Oct 17

This week, ARKive is celebrating Wolf Awareness Week: seven days dedicated to celebrating the beauty of the grey wolf, and also to dispel some of the myths surrounding it.

So what makes the world’s largest canid so special?

Two female Eurasian wolves in winter coats

Two female Eurasian wolves in winter coats

Once the most widely distributed land mammal, the wolf was found throughout North America and most of Eurasia. Sadly a long history of persecution means that this range has reduced by almost a third and the wolf is now extinct in parts of Western Europe, Mexico and the USA.

Female Mackenzie Valley wolf carrying pup

Female Mackenzie Valley wolf carrying pup

Great Plains wolf dominance interaction

Great Plains wolf dominance interaction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wolves can be found alone or in pairs, but most commonly they are found in packs of 5 to 12 related animals. The breeding pair, known as alpha male and alpha female, are at the top of a strict dominance hierarchy. Although only the one pair breeds, all of the pack members help raise the cubs. Wolves are efficient predators and a pack is able to work together to bring down prey ten times the size of an individual wolf.

The eerie howl of the wolf perhaps accounts for much of the folklore surrounding this species. It can be heard by other wolves over six miles away and is used to bring a pack together, particularly before a hunt, or to send territorial messages from one pack to another. Check out this video of grey wolves howling.

Alpha pair of Mackenzie Valley wolves howling

Mackenzie Valley wolves howling

Grey wolf dominance behaviour at carcass

Grey wolf dominance behaviour at carcass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grey wolf has suffered a long history of  hunting, poisoning and trapping for its fur. Much of this occurred in Europe and the US. Legal protection and land use changes means that many areas are now being re-colonised, although the grey wolf remains absent from the UK.

Wolves are incredibly intelligent animals with a complex and fascinating social structure, and definitely deserve a week of recognition. Happy Wolf Awareness Week!

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Media Researcher

  • Doug Norris (October 17th, 2011 at 10:06 am):

    According to A Natural History of the British Isles, the following mammal species have become extinct (in the British Isles) in the last 2000 years. These species are critical to the survival of healthy ecosystems.

    Lynx in 200 A.D.
    Brown bear in 500 A.D.
    Beaver in 1300 A.D.
    Wild boar in 1500 A.D.
    Wolf in 1700 A.D.
    Muskrat in 1935 A.D.
    Coypu in 1987 A.D.

    The cause in every case has been attributed to hunting. In my opinion, if the British Isles is to be considered to be a serious contributor to worldwide conservation, these species need to be re-introduced.

    I hope that this comment is taken in the spirit of a worthwhile challenge rather than as an opportunity to Brit bash.