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11 Facts About Gray Wolves

Gray wolves are arguably some of the most intriguing mammals found in North America. They are secretive and elusive with the potential to be dangerous, which tends to captivate most people. In this article, we’re going to be getting into all sorts of the facts about gray wolves.

11 facts about gray wolves

1. They are widely distributed

Gray Wolf
Gray Wolf | Image by keyouest from Pixabay

Gray wolves can be found throughout North America and Eurasia. Their distribution has previously been much larger, but they have been driven out of many parts of western Europe and throughout the United States. They are the largest species of wild canines in the world.

2. There are many subspecies

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) can be further broken up into over 30 different subspecies! Given that their global distribution is so large, it is likely that these subspecies are a result of gray wolf populations fragmenting within different regions.

3. They are close relatives of mans best friend

Gray wolves are very closely related to domestic dogs. They actually fall into the same genus, Canis, and are thought to be the closest relative to the dogs that we keep as pets. Even dogs like pugs and chihuahuas share some close ancestry with these majestic predators!

4. They can hybridize with other canid species

Timberwolves
Timberwolves | Image by Kurt Klement from Pixabay

Gray wolves are in the canidae family, making them canids. Like with other taxa, those in a family with other species often share many similar traits and characteristics that make them similar to one another. However, this does not normally mean that related species can hybridize and produce offspring together.

Gray wolves, however, have been known to successfully mate with others outside of their species and create hybrids. Gray wolves are known to have produced offspring with canids such as coyotes and golden jackals.

5. They are monogamous

Wolves are generally monogamous and may stick with their mate for life. However, if their mate dies, most wolves will quickly end up selecting a new partner to mate with. Monogamy in the animal kingdom is fairly rare, as most species prioritize producing offspring with as many genetically different mates to better their chances of passing on their genes.

However, researchers have found that wolves that were in monogamous pairs for longer periods had pups with better survival rates than wolves not in longer bonded pairs.

6. Wolf packs are actually just families

Most people believe that wolf packs are large groups of adult wolves led by an “alpha male” that is thought to be the most powerful and dominant wolf. In reality though, these packs are typically smaller, nuclear family groups with the parents leading the pack of their offspring. This really isn’t so different from your typical human family!

7. They are strategic hunters

Mexican wolf pack
Mexican wolf pack | image by Eric Kilby via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

Wolves hunt in their packs or family groups, which can be beneficial for taking down larger prey. However, these groups are fairly small. In fact, the optimal pack size to take down a large prey item is typically 4-5 wolves.

Wolves will work together to separate their prey from whatever group they are traveling in. This allows them to take advantage of them when they do not have their group nearby to protect them. Sometimes they will bite their prey and then leave them to slowly bleed out while they rest before finishing the kill and eating their prey.

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8. They are masters of communication

We all know that wolves howl, but they also communicate in other ways too. Being social animals, gray wolves have developed many different techniques to essentially speak to one another. They communicate using sounds, scents, tastes, and posturing.

Wolves howl to find each other after a hunt or another event that may have separated them. They may also howl to sound an alarm to their packmates. They also use their urine or feces to scent mark as a way to communicate to other wolves that they are in their territory.

9. Their population sizes are dwindling

As a whole, Gray wolves are thought to be of lesser conservation concern than other species. However, in the United States, wolf populations are struggling, despite some of the media that suggests otherwise. Being a large carnivore that has been known to take down cattle and other livestock from time to time, farmers, ranchers and people in general have very strong opinions about wolves.

These negative attitudes and fear towards wolves has led to many wolves being hunted and killed in an attempt to protect livestock. This, in addition to rapid habitat loss and fragmentation in the United States has been a huge downfall of wolf populations.

That being said, most of this anger and persecution is misplaced as cattle and livestock are rarely killed by wolves. Instead, most livestock loss is the result of illness, extreme weather events, and other causes.

10. They can vary in appearance

Gray wolf in the woods
Gray wolf in the woods | Image by Christel SAGNIEZ from Pixabay

Gray wolves get their name from their gray fur. However, their fur colors can vary greatly between individuals. Their coats are typically gray with brown mixed in.

However, gray wolves have also been known to have fur that is completely white and fur that is completely brown.

11. They maintain large territories

Gray wolves are territorial animals. They require very large areas with ample habitat and resources to sustain themselves. For this reason, they will patrol territories of sizes that range anywhere from 50 square miles to up to over 2,000 square miles!

Oftentimes, gray wolves will patrol territories that are larger than necessary to make sure that there is enough food and resources for their pack.