Wolves are wild predatory animals from the family Canidae. They are related to dogs and foxes and are known for hunting large game animals, such as deer or moose, in packs. Wolves live in a variety of environments, ranging from cold tundra to mountains to deserts to forests. At one point, there were over 20 species of wolves alive around the world, however due habitat destruction many have gone extinct leaving only 11 living species.
Wolves are quadruped mammals that communicate through vocalizations that include howling, barking and growling. They are covered in thick short fur that is typically shades of gray, white or brown. The height, weight and detailed characteristics of wolves vary depending on the specific type. For example, an adult gray wolf can weigh up to 150 pounds, while a full grown Arabian wolf rarely exceeds 22 pounds. However, there are several basic physical traits that are shared among all species, such as tails, thick tri-toed paws, sharp teeth and the ability to run between 30 and 40 miles per hour. Adult wolves have yellow, gold or orange eye color, though when they are born, their eyes are blue. Among all species, females are significantly smaller than males.
The most fascinating aspect of wolf behavior is the unique social organization. Generally wolves travel, hunt and live in packs. These packs can include as many as 20 animals and is run as a paternalistic hierarchical system of power. The leader and his mate are generally referred to as the alpha male and female. The alpha animals are generally the strongest or fastest and make decisions for the whole group. Beta wolves exist as next in line under the alpha couple, followed by the omega animals at the bottom of the hierarchy. Most packs are based around a family unit that includes two parent and their pups. Multiple generations may exist in a pack simultaneously, as well as litters of pups from several different seasons as wolves do not leave their parents for several years after birth. Depending on terrain, food and other factors, non-family wolves may join the pack as beta or omega members based on their prowess.
Wolves typically mate within the first half of the year. Both males and females start reproducing after 2 years old and, once they pick a partner, are monogamous for life. Females in heat will communicate their readiness to mate through pungent pheromones that are spread through their urine. Males in the pack court mature females before they begin their ovulation cycle by showing physical affection, like nuzzling, snuggling and licking, and also fighting their competitors. Once a couple has formed, they will retreat from the pack during the two week period of the female’s ovulation and mate. Female wolves do not mate with more than one partner during the year and do not mate with other biological members of their family. After two months of pregnancy, female wolves give birth to a litter of around 5 pups.
Adult wolves have no natural predators and are at the top of their habitat food chains. However, pups under the age of 8 months have several natural enemies, including bears, tigers and large birds like condors and eagles. Humans are significant predators for wolves of all ages and are responsible for a number of wolf fatalities each year due to habitat destruction, hunting, car accidents and poaching.
Link to Dogs
While wolves share a common ancestor and closely resemble some species of dogs, they are very different animals. Wolves have larger brains, larger teeth and larger paws than dogs. Wolf behavioral patterns, especially surrounding mating and hunting, are extremely different than dogs.