GRAY WOLF

Canis lupus


wolves by Lezle Williams
"Wolves" by Lezle Williams

Vocabulary: alpha, carnivorous

Physical Appearance and Characteristics: What color are gray wolves? If you said gray you're partly correct, they can also have white, red or black fur. Gray wolves are 2- 2.5 feet tall (shoulder height) and their bodies are between 4-5 feet long. Male wolves weigh on average 90 pounds and females generally weigh 80 pounds. Gray wolves can run 35 m.p.h. and can jump 12 feet.

wolf by Ron Wulff photo by Ron Wulff

Habits and Reproductive Cycle: Gray wolves live in packs with 8 to 35 members. The leader of the pack is the alpha.

Gray wolves, like maned and red wolves, mate for life. Usually only the alpha pair breeds. Pairs mate in the winter and about 9 weeks later 2 to 14 pups are born. Pups are born blind. Other females in the pack help take care of newborn pups. Within 3 to 5 months the young pups are able to travel with the pack.

Geographic Range: Presently the Gray Wolf inhabits Michigan's Upper Peninsula, northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and a large geographic range in Alaska, Canada, Europe, Middle East and Asia. The gray wolf once lived in diverse regions as Israel and Egypt.

Biomes: These highly adaptive animals once inhabited a variety of biomes within North America including boreal forest, temperate deciduous forest and temperate grassland.

Habitat: The forested areas of Northern Michigin, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

IUCN Status: Endangered There are approximately 2,500 gray wolves in the lower 48 states and about 10,000 in Alaska.

Threats to Survival: People have changed their ideas and public policies about wolves many times. Earlier this century people worldwide believed wolves should be hunted and killed because wolves were killing cattle and deer. Wolf populations were the lowest in Eurasia between the 1930's and 1960's. In the 1950's wolf numbers were the lowest in North America.

Today much research is being conducted to determine the best habitat for wolves. Recently, 30 gray wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. A thriving wolf population lives in northern Minnesota and there is an isolated population on Isle Royale National Park, Michigan. Worldwide, gray wolves are coming back due to research and public education efforts. Gray wolves now live in Rome (Italy), Spain, France, Poland, Germany, the former Soviet Union, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Diet: These carnivores (meat eating) eat anything ranging from field mice to huge caribou. As predators, gray wolves help to maintain balance in the food web. The loss of wolves in ecosystems have lead to the overpopulation of other animal species.

Language: Gray wolves communicate to each other through howling, body language and scent. Howling is used to assemble the pack, talk to other packs, assert territorial claims or as a source of pleasure. On a calm night, howls can be heard from as far as 120 miles away. Wolves use their faces and tails to indicate their emotion and status in the pack. A pack marks its territory by urine and feces.