The gray wolf (Canis lupus) is the godfather the world’s domestic dogs and its wolves. Though numerous wolves exist throughout the world, these animals constitute subspecies of the gray wolf, not unique species of animals. Similarly, all domestic dogs, from pugs to St. Bernards, originated in the gray wolf bloodline. Wild gray wolves possess a number of unique adaptations that help them survive under harsh conditions such as food scarcity, howling winds, deep snow and extreme cold.
The gray wolf possesses unique adaptations designed to help with mobility. Gray wolves must move quickly, often over snow, to catch prey, and sometimes travel great distance in search of food or new places to live. Wolf toes spread wide when the animals run, giving them a large traction area. Their footpads and nails also help gray wolves grip slippery surfaces when running. The lean, long body of the wolf, couple with its long legs, adapted for swift movement. Gray wolves can reach speeds or 40 miles per hour when chasing prey. The lean, muscular body of the wolf provides the stamina the animals need to travel as far as 18 miles at a brisk trot.
Unique adaptations help the gray wolf eat its prey and store food during periods of scarcity. The teeth of the gray wolf adapted specifically to pierce animal flesh and strip flesh from bone, providing the animals with the optimal value from each kill. Wolf jaws deliver 500 lbs. of pressure per square inch, allowing them to crush bones and snap the necks of prey. Gray wolves possess large, simple stomachs capable of storing as much as 20 lbs. of food. These stomachs allow wolves to digest food slowly and perform at full fitness for as long as 14 days without eating.
Gray wolves, and the various subspecies and breeds derived from them, possess a sense of smell 100 times greater than that humans. This allows wolves to locate prey and sense changes to their environment, such as the presence of predators. Gray wolf eyes exhibit extreme sensitivity to movement, another adaptation designed to help the animals sense the presence of predators and prey. The animals possess a tapetum, or reflective retina, that improves their night vision. Wolf hearing is 20 times sharper than human hearing.
When gray wolves howl in unison, all the wolves in the pack howl in different pitches. This unique adaptation serves as a safety measure. When wolves howl in different pitches, potential predators believe the pack is bigger than it is. Gray wolves have long, wooly fur, which provides warmth and protection against moisture settling on the skin of the animals. Protection from moisture helps wolves stay dry in extremely cold regions. Gray wolves in different regions have adapted to preying on animals in the most abundance or those most easily caught in that region, including deer, rabbits and more.