Wolf, carnivore related to the jackal and domestic dog. All wolves are characterized by powerful teeth, bushy tails, and round pupils. Certain characteristics of the skull distinguish them from domestic dogs, some breeds of which they otherwise resemble.
Two species of wolves are recognized: the gray, or timber, wolf, once widely distributed in North America, Europe, and Asia; and the red wolf, which now occurs only in Texas and the southeastern United States. An adult gray wolf measures up to 1.6 m (6.5 ft) in length, including the tail (which is less than half the body length), and may weigh up to 80 kg (175 lbs). The animal is red-yellow or yellow-gray, with black patches above and white below; black or brown timber wolves also occur, and those in the far north may be pure white. The red wolf is somewhat smaller in size and usually darker in color.
Wolves are equally at home on prairies, in forestlands, and on all but the highest mountains. In the winter they travel in packs in search of food. Small animals and birds are the common prey of wolves, but a pack may sometimes attack reindeer, sheep, and other large mammals, usually selecting weak, old, or very young animals for easier capture. When no live prey can be found, wolves feed on carrion. They also eat berries.
The den, or lair, of the wolf may be a cave, a hollow tree trunk, a thicket, or a hole in the ground dug by the wolf. In the spring, females have litters of one to eleven pups. Adult wolves sometimes feed young pups by regurgitating partly digested food for them. The pups normally stay with the parents until the following winter but may remain much longer. Parents and young constitute a basic pack, which establishes and defends a territory marked by urine and feces. Larger packs may also assemble, particularly in the winter; the pack leader is called the alpha male, and his mate is the alpha female. As social animals, wolves exhibit behavioral patterns that clearly communicate dominance over or submission to one another. The communal howling of a pack may serve to assemble its members, communicate with other packs, or advertise its territorial claims, or it may be simply a source of pleasure. Visual and scent signals are also important in communication.
Although wolves are still abundant in Eastern Europe and in Asia, only remnant populations now exist in Western Europe, and their numbers in the Americas also have been greatly diminished. They are fairly abundant in Alaska and Canada, but significant remnant populations of wolves south of Canada occur only in Minnesota and Mexico; smaller numbers exist in several western and midwestern states. Under the Endangered Species Act, the gray wolf is listed as a threatened species in Minnesota and as an endangered species elsewhere in the United States outside of Alaska. The decreasing numbers of wolves are the result of encroachments on their territory by humans, who have long regarded wolves as competitors for prey and as dangerous to livestock, pets, and people. However, few, if any, healthy wolves have attacked humans, whom they instead try to avoid. Wolves are valuable predators in the food web, and their decimation has led to the overpopulation of certain other animal species in various areas. There are active efforts to reintroduce wolves to national parks in the United States, although such efforts are controversial. Coyotes have hybridized with some red wolves. An attempt to reintroduce red wolves to parts of North Carolina has involved identifying red wolves that were not part coyote; the success of this project is not yet clear.
In 1995 and 1996, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced Canadian gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park despite protest from ranchers and some biologists. The reintroduced wolves are producing more offspring than expected. When ten breeding pairs reside in the region for three years, the gray wolf will be taken off the list of endangered species in the northern Rocky Mountains. Wolf biologists estimate that this goal may be met by the year 2002 without the transplanting of additional wolves from Canada.Source: "Wolf," Microsoft® Encarta® 97 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1996 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Status: Endangered in all lower 48 states except Minnesota, where it is threatened.
Description: Largest member of the canine family and an ancestor of the dog. Typical color is tan or a grizzled gray and black; although some wolves are all black or all white.
Size: Height=26-32 inches at the shoulder. Weight=55-115 pounds. Females are usually slightly smaller.
Habitat: Forests, tundra, deserts, plains and mountains.
Range: North America (Minnesota and Canada); small areas in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Food Source: Large, hoofed mammals such as deer and elk, and occasionally smaller animals (beaver or rabbit). Wolves kill animals that are the easiest to capture--young, old, diseased or deformed ones--but will kill healthy adult animals if the opportunity arises.
Behavior: Wolves live in packs, which are complex social structures that include the breeding adult pair (the alpha male and female) and their offspring. Size of the pack varies with the size of available prey. Packs that feed on deer may average only 3-6 animals, while those preying on moose can be as large as 15. A hierarchy of dominant and subordinate animals within the pack helps it to function as a unit. Wolves communicate with fellow pack-mates and other wolf packs by scent marking, vocalizations, facial and body postures. Also use barks, whimpers, growls and howls to express themselves.
Howling: Howling is an important and effective way to send long distance messages to other wolves. It serves to find individuals that get separated from the rest of the pack; define territory, defend a fresh kill, and assemble the pack. Pups begin to howl at one month old.
Reproduction: Wolves mate in February or March. Females give birth two months later to a litter of pups. An average litter is four to seven pups. Litter size and pup mortality depends on food supply, weather and the health of the mother.
Survival Threats: Human encroachment into wolf territory. Wolves need open land and an abundant supply of prey to survive. The illegal killing of wolves is a serious problem, especially for small populations. Almost one-quarter of the wolves in Minnesota are illegally killed each year.
If you have the Spirit of the Wolf:
Of all the animal spirits, the wolf is probably the most misunderstood, feared and hated. Tales of evil and terror regarding them have been around for centuries, and yet there has never been any documented or confirmed attacks or killings of a human by a healthy wolf. They have been hunted, trapped and brutally killed to the point of extinction for many breeds and others are highly endangered at this point in time.
Many say the howl of the wolf is eerie, lonely, terrifying, etc. I find the howl is a beautiful song of joy and communication between these animals. Each howl contains a message -- to a mate or the pack. Sometimes it is, simply, a song of joy and celebration of spirit.
Contrary to many beliefs, the wolf is a friendly, social, loyal and highly intelligent animal. They are very "family oriented" and live within certain rules and rituals.
If you relate strongly to the "Spirit of the Wolf" you are very loyal -- to family, friends, principles and ideals. You will protect your loved ones, especially your children, with strength and conviction. Like the wolf itself, you do not like to fight unnecessarily -- you will, in fact, go out of your way to avoid that type of situation.
American Indians have long regarded wolves as teachers or pathfinders. Wolves are fiercely loyal to their mates, and have a strong sense of family while maintaining their individualism. Wolves are probably the most misunderstood of the wild animals. We have heard many tales of cold-bloodedness, in spite of their friendly, social and intelligent traits. They are truly free spirits even though their packs are highly organized. They actually will go out of their way to avoid a fight, which is rarely necessary when just a shift in posture, a glance or a growl will get the point across rather quickly. According to old tradition, someone with Wolf Medicine has a strong sense of self, and can communicate quite well through subtle changes in voice inflection and with body movements. Many times they can find new solutions to problems, while providing stability and the kind of support that one would normally associate with a family structure.