“Ranchers can’t make good management decisions based on myth.” - Andrew Anderson, Montana land-owner and producer
Wolf Biology and Behavior
Wild wolves operate in an annual cycle, much like the operation of a ranch. Each season means a different stage in a wolf's biological cycle and encompasses different behaviors. Becoming knowledgeable about these behaviors and corresponding changes in behavior is helpful to selecting successful methods or tools to prevent wolf-livestock conflict.
Winter: Although wolves have thick winter coats, packs will have more periods of inactivity in the cold winter months. When they travel, wolves will travel single file on paths of least resistance. This is the season wolves go into heat. Spring: Wolves often run around and play with each other when they emerge from the cold winter. The wolves are more active in the Spring and spend time preparing their den. Summer: The wolves' thick winter coats are replaced by a short summer coats. Most of the wolves' activities take place at night to avoid the heat of the day. This is a time of fun and play for the pups. At least one older wolf cares for and watches over the pups. Fall: The wolves begin winter preparations. Their coats become deep and dense. Wolf pups get their first experience with snow, which they explore with exuberance. Wolves at two and a half years of age may leave and find mates to start their own pack.
Wolves are known as keystone species.
Two behavioral traits of wolves impact their hunting strategy - operating as a pack and assessing risk. Unlike bears and lions, wolves are not ambushing predators. Wolves are not physically equipped to individually take down prey in the manner that bear and lion do. Wolves are continually weighing the vulnerability of prey against the risk to the pack.
Wolves are a threat to human safety. Since the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, there have been no deaths from wild wolves in the lower 48 states. With 65,000 wolves in Canada and Alaska there have been two deaths due to wild wolves, one in 2005 and one in 2010.
Wolves are destroying populations of herd animals.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are all gray wolves gray in color? No, the term gray wolf is a species name. Gray wolves can be white, black, tan, brown, or grizzled, which is a combination of tans, browns, and black.
How long do wolves live? The average is seven years in the wild and twelve years in captivity.
How much do adult wolves weigh? North American Gray Wolves range from 40 to 175 pounds, with female wolves weighing slightly less than males.
How fast can wolves run, and how far do they travel? Wolves trot at 5 miles per hour, but they can run in short bursts at up to 35 miles per hour. They can travel as much as 30 miles per day, hunting for food.
What is the main cause of wolf mortality? In areas with people, human activity is a major cause of wolf mortality. Canine parvo, distemper, and mange are also responsible for some mortality.
How long is their gestation period? The gestation period is approximately 63 days.
How many pups are usually born? The average litter is five pups. It can vary depending on the abundance of prey, wolf population density, and the size of available territory. How much do pups weigh when they are born? Newborn wolves weigh about one pound. They are born deaf and blind.
What is the main prey of wolves? Their main prey is caribou, elk, whitetail deer, moose, and bison.
What is the social structure of the pack? There is an alpha male and alpha female who are the leaders of the pack. They are also the most likely pair to breed. The beta wolves are in the second position, and finally, the omega wolf is in the lowest position within the pack.
How large is the pack size? Packs can range from 2 to 36 wolves. The average pack size is six wolves. A pack usually consists of an alpha male, alpha female, current offspring, and a few yearlings. There also may be a few adult subordinate wolves in the pack. Wolves will usually stay with the pack until 2-3 years of age. At that time, they may choose to disperse to find a new pack or to start a new pack. Pack sizes depend on the available prey and territory. Wolf packs in Alaska and Canada are usually larger than in the lower 48 states.
Gray wolf or coyote?
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