Understanding the unfairly maligned wolf

June 28, 2018


Jordan Smith
Zenith News

There is an abundance of wildlife this far north, away from major cities. One species that is feared and misunderstood is the wolf.  

The number of wolves has been in decline, dropping to an estimated 750 in Minnesota. Attempted extermination put wolves on the endangered species list, but the 2016-17 wolf survey, conducted by the Department of Natural Resources, indicated there are around 3,000 in northeastern Minnesota—close to the population between 2004 and 2008.

The wolf survey is conducted every winter when the wolf population is at its lowest. About 40 wolves are tracked via radio devices on collars. This and other methods are relied upon for the annual survey, and there can be a margin of error as wide as 500.

The growing population is spilling over into northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Deer, which are food for wolves, have also been on the rise, due in part to mild winters. 2012 saw a wolf hunting season after wolves were removed from the endangered species list, but they have since been put back on, allowing their numbers to rebound.

Wolves are the largest members of the Canid family, which includes domestic dogs. Although they are sometimes portrayed as dangerous, wolves are typically more than happy to avoid humans altogether. Generally, only rabies or a threat to the wolf or its pups will provoke an attack, but one reason wolves have been hunted is the threat they pose to livestock.

The gray wolf (or timber wolf), also known as Canis lupus, is the most common breed, with adults weighing between 40 and 175 pounds. Some variations of the gray wolf don’t exactly live up to their name, bearing totally black or totally white fur.

Gray wolves can be found in North America and Eurasia. They eat large animals, such as elk, caribou, moose, and bison. Eastern wolves, also known as Canis lycaon or Canis lupus lycaon, are most commonly found in the northeastern part of the Great Lakes in southeastern Canada. They are smaller than gray wolves, and feed on white-tailed deer and sometimes on moose, beaver, muskrats, and mice.

The eastern wolf is both a subspecies of gray wolf and a distinct species. Many eastern wolves have coyote ancestry. Their average weight is around 60 pounds, with males a little heavier than females. The lifespan of both gray and eastern wolves is four to eight years, but they sometimes reach 15 years of age. Red wolves are another species that is smaller than the gray wolf. They weigh between 50 and 80 pounds, and can be found on the aforementioned continents as well as in northern Africa.

Despite the wolf’s reputation as a loner, wolves, like humans, are gregarious. Lone wolves, just like human hermits, exist, but are much less common. Wolves travel and hunt in packs of around 10, but sometimes as many as 30.

The alpha male is the pack leader, and packs establish territories, guarding them against enemies, including wolves that don’t belong to their pack. An alpha male and his mate are most likely to produce offspring, called pups, with litters ranging between one and 11. Mating season is in late winter, with a gestation period of nine weeks.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and wolf pups are looked after by all the adult members of a pack. Early in life, pups are nursed by their mother’s milk, but at around five to ten weeks, they will feed on food regurgitated by adult pack members. They begin hunting at about six months old, and are considered adults by age two.

Wolves tend to be on the move, traveling as far as 12 miles in a 24-hour period. They are nocturnal, sleeping during the day and hunting by night. Although howling is thought of as directed at the moon, wolves howl in order to communicate with fellow pack members, just like people tend to talk the most with our closest friends and relatives.

Elimination is another way wolves communicate, leaving scents with their urine and feces. Wolves can also be found playing and chewing on bones, just like Rover and Fido.

This July looks to be slightly cooler than average, with average precipitation. The first half of the month shows the greatest promise for thunderstorms, although there is a chance of rain all month. Things should start heating up nicely towards August.


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