Grey Wolf (Canis lupus)

Grey wolf running in snow

(http://www.arkive.org/grey-wolf/canis-lupus/image-G58562.html)

  • Name: Grey wolf
  • Latin: Canis lupus
  • Classification: Mammal
  • Origin: Europe
  • Lifespan: 16-20 years

Taxonomy

  • Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
  • Class: Mammalia (mammals)
  • Order: Carnivora (carnivores)
  • Family: Canidae (dogs)
  • Genus: Canis (wolves, dogs and jackals)
  • Species: Canis lupus (grey wolf)

Apperance

  • Height: 2-2.5ft
  • Length: 4-5ft
  • Weight: 80-90lbs

The Grey wolf resembles that of a sled dog, but with longer legs and narrower chest. It has thick fur and a thick bushy tail. The fur may be grey, red, brown, black or white and the tip of the tail may be tipped with black. It is the largest of all the wild dogs.

Relatives

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  • Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis) -ENDANGERED-
  • Maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) -NEAR THREATENED-
  • Red wolf (Canis rufus) -CRITICALLY ENDANGERED-
  • Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) -EXTINCT-

Habitat & Distribution

The grey wolf prefers to live in open woodlands, tundra and forests but it can live anywhere where there is water and enough prey for the pack. The wolfs territory can range from about 50-5,000 miles and will defend it from invading wolves. The pack will use this area as a hunting ground.

The grey wolf can be found living throughout the Northern Hemisphere of the earth in countries such as North America, India, Russia, Canada and most of Europe, typically the colder countries of the world.

Map showing the distribution of the Grey wolf taxa

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Gray_Wolf)

Diet

The diet of the grey wolf primarily consists of medium to large sized ungulates such as ibex, deer, elk, mountain sheep, wild goats and caribou. However, they are not fussy eaters and will also eat other animals such as foxes, mice, lizards, salmon, seals, waterfowl, eggs, frogs and toads. Also, in times of scarcity they will also eat carrion. Grey wolves have also been known to attack weak and injured wolves and eat dead members of their pack. The wolves will also supplement their diet with fruits and vegetables such as lily of the valley, bilberries, blueberries, nightshade, cowberry, apples and pears.

Grey wolves normally hunt in packs and have the ability to hunt strategically. Strategies that they may bring in to play include wearing the prey out by chasing it continuously, setting up an ambush, distracting they prey while the rest of the pack attack from behind, and bleeding the prey to death by biting into the soft areas of its body such as the neck and nose. Surplus killing may also occur when adult wolves are teaching the young to hunt.

Behaviour

Grey wolves live in packs with a complex social structure. They consist of one breeding pair (alpha male and female), their offspring and a few other subordinate wolves. This hierarchy helps the pack to function as a unit and carry out successful hunts.

Wolves will howl to communicate. They do this to locate lost members of the pack, to communicate when hunting and to advertise its presence and ownership of territory. They will also use scent marking to communicate with others and to mark their territory.

Reproduction

Grey wolves will mate any time between January and March. Once, pregnant the females will stay pregnant for around 63 days and the average litter size is 4-7 pups.

At birth, the pups tend to have darker fur than the adults and blue eyes. However, their eyes will change to a yellow-gold or orange colour when they reach about 8-16 weeks of age. Though it is extremely unusual, a wolf may retain its blue eyes throughout its lifetime.

In a pack, only the alpha male and female are allowed to reproduce and have puppies and the rest of the pack must help to take care of them. The alpha female will not tolerate other lactating female in her pack and will drive them away.

Grey wolf pup at den, portrait

(http://www.arkive.org/grey-wolf/canis-lupus/image-G56517.html)

Adaptations

  • The grey wolf has woolly, insulated fur to keep them warm and have long, guard hairs to keep out moisture.
  • The grey wolf has excellent hearing which is twenty times sharper than a humans and their sense of smell is a hundred times keener.
  • These animals have great stamina and can cover a distance of more than 18 miles at a trot. They have a top speed of 40 miles per hour.
  • The grey wolf has very powerful jaws and has a crushing pressure of 500 pounds per square inch.

Threats

The biggest threat to grey wolf populations is loss of habitat. Wolves used to have the widest natural distribution of any mammal aside from humans. Now, their range has been reduced by a third, especially in developed areas of Europe, Asia, Mexico and the United States.

Grey wolves are also poisoned and shot because of their taste for livestock. They are also trapped and shot for sport.

Conservation

  • IUCN Status: Least Concern

Grey wolves are listed as endangered throughout the lower 48 states of America and in Minnesota, they are listed as threatened. They are protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). They are also protected by Yellowstone National Park where many wolves live. It is against the law to shot or kill any animal in Yellowstone.

In the UK they are protected by the UK Grey Wolf Conservation Trust.

Fun Facts

  • Male: Wolf
  • Female: Bitch
  • Young: Pup
  • Group: Pack
  • Grey wolf pups are born deaf and blind.
  • A wolfs howl can be heard by others 3-4 miles away.
  • They are capable of running 35-40 miles per hour.
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