Below are many of the characteristics of the Canis Lupus (Gray wolf):
General Social Behaviour
- A pack can consist of 4 to 40 wolves depending on territory size.
- The wolf pack hierarchy is a very strict social order.
- Leaders are known as Alpha (Male and Female).
- The dominance is communicated by posture and vocally.
- (A straight tail bared teeth deep growls).
- This show of force rarely leads to serious injuries.
- The Lowest ranking wolf is known as an Omega (Male or Female).
- The Omega wolf serves an important purpose by absorbing the packs
- aggression thereby maintaining balance within the pack.
- This submissive position is displayed by means of body language.
- (Ears back head down tail between the legs or a raised leg to expose the stomach and genitalia).
- Wolves in the wild have a lifespan of 5 10 years and have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.
- The Alpha male and female pair for life and breeding is usually confined to the Alpha pair only.
- Female wolves become sexually mature during their 2nd year.
- Male wolves become sexually mature during their 3rd year.
- Gestation lasts 63 days but can vary by up to four days.
- The size of each litter is related to the size of the wolf population in the local area, the amount of prey available and other environmental stresses.
- Litters range in size from 3 12 young with an average litter size being 6 pups.
- The female usually burrows into a mound to create a den when having her pups.
- The Alpha female appoints one of the lesser females to become the babysitter when she is not in attendance.
- The babysitter will also lactate in order to feed the pups.
- The pups are born blind and their eyes open within the first two weeks.
- Pups can utter their first howls at 4 weeks.
- The pups begin to emerge from the den at 3 5 weeks and are lead out of the den by the Alpha male who whimpers and howls.
- Pups are weaned at approximately 5 weeks.
- The pack feeds their pups and their aged family members by regurgitating food.
- Wolves communicate in many ways:
- From an early age they establish dominance by growling.
- They are quite vocal as they whimper and whine in hunger, pain or to attract attention.
- They communicate by means of body language ears, nose, teeth, and tail.
- They howl. Howling is not uniform each wolf has its own distinctive howl and often a variation each time it howls.
- Although wolves do not bark as domestic dogs do they do use a bark as a form of communication usually signaling alarm or a challenge.
- Howling identifies the packs whereabouts to lost members, serves to avoid aggression between packs and helps demarcate territories.
- Lone male wolves have a deep mournful howl, lasting for hours that can be heard up to 25km away.
- Wolves have twice the biting power than that of a dog.
- Our wolves moult twice a year to adapt to the climate.
- Wolves have an extra web between their toes for snow walking. They can travel great distances covering up to 200km in 48 hours.
- Under threat wolves will purge their stomach contents to make their bodies lighter for flight.
- When wolves are put into abnormal situations small enclosures or when physically abused or threatened, they display aggressive behaviour and often become violent to protect themselves.
- Wolves eyes have an extra lens for night vision.
- Wolves are fond of water and love their daily swim, which also serves to eliminate ticks and fleas.
Wolf or Dog?
Dogs hold their tail much lower than wolves and for almost all dog breeds including crossbreeds the tail tends to curl up.
Paw prints are another distinguishing difference.
- In wolves the toe pads and claw marks point forward.
- In dogs the toe pads and claw marks are angled to the outside.
Wolf packs do not amalgamate it is usually only the Omega who leaves the pack or an ousted Alpha and finds other Omegas or ousted Alphas in the wild to form new packs.
Muzzle - A wolf has two hundred million smelling cells inside its nose and can smell 100 times better then a human being. A wolf has 42 teeth including four canines. Wolves use their sharp teeth to wound, grab and kill its prey. Wolves use their back teeth to crush the bones and make the meat into smaller pieces and they use the small front teeth to nibble and pull at the skin. A wolf has a very rough tongue which is used for cleaning the meat off of the bones.
Eyes and Nose - Wolves move their ears from side to side to determine where a sound is coming from. Wolves have excellent eye sight, a keen sense of smell and acute hearing. Wolves can see and smell a deer from a great distance.
Body - A wolfs body is strong and powerful which enables it to kill large prey such as deer and elk.
Fur - The wolf has two layers of fur. On top is a longer course fur used as guard hairs which keeps the wolf dry. The other is short under fur that keeps it warm.
Legs and Feet - Wolves toes spread apart when they step in the snow so they do not sink. Wolves walk and run on their toes. It makes their legs longer and nimble so they can run with speed and catch fast prey. Wolves have four toes on their hind feet and five toes on their fore feet.
Tails - Wolves use their tails to communicate. For example, the tails position and the state of its hair send specific messages. Wolves also have a scent gland on the back surface of their tails which they use to scent-mark territory.
Skeleton - The skeleton of the wolf is well adapted to its lifestyle. Their bones need to be strong, for power in bringing down large prey such as caribou, deer, elks or moose. The narrow collarbones, interlocked foreleg bones and specially adapted wrist-bones give the wolf streamlining, strength and speed. The radius and ulna bones are 'locked' in position. This inability to rotate the forelimbs gives superb stability when running.
Long Skull - Wolves have long skulls which is a typical carnivore skull, housing extensive and strong cheek muscles, necessary for holding onto prey, killing and consuming.
Large Brain Capacity - Skull capacity allows adequate space for an advanced cerebral cortex (brain) necessary for coordinating group social activity.
Wolf paws are able to tread easily on a wide variety of terrains, especially snow. There is a slight webbing between each toe, which allows them to move over snow more easily. Wolves are digitigrades (an animal that stands or walks on its digits, or toes) and with the relative largeness of their feet, helps them to distribute their weight evenly on snowy surfaces. The front paws are larger than the hind paws and have a fifth digit, the dew claw, which is absent on their hind paws. A dew claw is a vestigial digit of the paw which grows higher on the leg so that when the animal is standing, it does not make contact with the ground.
Bristled hairs and blunt claws help wolves to grip on slippery surfaces, and special blood vessels prevent their paw pads from freezing. Scent glands located between a wolfs toes leave trace chemical markers behind, helping the wolf to effectively navigate over large areas while keeping others informed of its whereabouts. Unlike dogs and coyotes, wolves lack sweat glands on their paw pads.
Wolves have bulky coats consisting of two layers. Their first layer is made up of tough guard hairs that repel water and dirt. Their second layer is a dense, water-resistant undercoat that insulates the wolf and keeps it warm. Their undercoat is shed in the form of large tufts of fur in late spring or early summer (with yearly variations). A wolf will often rub against objects such as rocks and branches to encourage the loose fur to fall out. Their undercoat is usually grey regardless of the outer coats appearance. Wolves have distinct winter and summer pelages (the hair or fur that covers the animal) that alternate in spring and autumn. Female wolves tend to keep their winter coats further into the spring than male wolves. North American wolves typically have longer, silkier fur than their Eurasian relatives.
The colour of the wolfs fur varies greatly, from grey to grey-brown, to white, red, brown and black. These colours tend to mix in many populations to form predominantly blended individuals, though it is not uncommon for an individual or an entire population of wolves to be entirely one colour (usually all black or all white). A multicolour coat lacks any clear pattern and tends to be lighter on the wolfs undersides. A wolfs fur colour sometimes corresponds with a wolf populations environment, for example, all-white wolves are much more common in areas with snow cover. Aging wolves acquire a greyish tint in their coats. The Grey Wolf and the Red Wolf tend to have interspersed flicks of yellowish colouring appearing through their base colour.
At birth, wolf pups tend to have darker fur and their eyes have blue irises that will change to a yellow-gold or orange colour when the pups are between 8 and 16 weeks old. Though extremely unusual, it is possible for an adult wolf to retain its blue-coloured irises.
How Wolves Differ From Dogs
A wolfs long, powerful muzzles help distinguish them from other canids, particularly coyotes and golden jackals, which have more narrow, pointed muzzles. Wolves differ from domestic dogs as they have a comparatively larger brain capacity. Larger paw size, yellow eyes, longer legs and bigger teeth further distinguish adult wolves from other canids, especially dogs. Also, precaudal glands at the base of the tail are present in wolves, however, not in dogs.
Wolves have many ways in which they behave and communicate with each other.
Wolves have a variety of expressions and moods that can be defined by subtle body movements like a shift in body weight to more obvious ones such as rolling on their backs on the floor in a submissive position.
Below are some of the ways wolves show their behaviour towards each other and towards others such as predators or other threats.
Dominant Wolf - A dominant wolf stands stiff legged and tall. Their ears are erect and forward and the hackles bristle slightly. Often the tail is held vertical and curled toward the back. This display shows the wolfs rank to all others in the pack. A dominant wolf may stare penetratingly at a submissive one, pin it to the ground, 'ride up' on its shoulders, or even stand on its hind legs.
Angry Wolf - An angry wolfs ears are erect and its fur bristles. Their lips may curl up or pull back and the incisors are displayed. The wolf may also snarl.
Aggressive Wolf - A aggressive wolf may snarl and crouch backwards ready to pounce. Hairs will also stand erect on its back.
Fearful Wolf - A frightened wolf will try to make its body look small and therefore less conspicuous. Their ears flatten down against the head and the tail may be tucked between the legs, as with a submissive wolf. There may also be whimpering or barks of fear and the wolf may arch its back.
Defensive Wolf - A defensive wolf lays its ears back flat against its head.
Suspicious Wolf - A suspicious wolf will narrow its eyes and pull back its ears. Its tail will be pointed straight outwards parallel to the ground if it suspects danger.
Relaxed Wolf - The tail of a relaxed wolf will hang down relaxed or it may wag. The more its tail hangs down, the more relaxed the wolf is. The wolf may also sit like a sphinx or roll on its side.
Happy Wolf - A happy wolf will wag its tail just like a dog and will have its tongue lolled out.
Playful Wolf - A playful wolf holds its tail high and wags it. The wolf may frolic and dance around, or bow by placing the front of its body down to the ground, while holding their rear high, sometimes wagged. This is reminiscent of the playful behaviour displayed in domestic dogs.
Hunting Wolf - A hunting wolf will be tense and have its tail pointing straight out.
Submissive Wolf (Active) - In active submission, the entire body is lowered and the lips and ears are drawn back. Sometimes active submission is accompanied by muzzle licking, or the rapid thrusting out of the tongue and lowering of the hindquarters. Their tail is placed down, or halfway or fully between the legs and the muzzle often points up to the more dominant animal. Their back may be partially arched as the submissive wolf humbles itself to its superior. (A more arched back and more tucked tail indicate a greater level of submission.)
Submissive Wolf (Passive) - Passive submission is more intense than active submission. The wolf rolls on its back and exposes its vulnerable throat and underside. Their paws are drawn into the body. This is often accompanied by whimpering.