The wolf is the largest member of the canid (dog) family. It can be many colours, from white to black, but is most often grey. The wolf has short, soft under-fur that is covered by coarse outer guard hairs. The under-fur is dense and insulates the wolf against the cold.
Wolves in Canada are about the same size as a German shepherd, but they are leaner. They also have bigger feet, longer legs and long, bushy tails.
Wolves live in packs, which typically have six to eight members. Each wolf has its place in the group, and they have many ways of showing 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 displays, 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 the group. Outsiders, however, may be dealt with harshly.
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.
Up until about 200 years ago, wolves lived all over North America, Europe and Asia. Today, their range is much smaller due to hunting and habitat loss. Wolves can still be found in less settled parts of Canada, from Labrador to British Columbia, in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Fast Facts: Wolf
Scientific Name: Canis lupus
Average weight: 20 kilograms to 75 kilograms
Average height: 60 centimetres to 90 centimetres
Average lifespan: Six to eight years in the wild; up to 17 years in captivity
Wolves can go a week or more without eating, but when a hunt is successful, they don’t hold back: a single animal can consume up to nine kilograms of meat in a sitting.
Usually only the male and female alpha of a pack will breed. The rest of the pack helps protect and feed the alpha female while she is nursing her pups.
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.
Did you know?
Most experts believe the domestic dog descended from the wolf—the two are genetically identical and are capable of interbreeding.