Gray Wolf

(North America)

Species Information

Status: Endangered in most of North America, stable in Canada and Alaska

Scientific Name: Canis Lupus

Adaptions: Gray wolves' coats are made up of woolly fur and long guard hairs to provide insulation and keep out moisture. Their large paws have fleshy pads and claws for traction and can spread to provide better support in deep snow. Wolves have many adaptations that contribute to their predatory ability, including: 20x the hearing of humans and over 100x sense of smell to locate food sources from miles away, motion sensitive vision with reflective retinas for night vision, jaws with crushing pressure of over 500 lbs/sq.in, and stamina to cover eighteen miles at a time.

Wolf Hunting Tactics

Threats

Wolves once dominated large areas of North America but have been killed at an extremely fast rate since the early 1930's. The leading threat to wolves is conflict with humans in defense of their livestock. After western expansion across the U.S. led to near extinction of several species that wolves prey upon, such as bison, deer, and elk, wolves began turning to livestock as a source of food. Many farmers view them as dangerous or simply as pests, but wolf predation on livestock is actually uncommon. Human expansion has led to the fragmentation of large portions of wolf habitats. Wolves have also been hunted for their pelts, which are used as scarfs, coats, rugs, and parkas for soldiers during WW2.

Location

Due to their adaptive nature, wolves can be found in many northern habitats including forests, tundra, taiga, and grasslands. Wolves were once very common in North America but have been over-hunted to extinction or near-extinction in the U.S. Today, Canada and Alaska have the largest populations of gray wolves on the planet.

Conservation Efforts

Gray wolves are currently protected in the U.S. and Mexico. Several captive breeding and reintroduction efforts are underway in the U.S., such as the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program in the southwest U.S. Gray wolves were also re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, and now 100 wolves in 10 different packs occupy the park.

Impact

Since their introduction to Yellowstone National Park, gray wolves have had a major impact on their surrounding ecosystems. By preying on old, physically impaired, and diseased animals, wolves improve the overall health and fitness of wildlife herds in the northern Rockies. By preying on elk, wolves indirectly improve habitats for small mammals like beavers and muskrats. Since the wolves' re-introduction, elk spend more time in cover or on the move rather than over-grazing these habitats that are ideal for small mammals. Species like songbirds, native fish, waterfowl, insects, and amphibians have also benefited. Wolves also took the top spot on the food chain and returned coyotes to their natural mid-level role. Scavengers like ravens, eagles, and bears also feed on wolf kills.