Though wolves live in packs, in most cases, only the alpha male and alpha female mate and produce pups. The other wolves in a pack, often young adult offspring of the breeding pair, do not mate until they leave their birth pack and find their own territory. However, they do play an integral part in the lives of pups. This support is important, as wolves are an endangered species, due in large part to over-hunting and other human activities.
The mating season for wolves ranges from January to April, with wolves in more northerly locations mating later in the season. The female goes into heat only once per year, and is fertile for 5 to 14 days. The breeding pair isolate themselves from the rest of the pack during this time.
The wolf gestation period is about 63 days, and litters usually contain 4 to 6 pups, though they can have as many as 10. Like domestic dogs, wolf pups are born unable to see and hear. Their eyes open at about 2 weeks, at which time they begin to walk. At 3 weeks, they are able to hear. They spend a month cloistered in the den with their mother, after which they will begin leaving the den for short periods of time. In another 2 to 3 weeks, they will be eating mostly meat, which adult wolves regurgitate for them. The pups will be fully weaned at 10 weeks. They will stay in their birth pack until they reach sexual maturity at 2 to 3 years of age.
In the Pack
Only one litter per year is born in a wolf pack, but all of the wolves participate in the pups' care. All of the adult females produce milk for the pups, and both males and females will babysit them. Pack members will bring food to the mother when she is in the den with the pups and unable to leave. All of the adults will later play with the pups, teach them to hunt and help them learn how to function within the wolves' social order.
- Photo Credit Gray wolf and pups in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
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