Wednesday, February 8, 2012


The gray wolf is also called the common wolf or Canis lupus.  There used to be a lot more wolves in the world than there are now, but there are still enough around so that they are not considered to be a threatened species.

The green parts are where the wolves are right now,
and the red parts are where they used to live.
Now that scientists have figured out the sequence of the dog's DNA, they can say for sure that wolves are the one and only ancestor of dogs.  There is only a 1.8% difference in the DNA between dogs and wolves, and that's even smaller than the difference between wolves and coyotes, which is 4%.  Probably, the wolf's ancestor was an animal called Canis lepophagus, which lived during the Miocene era. It was small and had a narrow head.  And it might have also been the ancestor of the coyote.

Gray wolves are slender, muscular animals with very strong necks.  In fact, a wolf has so much strength for its size that it can turn over a frozen horse or moose carcass all by itself.  Wolves can also run as fast as 38 miles per hour.  And they can keep running for 20 minutes, but probably not that fast the whole time.

Wolves have several ways to stay warm in cold weather.  First of all, they have a very heavy double coat of fur.  This fur is so warm that a wolf can be comfortable sleeping outside when it's 40º below zero.  All the wolf has to do is stick its nose between its back legs and cover its face with its tail.  This is the way I like to sleep in cold weather, too, so that is even more proof that wolves are my ancestors.

Another thing wolves can do is they can make less blood flow close to their skin, which helps them save heat.  Wolves' footpads are on kind of a separate heating system, so their feet stay just above the temperature where the tissues would start to freeze.

Not all gray wolves are gray.  Some gray wolves are white, blond, cream, ochre, brown, or black.  In Eurasia, you probably won't see a black wolf because this color is the result of wolves' having mated with dogs.  Since the wild wolf population is smaller in Eurasia, there was less of a chance for dogs and wolves to mate than in America.

The idea that some people have about the wolf pack is based on packs of unrelated wolves in zoos.  In this type of "pack," there is an alpha pair who mate and all the other wolves have to be subordinate and fight their way up to be the alpha.  But in the wild, a pack is just a mated pair and their pups.  As soon as the pups get old enough to have families of their own, they leave the pack.  This might be anytime from 5 months of age to 5 years.

Wolves mate for life, and the male does not usually go out and mess around with other females, like male dogs do.  Except that if his mate dies, then he will go find another one.  Mating usually happens in the late winter, and then the female wolf will stay in a den that is somewhere in the central part of the pack's territory so that there won't be any problems with other packs.  The litter of 5 or 6 pups is born in the summer.  The mama wolf doesn't leave the den for the first few weeks.  Her mate brings food for her and for the babies.  Pups first leave the den when they are about 3 weeks old.  By the time they are 6 weeks old, they can run fast enough to get away from scary, dangerous things.

Every wolf pack has its very own territory, and that's where they hunt for food.  The pack spends about 50% of its time in the central part of the territory, which is usually about 14 square miles.  Every day they go out roaming around, looking for prey, and they travel 15 miles or so.  Packs sometimes work together to bring down prey, but a lot of times a single wolf or a mated pair can do a better job of hunting.  When they are working as a group to hunt, wolves can do some very clever things.  For example, one wolf might distract a herd while the rest of the pack attacks from behind.  Other times, the pack might chase the prey onto crusted ice or over precipices, ravines, and steep slopes to slow them down.

Wolves like to eat big animals like bison, elk, and deer.  But if they can't get one of those, they are happy to eat marmots, beaver, hares, badgers, foxes, weasels, ground squirrels, mice, hamsters, or voles.  Another yummy thing they like to eat is waterfowl, and they like the eggs, too.  If food is really hard to find, wolves will eat lizards, snakes, frogs and large insects, not to mention dead animals they find lying around.  Wolves will even go to cattle burial grounds and slaughter houses to look for a meal.

Of course, as everybody knows, wolves like to howl.  And the reasons they howl are (1) to get the pack together, usually before or after a hunt, (2) to send out an alarm, especially near a den site, (3) to find each other during a storm or in territory they aren't familiar with, and (4) to talk to each other across a long distance.  When wolves start howling, they don't all howl on the same note.  What they do is harmonize, and that makes it sound like there are more wolves there than there might really be.

Like basenjis, wolves don't do much barking, although they might bark a few times if they are startled.  They might growl if they are having a discussion about who gets to eat the food.  And also, the pups growl while they are playing.  Wolves whine if they are feeling anxious, curious, or intimate.  Also a whine can be a form of greeting, or it might be used while feeding pups or playing.

So that's some basic information about my distant ancestor, the wolf.  People have written whole books about wolves, so there is a ton of stuff that I could say about them, but I don't have that much time.  At least not today.  But maybe someday I will tell you something more about them because wolves are really pretty cool.


  1. I never knew so much about wolves! Who knew that they could stay so warm! I wish I could do that but then it would be too hot in the summer!

    1. I didn't know that about them being able to stay warm either! It's a neat trick, but I still think I'd rather stay warm by curling up in my dog bed in a heated house!

  2. WOW, Piper, thanks for this blog on wolves! I love them and think they are so handsome. Looking into their eyes is mesmerizing, don't you think. They look so intelligent. Kinda like you!

    Your distant friend,

    1. Dear Aunt Ginny,
      I agree that wolves are very, very handsome, just like most of their descendants, the DOGS. I think that wolves have kind of beady little yellow eyes, but I guess those can be mesmerizing, especially if they are staring at you and thinking of eating you for their dinner! Hahahaha! Anyway, I'm glad you liked my blog about wolves. There is a lot to learn about them, so I might have to write about them again.

      Love, Piper

  3. Short note: I've always found wolves beautiful!! Love the baby wolve pics.
    Love, AP


  5. Wolfs is my favorite animal(: They Are Beautiful! Pleaseeeee Make More Blogs And Faacts!! Thanksss -Steezy.

    1. I like wolves, too. I will have to write about some different kinds of wolves. There are different wolves in other parts of the world, I think, and maybe also in the U.S.

  6. if you don't mind, can i know where did you get this information? i mean, the resources.

    1. Dear Miss Mell,
      I probably got most of my information for this entry from Wikipedia, since that is where I usually go when I'm doing research. I start by doing a Google search on my topic, and then I check out a couple of the pages that come up, in addition to Wikipedia. I know that if I were a good doggy, I would write footnotes and stuff like that, but I am too lazy for that kind of thing, so I am just trying to use information that seems to be widely available.
      Sincerely, Piper