• A wolverine near Seattle, Wash.

    A wolverine near Seattle, Wash. (Photo: Jeffrey C. Lewis/U.S. Department of Transportation)

The only thing more elusive than a wolverine may be a wolverine’s meal.

The wolverine’s scientific name Gulo gulo is Latin for gluttonous, a feature with which the wolverine has become associated. As the biggest scavenger of the weasel family, the wolverine’s diet is largely dependent on what it can get its paws on.

“It depends on where the wolverine lives,” says Matthew Scrafford, a PhD student at the University of Alberta who is working on a project in northern Alberta to learn more about wolverines. As part of the project, Scrafford’s team catches wolverines and fits them with GPS tracking collars to find out information on the rare animal, including what they eat.

In the summer, wolverines often chow down on smaller mammals and rodents. But when the winter comes, they feast on larger beasts. Scrafford describes the wolverine as an “opportunistic omnivore,” adding that they will go to great lengths for a tasty treat. For instance, they will dig through snow-packed mountains for dead mountain goats that are buried beneath snow and debris caused by avalanches.

In northwestern Alberta, the team has discovered that wolverines eat the leftovers from wolves’ dinners, which could be deer, moose or caribou.

Scrafford says that when a wolverine’s preferred meal isn’t readily available, a wolverine is capable of switching its diet to something else. However, this may affect their population density, which is already on the decline, with the wolverine currently listed as a species of special concern.