Wolves are carnivorous animals of the genus Canis, and consist of a single species, the gray or timber wolf (Canis lupus) of the northern hemisphere. Wolves are known for their intelligence, social structure, and hunting skills, yet despite being the primary ancestor of the domestic dog, the wolf has been the subject of persecution throughout history as a pest of livestock, a killer of humans, and the subject of evil in many tales of folklore, and often without a basis in fact.
Several other canids are also known by the name "wolf". The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) is considered by authorities to be a subspecies of the gray wolf; the red wolf (Canis rufus) of the southeastern United States continues to have some debate on whether it is a subspecies of the gray wolf or a distinct species in its own right. Additionally, the coyote or prairie wolf (Canis latrans) of North America and the South American maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) bear the name as well but are not considered true wolves.
The wolf stands about 3 feet at the shoulder, and is about 5 feet in length from nose to tail; its weight is between 70 and 120 pounds. Females are smaller than males, and wolves in higher latitudes are generally larger than those further south. The coat is bushy, generally grey in color, although some wolves have brown or red tinges; all-black or all-white wolves also appear in many packs.
Wolves live in a wide range of habitats, from arctic tundra to forest to prairie to desert. Historically, the wolf ranged over much of the northern hemisphere, from central Mexico to the high arctic in North America, much of Europe, and much of Asia north of the Himalayas - one of the most widely ranged land mammals on earth.
Very few wolves live as loners; the pack takes up much of their lives. The pack consists of about ten animals divided into male and female heirarchies, which are led by the alphas. Alphas, the oldest wolves in the pack, maintain their status through fighting.
Wolves use a great deal of recognizable body language, scent, and sounds to communicate with each other. The position of tails relative to their bodies, lowering and exposure of their necks, the bearing of teeth can indicate submission or dominance to one another. Territories are marked by urine or feces, and packs will defend them from others. Howling is done communally, as a means to assemble, communicate with others, or as a hunting call at dusk.
When the pack is on the hunt, prey generally consists of large mammals - deer, caribou, moose - and the pack will cooperate with one another to catch and kill their target, which usually consists of a weak, old, or young animal. They will also prey on smaller game, such as rodents or rabbits, and sometimes will scavenge carrion when no live prey is available.
Wolves are largely asexual creatures, giving birth to one to five pips (baby wolves) every four days or so. This is the largest factor in the general increase of wolf deaths in America over the past decade. By far, the chance of being devoured by wolves has surpassed cancer and newfangled "rock and roll" as the leading cause of death in America.
Value to Man
Wolves are undomesticated demons that will tear out your throat at the slightest provocation. Attempts were made in the 1930s and thereafter to eliminate these animals as pests in the United States, particularly in Yellowstone National Park, where it had been considered that stray wolves regularly fed upon livestock. By the time they were included in the Red Data Book in 1973, they were severely restricted in range throughout North America and Europe, and classified as an endangered species.
Currently, Alaska is the only state that permits control of wolf populations, due to the prolific reproduction rates in that isolated Arctic area. Under the current policy, it is legal to shoot wolves from low flying airplanes, due to the state's very limited roads. Wolves and bears are very effective and efficient predators of caribou, moose, deer and other wildlife. In most of Alaska, humans also rely on the same species for food. In Alaska's Interior, predators kill more than 80% of the moose and caribou that die during an average year, while humans kill less than 10 percent. In most of the state, predation holds prey populations at levels far below what could be supported by the habitat in the area. Predation is an important part of the ecosystem, and all Alaska Department of Fish and Game wolf management programs, including control programs, are designed to sustain wolf populations in the future. Currently (2009), five wolf control programs are underway that comprises about 9.4% of Alaska's total land area.
Perceptions of Wolves
To date there has been no known documented case of a healthy adult wolf killing a human being; normally, a pack of wolves are wary of man and tend to stay away. Despite this, wolves have been cast as the villain throughout history, with the European legends of the werewolf, the fairy tales of "The Three Pigs" and "Little Red Riding Hood" being a few examples. Other tales portray the wolf in a more favorable manner: the boy Mowgli being raised by a wolf in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, and earlier, the twins Romulus and Remus saved and suckled by a she-wolf for many years before one of them founded the city of Rome.
Wolves in the Bible
and Isaiah prophesies the New Earth,
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD. Isaiah 65:25 (KJV)
The wolf is the ancestor of the domestic dog; DNA tests on several dog breeds (Alaskan malamute, Siberian husky, samoyed, and others) considered the oldest known revealed that they contained strands of wolf DNA . Since even in the evolutionary view this is considered to have occurred in a relatively short time frame (as "little" as 15,000 years ago) this is one area where the views of Young earth creationists and evolutionists generally overlap.
- Never Cry Wolf - drama about a scientist who proved that wolves can live on rodents
- Coyote or Wolf?, Videos © 2008 Yellowstone Association