types of wolves

Types of Wolves Around the World

Wolves are adapted to thrive in a variety of different environments. Gray wolves once roamed across most of the world’s northern hemisphere. Currently, there are two universally recognized species of wolves in the world, the red and the gray.  However, there is a growing debate over if some subspecies are actually distinct species of wolves.

North America  ~ ~  Europe  ~  Asia  ~  Africa  ~

North America

   Wolves once roamed almost all of North America. However, when the settlers arrived from Europe, the extermination of red and gray wolves began. Today, the range and population of all wolves in North America is significantly reduced and varies by region. Although the taxonomy of wolves has been an ongoing debate in the scientific community, there are two universally recognized species of wolves in the world: the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and the red wolf (Canis rufus), both of which are found in the United States. Additionally, recent genomic research suggests there are potentially more distinct species, including the eastern (Algonquin) wolf (Canis lycaon), which was previously considered a subspecies of gray wolf found in eastern North America.

United States

   Current populations of the North American gray wolf are drastically different between Alaska (~8,000-10,000 wolves) and the lower 48 states (~5,000-6,500 wolves). In Alaska, wolves inhabit about 85% of the state, including the mainland and all major islands, and have never been considered endangered in Alaska. Both the rock mountain gray and arctic subspecies call Alaska home. 

   In the lower 48 states, there are 3 subspecies of gray wolves: the rocky mountain gray wolf, the great plains gray wolf and the Mexican gray wolf. The rocky mountain gray wolf is located in the northern Rocky Mountains, while the great plains gray wolves call the Western Great Lakes region their home. The Mexican gray wolf once lived throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico; however, persecution drove them to near extinction. In 1998, 11 captive-reared wolves were released into a recovery area. As of 2019, there are 113 Mexican gray wolves in the wild and they are considered endangered. You can learn more about the Mexican gray wolf here!

   The United States is also home to the red wolf, a distinct species from the gray wolf. The red wolf once lived throughout the entire southeast but was driven to near extinction by government-sponsored extermination programs. Unfortunately, the red wolf is an endangered species, with less than 25 wild wolves remaining in North Carolina. However, there are dozens of captive breeding programs working together on a national recovery effort for the red wolf. You can learn more about the red wolf here!

   There is also research suggesting that there is a 3rd distinct species of wolves in the United States, the eastern wolf (Canis lycaon). The eastern wolf is found in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and is virtually indistinguishable from gray wolf subspecies in the area by physical, behavioral and ecological traits. Genetic comparison is the only way to distinguish between the eastern wolf and other gray wolf subspecies in the region. 

Canada

   Canada is home to the second largest gray wolf population in the world with 60,000 wolves. Currently, Canadian wolves occupy about 90% of their historic range. Interestingly, the 10% of Canada now lacking wolves is primarily near the US-Canada border. The rocky mountain, great plains, and arctic subspecies of gray wolf are all found in Canada. Additionally, the eastern wolf is found here. 

 

Mexican Gray Wolf

Eastern Wolf

Red Wolf

Europe

 

Russian Gray Wolf

Iberian Gray WOlf

   Much like in the United States, wolves once roamed throughout much of Europe. However, human conflict and fears grew from myths and religion, and for centuries, humans have persecuted and hunted wolves in Europe. There are several countries in Europe where wolves live, and much like in North America, their range and population vary by region. Currently there are no more than 13,000 wolves in Europe (excluding Russia). There are 5 subspecies of gray wolves that are found in Europe: 

  1. Eurasian arctic wolf (aka tundra wolf)

  2. Russian gray wolf (aka Eurasian gray wolf)

  3. Italian gray wolf

  4. Indian gray wolf (aka desert wolf)

  5. Iberian gray wolf

   

   Eurasian arctic wolves are similar to North America's arctic wolves and reside in the northernmost latitudes of Europe. The Russian gray wolf is the largest of the gray wolf subspecies, with individuals averaging between 152-176 lbs, and is found all over Europe and the northern hemisphere of Asia. The Italian gray wolf is native to the Italian peninsula. They are a smaller subspecies, weighing between 55-77 lbs on average. It is estimated there are between 700-1,300 wild Italian wolves. The Indian gray wolf is mostly found in Southwest Asia and India, but populations have expanded into southeastern European countries such as Turkey. There are about 2,500 wild Iberian gray wolf, which roam northern Portugal and northwestern Spain. This subspecies is interesting because it has been isolated from other wolf populations, making it the most genetically distinct European subspecies. The Iberian gray wolf is also the largest wolf population in Western Europe. Iberian gray wolves are between 85-110 lbs on average. 

Italian Gray WOlf

 

ASIA

   Gray wolves once lived throughout most of Asia. Wolves still roam many Asian countries and prey on ungulate species. The range and population of wolves in Asia varies by region. Overall, Asia has around 89,000-105,000 wolves. There are 6 subspecies of gray wolves that are found in Asia: 

  1. Eurasian arctic wolf (aka tundra wolf)

  2. Russian gray wolf (aka Eurasian gray wolf)

  3. Indian gray wolf (aka desert wolf)

  4. Arabian gray wolf

  5. Caspian Sea gray wolf

  6. Tibetan gray wolf (aka Himalayan gray wolf)

   

   Eurasian arctic wolves are similar to North America's arctic wolves and reside in the northernmost latitudes of Asia. The Russian gray wolf is the largest of the gray wolf subspecies, with individuals averaging between 152-176 lbs, and is found all over Europe and the northern hemisphere of Asia. The Indian gray wolf is mostly found in Southwest Asia and India, but populations have expanded into southeastern Europe. Due to the warmer environments that the Indian gray wolf is native to, it lacks a winter coat seen in other subspecies of gray wolves. It is also a smaller than other gray wolf subspecies. The Arabian gray wolf is the smallest of all the wolves, weighing around 45 lbs on average. This subspecies calls the Arabian Peninsula its home and is well adapted to desert life. Its pack size tends to be small (2-4 individuals) and they are omnivorous. The Caspian Sea gray wolf lives in the Caspian Steppes and is between 77-88 lbs on average. 

   The Tibetan gray wolf is native to China and Nepal and is the most genetically divergent subspecies of gray wolf in the world. These wolves tend to be a lighter brown with more white around their face and on their legs. Tibetan gray wolves occupy territories at higher altitudes and have evolved to withstand low oxygen levels. These wolves weight around 75-77 lbs on average. Interestingly, Tibetan gray wolves howls at a lower frequency and for a shorter duration than other species of gray wolves.

Indian Gray Wolf

Tibetan Gray Wolf

Caspian Gray Wolf

Arabian Gray Wolf

Africa

   Africa has the smallest gray wolf populations. There is only 1 subspecies of gray wolves that are found in Africa, the African gray wolf.  The African gray wolf was formerly considered a subspecies of golden jackal and lives in several distinct, small regions in northern Africa.

 However, there is some recent research suggesting there Africa may be home another species of wolves, the Ethiopian or Abyssinian wolf (Canis simensis). The Ethiopian wolf is endangered, with about 420 left in the wild. These wolves are red in color and small, weighing between 28-36 lbs on average. More than half the population of the Ethiopian wolf are found in the Bale mountains, and rodents make up most of their diet. The social behaviors and communication between these wolves is similar to other species of wolves and their average pack size can range from 3-13 members. You can learn more about Ethiopian wolves here. 

 

African Gray Wolf

Ethiopian Wolf

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