Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Length: 4.5 to 6.5 feet (1.4 to 2 meters)
Weight: 60 to 100 pounds (27 to 45 kilograms)
Life span: 13 to 15 years
Gestation: 2 months
Number of young at birth: 4 to 6
Size at birth: 1 pound (0.45 kilograms)
Age of maturity: 9 months
Conservation status: timber wolf Canis lupis occidentalis is endangered
can travel long distances at a regular trot of about five miles
per hour (eight kilometers per hour). They are much quicker when
they hunt. Wolves can also travel far from their home pack and
their regular territory in search of food—sometimes hundreds
of miles (kilometers).
There is no record of a healthy wolf ever eating a human being.
Even though usually only the alpha male and female have pups, all of the wolf pack’s members take care of the youngsters. They bring them food, play with them, and also act as "baby sitters."
Wolves love to play when they have the chance. They start with a play bow and have been seen tossing "toys" to each other like bones, branches, or animal skins.
Listen to a wolf!
Most of us grew up hearing stories about the "big, bad wolf." The fact is that wolves are not really big or bad. They aren’t even harmful to humans. Wolves are just animals trying to survive in the world, just like we are. Wolves belong to the same family of animals as the dog you may have as a family pet, the Canidae. Wolves are predators that hunt and eat other animals. In some places they are considered a vulnerable or endangered species. There are many wolf organizations and government agencies working to both save wolves and educate people about them.
The myth of the wild dog
There are many stories of wolves being just "wild dogs" that could be tamed. While wolves and dogs do share many biological traits, they are very different from each other. The dogs we have as pets have been bred to be gentle companion animals to humans. Wolves are still wild animals and should be treated as such. Sometimes wolves and dogs interbreed, and the pups are called wolf hybrids. However, these hybrids usually do not make good pets. There is another myth that some breeds of dog, like the husky, are part wolf. But huskies are just another breed of domestic dog, like a poodle or a golden retriever.
Safety in numbers
Wolves live in family groups called packs. A pack usually consists of an adult male and female and their pups. The average size of a pack is 8 or 9 wolves, but packs as large as 20 to 30 have been found.
If you’ve watched domestic dogs play, you already know something about how wolves communicate. Within a wolf pack, communicating successfully with each other is key to every member’s survival and well-being. Like dogs, they may bare their teeth and growl if they are angry or upset. They hold their tails high as a sign of leadership, and lower their bodies and tails in front of another pack member to show submission. Ears flattened back against the wolf’s face means it is afraid or cautious. Wolf packs also follow the cues of the head male and female, called the alphas. In any pack there is only one alpha male and female, and only these wolves have pups. The alphas are usually the oldest and strongest members of the pack and organize the pack to hunt as a group.
Wolves, like many other animals, also communicate by scent marking: leaving their urine and feces on trees or rocks where other wolves will find it. There are many research studies going on to determine what these "messages" mean. One of the best-known ways wolves communicate is by howling. No one knows for sure all the ways that wolves use this communication tool. Some researchers believe wolves howl for fun, as well as to announce their presence to each other or start a hunt.
A carnivore diet
Wolves eat meat almost exclusively. In the wild, some observers have seen them eat small birds or mice, but they prefer larger prey such as goats, sheep, or deer. Wolves work as a team to attack herds of these large animals. They often go after the old, young, or sick, since they are easier to kill. Many times it is feast or famine for wolves. When they find food, they eat as much as they can, because they may go for many days before eating again. Wolves can kill their prey effectively because they have incredibly strong jaws, which can bite through even the toughest of animal hides. They can even break hard bones in just a few bites. Wolves at the San Diego Zoo are fed a specialized carnivore diet, as well as large bones to chew on.
Where do wolves live?
Wolves are primarily found in North America and northern Europe and Asia. Their territories can be large or small, sometimes as small as 20 square miles (52 square hectares), or as large as 1,000 square miles (2,590 square hectares) in places like Canada. Wherever wolves live, it is usually away from human beings. Wolves tend to be cautious around people and avoid us if they can. A large national park or wilderness area is where you will find most wolves. Because humans are taking over more and more of their land, wolves are finding it harder to survive. Loss of habitat is the main reason for the decline of wolves in some parts of the world.