The arctic wolf is perfectly adapted for living in the frozen north of the arctic circle. They are one of the premier predators in the area and little has changed for the subspecies in millions of years. There are many factors which have made the arctic wolf a top animal, both biological and environmental.
Arctic wolves are generally smaller than other wolves. However, they do tend to be bulkier and have much thicker and longer fur. The fur of an arctic wolf is almost always white. Adults are about three feet long with a foot long bushy tail. However, some have been known to reach six feet. Males weight up to 175 pounds and females weigh 55 to 90 pounds. The average height is three feet tall. Like other wolves, the arctic wolf has strong jaws with very sharp teeth. They have very good hearing, eyesight and sense of smell. They use these acute senses for hunting. To help reduce heat loss, the arctic wolf has a shorter muzzle, more rounded ears and shorter legs than other wolves.
Breeding and Life Cycle
Normally only the alpha male and alpha female in a pack breed. However, if a pack gets too large, some wolves may splinter off and form a new one. Packs tend to have six individuals. The wolves seek out a breeding ground, usually a valley that's relatively dry. If able, they may burrow out dens or use caves and rock outcroppings for shelter. Mating season begins in March. Pups are born, two or three at a time, deaf and blind. After a month, they can eat meat. The whole pack has the responsibility of feeding the pups regurgitated meat. After a year, a young wolf is able to fend for itself. In the wild, arctic wolves live for an average of ten years. In captivity, this number can double.
Arctic wolves are able to tolerate sub-zero temperatures, weeks without food and five months of darkness. They live in the arctic circle, above 67 degrees north latitude, in parts of Canada and Alaska as well as Greenland and Northern Europe. For the most part, living in these remote areas keeps them out of contact with negative outside forces. Wolf territories can stretch over a thousand miles simply because of food scarcity in any one location.
Feeding and Hunting Habits
While lemmings and arctic hare are staple food sources for the arctic wolf, they often try to take down larger game, caribou, musk ox, elk and mountain sheep. These larger animals can only be taken down by the effort of an entire pack. They rarely have a chance for a surprise attack. Instead, the pack circles the animals, who usually create a defensive shield for the young, trying to confuse and scatter them. Then the wolves go for the weak, old or young. A large animal can feed a pack for days. On occasion, the arctic wolf is known to eat fish, birds, small rodents and even berries.
Other Fun Facts
The scientific name for the arctic wolf is Canis lupus arctos. They have a language of sorts which is made up of facial expressions and tail movement. Howling is used to signal the beginning or end of a hunt, to find lost pack members or just for fun. They can run up to thirty miles per hour. Their sense of smell can extend to an entire mile. A grizzly bear is one of the only real enemies an arctic wolf has. Bears can steal a kill or even eat the pups. Birds of prey sometimes steal wolf pups for food also. Encounters with human beings are rare but wolves have been killed for their pelts and because they attack cattle when other prey isn't available.