QUICK FACTS ABOUT WOLVES
There are so many interesting facts about wolves.
BASIC BIOLOGY OF THE GREY WOLF
Scientific Name: Canis lupus
Weight: 30-50 kilograms. Females usually smaller than males.
Colour: Ranges from black to grey to white to brown, with any mixture of these. BC coastal wolves appear more ochre.
Lifespan: Generally 6 to 8 years, but can exceed 10 years.
Lifestyle: Social animals that live in extended family groups, often called packs. Wolf family units can range in size from 2 to 30 wolves, but are usually made up of 4 to 8 individuals. Wolves are built to travel and are often on the move. They travel several kilometres each day, sometimes covering distances of 70 km. in one day.
Habitat requirements: Wolf territories will range from 50 sq. kilometres to 3,000 sq. kms. Territories must be large enough for the family to secure enough food for itself year-round.
Food preferences: Wolves are obligate carnivores; depend on the nutrients only found in animal flesh for their survival. While they may consume small amounts of plant material, they lack the physiology required for the efficient digestion of vegetable matter. They are at the top of the food chain as apex predators and will scavenge as well as hunt large ungulates, such as deer, elk, moose, and caribou. They will also subsist on smaller mammals, such as beaver and snowshoe hare.
Wolves of coastal BC have evolved separately from mainland wolves, forming a genetically and ecologically unique group that largely feeds on salmon and other marine life. Coastal wolves will also swim several kilometers to reach a new island in search of food.
Family Life: Wolves live in family groups, or packs, that are usually made up of a single breeding pair and their offspring, or pups. Wolf parents lead their pups through important life lessons for two or more years about how to survive in the wild. Parents also pass on skills and traditions unique to the habitat they live in. Wolf families communicate very effectively with each other, which helps them to cooperate as a team when hunting large prey. Wolves are also very playful with each other and show affection to family members. Wolf families will defend their territories from other wolves who compete for food. Effective communication helps wolves to avoid encounters with other wolf packs, as well as to reduce family strife.
Body language: Very important at close range; allows for silent and instant communication.
Vocalizations: Howls travel several kilometres, allowing for distance communication. Wolves howl for many different reasons; also growl, gruff, grunt, etc.
Scenting: Marking territories and resources with urine, scat, and scent glands enables wolves to communicate with each other over time and space.
Influence: A wolf pack, or wolf family unit, is a keystone species in an ecosystem, which means it has many influences upon numerous other species and natural processes in that ecosystem. Decades of scientific research has shown that wolves and other large carnivores contribute to maintaining balance and biodiversity in nature. Wolves have been documented to exert influences within ecosystems in more ways than by directly controlling ungulate populations or disease levels, although wolves have filled this niche across their former Holarctic range.
REPRODUCTION & DEVELOPMENT
In most situations, it is only the dominant male and dominant female in a pack that breed, with subdominant females under a behaviourally induced reproductive suppression. In simpler terms, others are prevented from breeding through aggressive behaviour and direct interference of mating. However, no rules are set in stone for wolves and occasionally subordinate females will reproduce successfully. This is more likely to occur when food resources are abundant.
Breeding occurs in late winter for wolves. In BC, wolves mate around mid-February, with a gestation period of 62-63 days. Some researchers have observed wolves visiting a den site after mating, long before the female gives birth, and have questioned if this is indicative that wolves are aware of the consequences of their mating rituals?
Pups are born in a sheltered den sometime between early April and early June. Lactation lasts 8 - 10 weeks. An average litter has 6 pups, but can range from 1 - 11.