A large part of the mission at Seacrest Wolf Preserve is to educate the public on wolves, wolf conservation, and our role in protecting and preserving the natural world. There are many myths surrounding wolves. We hope the information here will help dispel them and bring you a greater understanding of the importance and beauty of these incredible animals.
These information sheets provide interesting facts about the animals that call Seacrest their home:
The Gray Wolf - Biology, Behavior, and Conservation
Helping dispel the myths about wolves is key to helping save this species. Below is a variety of information on wolf behavior, biology, interactions, and conservation issues. The information below was collected and put together from a variety of sources.
- The largest members of the Canine family
- Historically the largest and most extensive range of all mammals, second only to humans.
- Inhabit only a small portion of their former range
- Beautiful, complex, social, intelligent, and historically misunderstood
- Fear of wolves has been responsible for most of the species' trouble, including its near extinction in Europe and the United States during the 20th century
Wolves - Species
- Gray Wolf - Canis lupis
- Red Wolf - Canis rufus
- Extinct in the wild as of 1980, reintroduced in NC in 1987
- Ethiopian Wolf - Canis simensis
- Extremely endangered, only 550 remain in the wild
- Dire Wolf - Canis Dirus
- Became extinct approximately 10,000 years ago during mass extinctions worldwide
Gray Wolves - Physical Characteristics
- Height 26-38 inches at the shoulder
- Length 4.5-6.5 feet from nose to tip of tail
- Weight 55-130 lbs; Males are typically heavier and taller than the females
- Females typically weigh 20% less than males
- Largest gray wolf recorded in Alaska (1939) at 175lbs
- Smallest wolves come from the Arabian subspecies, weighing in at as little as 22lbs
- Lifespan 7-8 years in the wild, but some have lived 10 years or more
- Coats (pelage) made of two layers
- Top layer made of tough hairs to repel water and dirt
- Under layer insulates, is shed in the summer months
- Fur coloration varies widely, predominately gray, may be white, red, black, brown.
Coloration originally thought to aid camouflage. Some theories suggest it may instead aid social interaction and communication
- Require 2.5 lb of food per day to survive, 5 lb to reproduce successfully
- Can eat up to 22 lb in a single sitting
- Estimated that a single wolf will kill 15 to 20 deer per year
- Prey primarily on large hoofed mammals
- Prey in North America includes white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, elk, caribou, bison, Dall sheep, musk oxen, and mountain goat
- May take medium sized mammals, such as beaver and rabbits, and may rarely hunt birds or small mammals
Gray Wolf - Social Organization
- Wolves are "social predators"
- They live within "packs" which have a strict social order
- Average wolf pack usually consists of 6-8 wolves
- In Alaska and Canada some packs may have over 30 members
- A pack's size continually changes as wolves disperse or join
- A pack ranges within a territory, hunting within that area.
- Territories may be as small as 25 square miles up to 1000, depending on prevalence of prey, competing packs, geography, etc.
- Every pack is lead by an alpha male and female
- In most larger packs there are two distinct hierarchies, the males and the females
- In this case the female is often the "top alpha", leading the overall pack
- This pair has the "greatest amount of social freedom" of the pack
- They are not "leaders" in the human sense of the term.
- Do not give the other wolves orders; rather, they simply have the most freedom in choosing where to go, what to do, and when to do it.
- The rest of the pack usually follows.
- Alphas resolve disputes within the pack, control resources, and keep the pack together
- Most alpha pairs are monogamous
- The death of one alpha does not affect the status of the other. The remaining alpha will quickly take a new mate.
- Usually only the alpha pair will raise a litter successfully
- All wolves in the pack assist in raising the pups
- When resources are limited, alphas may prevent other members of the pack from mating
- Beta Wolves are "second in command" to the alpha pair
- Play a more prominent role helping with the alpha's litter
- May act as surrogate parents when the alpha pair is away
- Most likely to challenge alphas for dominance
- Omega wolves are at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
The "punching bags" of the pack, they receive the most aggression from the rest of the pack members
- May be subject to constant dominance or physical harrassment
- Despite their treatment by the pack, they are often the most playful wolves, helping relieve pack tension
- Rank in the pack is established through fights and posturing, "ritual bluffing"
- Status is based more on personality and attitude then size and strength
- Loss of rank can happen suddenly or gradually
- Mating Season
- Fights are rare, but highly dangerous, sometimes leading to the deaths of the participants
- Losers who survive a fight are often chased from the pack
- An average alpha male will kill 2-4 wolves in his lifetime
Gray Wolf Communication - Body Language
- To communicate dominance, alphas carry their tails high and stand tall.
Less dominant wolves hold their tails down and lower their bodies while pawing at the dominant wolves.
- Two levels of submissive behavior: active and passive.
- "Active submission is a contact activity in which signs of inferiority are evident such as crouching, muzzle licking and tail tucking".
- "Passive submission is shown when a subordinate wolf lays on its side or back, thus exposing the vulnerable ventral side of its chest and abdomen to the more dominant wolf."
Gray Wolf Communication - Vocalization
Allows wolves to communicate over long distances through heavy forests
- declaring territory
- protecting kill
- smaller packs more careful about howling
- locate one another
- rally together
- may strengthen bonds, similar to community singing
- Heard most at twilight, up to 10 miles away
- Usually with teeth barred, used in warning or aggression
- Used when nervous or to warn pack members of danger
- Low breathy "whuf"
- May "bark-howl", adding howl to end of bark
- A high pitched wailing noise a group may make
- Often sign of submission to an alpha
- Mothers whimper to tell young she will nurse
- Submissive wolves may whimper when dominated
Gray Wolf Communication - Scents
- 100 times greater sense of smell than humans
- "Scent-marking", mark territories with urine and scat
- Alphas mark with a raised leg stance, all other pack members squat
- Use urine to mark food caches that are empty, or mark fresh kills
- Communicate with each other via pheromones excreted from scent glands all over body
- Dominant wolves rub body against others to mark them as members of his or her pack
Will paw dirt to release phermones, instead of, or in addition to, urine marking
Gray Wolf Communication - Subspecies
- At one time scientists recorded over 50 distinct subspecies worldwide
- Still much discussion over which populations constitute subspecies
- List has been narrowed to less then 20 in most circles.
Gray Wolf Communication - Accepted North American Subspecies
- Arctic wolf aka Melville Island Wolf - Canis lupus arctos
- Occurs in the arctic primarily above 67? north latitude. Fur is usually white or off-white.
- Eastern Timber Wolf - Canis lupus lycaon
- Had the most extensive range of any other subspecies. Its original range covered the eastern United States, including Florida and west to Minnesota. Variety of coloration.
- Great Plains Wolf aka Buffalo Wolf - Canis lupus nubilus
- This was a medium sized animal with great variability in color. It was thought to be extinct by 1926, but studies indicate that the wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Upper Michigan are Canis lupus nubilus.
- Rocky Mountain, aka Mackenzie Valley or Alaskan Wolf - Canis lupus occidentalis
- Inhabits parts of the western United States, much of western Canada, and Alaska. The subspecies that was reintroduced in Yellowstone NP. May be black, gray, white, tan, even blue-ish.
- Mexican Wolf - Canis lupus baileyi
- Smallest North American wolf, weighing from 60-90 lb. It occupies the most southern territory. It is generally dark and grizzly colored with the largest mane of any wolf. In 1960, the last known wild Mexican wolf was shot. The Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan set out in the early 1990's to create a self-sustaining Mexican wolf population in their former range.
Gray Wolf Communication - Status in Wild
- Number of gray wolves:
- Alaska, 8,000-11,000
- 48 contiguous states: 5,500
- Number of red wolves: 100
- Overall the population is increasing in North America
- Wolves are federally protected with some exceptions in most areas
- State managed in the Great Lakes area and in Alaska
Gray Wolf and Man
- Some cultures revered wolves, portraying them as brave intelligent or honrable
- Western cultures saw the wolf as a creature to be feared
- North America wilderness seen as a conquest
- Conflict of agriculture and wolves
- Attempt to create a "hunter's paradise" free of competing predators
- Removed from lower 48 states almost completely by 1900's
Gray Wolf and Man - Changing Attitudes
- "We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.
In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy; how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable side-rocks.
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."
- an excerpt from "Thinking Like a Mountain" by Aldo Leopold
- The flawed logic of the "hunter's paradise"
"...just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer."
- Wolf scientists such as L. David Mech and Adolph Murie helped change atttitudes
- Wolf seen as essential to proper functioning of North American ecosystem
- Led to endangered status, federal protections and reintroduction efforts
- Some groups still view wolves as competition, worthless, or dangerous to mankind
Gray Wolf - The Future
- Continued loss of habitat
- Hunting and trapping
- Easing of regulations