalk the prey, attempting to conceal themselves for as long as possible. When the encounter takes place, prey will often flee, and the wolves will then pursue it, bringing it down as a group. How long this takes depends on the size of prey − if chasing down a large creature, wolves will aim to prolong the chase in order to wear it down. Even a gray wolf can be outrun eventually, but it’s not easy – they are happy to chase for up to around 1.3 miles before giving up!
There Are 4-7 Pups in a Gray Wolf Litter
When a female gray wolf becomes pregnant, her gestation period is around 62-75 days. During this time, she will make a safe den in which to give birth. Generally, there are 4-7 pups in a litter, with the average being 5-6 pups. The higher the prey density in an area, the more pups there tend to be in each litter. In around 1% of cases, exceptionally large litters are reported, for example litters of 14-17 cubs. Wolf cubs, or pups, are born blind and deaf, and are totally reliant on their mothers at first. They are brought up by the pack until the age of around 10 months, after which time they can hunt on their own.
Gray Wolves Live in Packs of 7-8 Animals
One of the most well-known gray wolf facts is that these animals live and hunt in packs. Most of us, however, know less about the specific details of the structure of pack life. Within each pack there are generally an alpha male and female, a mated pair who form the nucleus of the group. There are also their pups, and older offspring, creating a kind of wolfish family. It is the alpha pair’s job to organize the hunting of prey, choose den sites and establish the territory of the pack. There are strong social bonds between members of a wolf pack.
They Can Communicate Subtle Messages Using Body Language
Unsurprisingly, given their strong social bonds, there are many gray wolf facts relating to the means of communication these animals use. The gray wolf is much more sociable than its cousins the coyote and golden jackal. Because of this, it has consequently developed a more diverse range of expressive behaviors. These include visual signals relating to posture. An aggressive wolf, for example, will make slow and deliberate movements, have a high body posture, and raise its hackles. Submissive wolves, on the other hand, have both passive and active gestures. Passive submission includes a reaction to the approach of a more dominant animal, and involves a wolf lying on its back and letting the other wolf sniff its anogential area. More active submission will involve the licking of the dominant animal’s face.
Wolf Howls Can Sometimes Be Heard over 50 Square Miles
One of the most astonishing gray wolf facts involves just how loud and effective their famous howls can be. Under certain conditions, wolves can hear each other over 50 square miles of land. Wolves howl for all sorts of reasons − to pass on alarms, to find each other in unfamiliar territory or during adverse weather conditions, or to assemble the pack before a hunt. When howling as a pack, wolves do not chorus the same note. Instead, they harmonize, giving the impression that there are more wolves than are actually present. It also gives the howl of the wolf pack that distinct sound that sounds so gothic and spooky to human ears!
A Wolf Population Is Good for the Land
When it comes to gray wolf facts, one of the most important involves the ability of the wolf population to help to keep ecosystems in check. Gray wolves keep deer and elk populations under control, for example, and this in turn can have a ripple effect on many other plants and animals. The leftover carcasses of a gray wolf’s prey can also provide important nutrition for other scavengers.
European and US Wolves Speak Different Languages but Can Understand Each Other
When it comes to Anglo-American relations, the joke goes that we are “two nations, divided by a common language”. The same could be said in terms of gray wolf facts. European and North American wolves broadly use the same range of vocalizations to indicate the same things, but there are significant differences. European wolves, for example, make longer and more melodious sounds than their American cousins. In North America, on the other hand, gray wolves tend to howl more loudly, with much more emphasis on the first syllable of a howl. Experiments have been carried out to see how these transatlantic cousins communicate, and it has been proven that the two can understand each other.
Gray Wolves Mate for Life, but There Are Casanova Wolves Too
One of the most basic gray wolf facts relating to reproduction is that these creatures tend to mate for life. But, despite this heart-warming example of animal monogamy, it must be said that gray wolves move on from their relationships a bit faster than we do! If a wolf’s mate dies, it finds a new partner quickly. There are generally more male wolves than females, so an unpaired female is a rare thing. When a single male cannot find a mate, however, he will tend to mate with the daughters of established breeding pairs in other packs. These are known as Casanova wolves, since they don’t form a monogamous pair bond with the females they mate with!
Gray Wolf Pups Are Fed on Their Parents Regurgitated Dinner
When wolves are very young, they are completely dependent upon their parents, including for their food. Gray wolf facts indicate than young pups are fed on chewed up meat which their parents regurgitate for them when they arrive back in the den after hunting. Appetizing!
They’ve Been Known to Use Ice to Corner Their Prey
When it comes to gray wolf facts, there seems to be no end to the inventiveness of these creatures while hunting. In both Russia and North America, wolves have been observed running their prey into ravines, slopes, steep banks, and precipices, along with bodies of water covered in crusted or thin ice. All of this helps them to corner the prey, so that they don’t waste precious energy on a chase that doesn’t lead to dinner!
Romulus and Remus Were Suckled by a She-Wolf
Gray wolf facts are all very well, but there are also many fun gray wolf fictions! This magnificent creature has been a central part of our mythologies for thousands of years. One of the most famous of these is the origin myth of the Roman Empire. As legend has it, the twins who founded the city, Romulus and Remus, were abandoned to die on the River Tiber. The river carried them to safety, however, and a she-wolf found them on the river bank, where she proceeded to suckle them. This allowed the boys to survive until they were rescued by a shepherd and his wife. The twins went on to found the city of Rome.
Gray Wolves Are Partial to the Occasional Pre-match Huddle
One of the most astonishing of gray wolf facts is that they sometimes engage in the canid version of a pre-match huddle! On open ground, wolf packs are known to perform certain ritualistic behaviors before they hunt. These include standing as a group in a circle, nose-to-nose, and wagging their tails. Only after this ritual is complete will they begin the hunt. Whatever helps with the team spirit!
Being a Werewolf Was Once a Serious Crime
There are some interesting gray wolf facts relating to the world of the supernatural. While posterity remembers many famous witch trials, there is a less well-known chapter of history which saw supposed werewolves persecuted too. In 1589, for example, a Rhenish farmer named Peter Stumpp had the most lurid werewolf trial in history. After long hours of torture, including time on the rack, Stumpp admitted that he was a werewolf, claiming that the devil had given him a belt which enabled him to transform into his wolfish form.
Wolf Attacks Can Be Caused by Rabies
We’ve heard about the persecution of real wolves, and of supposed werewolves. And we all know that in fairytales such as ‘Red Riding Hood’ or the ‘Three Little Pigs’, the gray wolf is portrayed as the villain of the tale. But why are we so perpetually afraid of wolves? Of course, these predators can be fearsome, and attacks on humans have been known to occur. But, generally, wolves avoid people, and such attacks are extremely rare. When they have occurred, it is thought that they have often been perpetrated by rabid animals, who go through a phase of violent aggression which make them much more dangerous than their healthy peers.
Gray Wolf Facts – Facts about the Gray Wolf Summary
The gray wolf is a large canid, and is a relation of the domestic dog. Gray wolves can be found in wild areas of Eurasia, North America and parts of Africa. Wolves have been persecuted over the centuries, and have been declared endangered in many parts of North America and Europe. These intelligent animals live and hunt in packs. They are highly social, and have a range of communication methods, including expressive body language, scent markings, vocalizations and their famous howling. The gray wolf is a central part of various folklores and, in European and North American culture in particular, it is often viewed as a rather gothic creature, in league with supernatural beings such as witches and vampires.