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Animal Facts: Wolf

  • Jun 09, 2019
  • 515 words
  • 3 minutes
Two grey wolves pause in deep winter snow while looking for food. (Photo: Neal Weisenberg Photography/Can Geo Photo Club)
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Within Canada, there are several species of wolves that occupy approximately 90 per cent of their historic range. 

Fast Facts

Common name: Wolf

Scientific nameCanis lupus

Type: Mammal

Diet: Carnivore

Group name: Pack

Weight: 18 to 80 kilograms

Height: 80 to 85 centimetres (at shoulder)

COSEWIC Status: Not at risk, data deficient

Did you know?

Most experts believe the domestic dog descended from the grey wolf — the two are genetically identical and are capable of interbreeding. 

Physical characteristics and behaviour

The grey wolf is the largest member of the canid family. It can appear in a variety of colours, from white to brown to black, but is most often grey. The grey wolf has short, soft under-fur that is covered by coarse, outer guarding hairs. The under-fur is dense and insulates the wolf against the cold. Grey wolves in Canada are about the same size as German shepherds, but they are leaner. They also have bigger feet, longer legs and longer, bushier tails.

Grey wolves live in packs, which typically have six to eight members. Each wolf has its place in the group, and they have many behaviours that show where they stand in the group’s hierarchy. For example, the top wolf, or alpha male, will show its dominance by standing tall with its ears up and forward. When an alpha male makes such a display, lesser-ranked wolves will crouch, tucking their tails between their legs and lowering their ears. Because every pack member understands these gestures, there is little fighting within groups. Outsiders, however, may be dealt with harshly.

Within the pack, only the male and female alpha wolves will breed. The rest of the pack helps protect and feed the alpha female while she is nursing her pups.

Grey wolves can go a week or more without eating, but when a hunt is successful, they don’t hold back: a single wolf can consume up to nine kilograms of meat in one sitting. Packs normally occupy a set home range and travel the same paths. When hunting, the pack works together, taking turns chasing an animal to tire it out or splitting up to chase it into an ambush.

Additionally, wolves don’t really howl at the moon. They do, however, howl to rally the pack or let other wolves know their location, and the sound can carry up to 10 kilometres even in dense forest.

Diet

Wolves are carnivores and, depending on food availability, they will hunt their own prey, steal from others or scavenge. They hunt larger prey such as moose, caribou, elk, musk ox and bison in packs, and smaller prey, such as rabbits, beavers and other small animals by themselves. 

Habitat and distribution

Up until about 200 years ago, grey wolves lived all over North America, Europe and Asia. Today, their range is much smaller due to hunting and habitat loss. Grey wolves can still be found in less settled parts of Canada, from Labrador to British Columbia, in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Subspecies

  • Arctic wolf
  • eastern wolf
  • Great Plains wolf
  • grey wolf 
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