No matter where they live, wolves (Canis lupus) are the apex predator of their ecosystem. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, numerous regional variations of wolf exist, each sharing their range with a wide variety of diverse plant and animal species. From the cold taiga to the subtropical desert, wolves adapt easily to a wide range of habitats and face few threats apart from mankind.
Gray Wolf Habitat Plants and Animals
Gray wolves (Canis lupus) once enjoyed the largest habitat range of any predator, but are now mostly confined to the boreal forests, or taiga, of the Northern Hemisphere. In Canada, gray wolves range over vast forested territories rich in tree species such as white spruce (Picea glauca), subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) and American larch (Larix laricina). A variety of animal species coexist with the gray wolf, including the brown bear (Ursus arctos), caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), one of their preferred prey animals.
Red Wolf Habitat Plants and Animals
Named for their distinctive copper-tinged coat, red wolves (Canis lupus rufus) once roamed throughout the southeastern United States before being hunted to near extinction. It is a small species with a limited territorial range, holding an area of between 20 and 50 square-miles within the dense coastal forests of the southeastern United States. It occurs mainly within the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and wiregrass (Aristida stricta) ecosystem, where it shares its range with numerous animal species, among them the American black bear (Ursus americanus), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and racoon (Procyon lotor), which is a favored prey animal of the red wolf.
Arctic Wolf Habitat Plants and Animals
Arctic wolves (Canis lupus arctos) roam throughout the northernmost reaches of the tundra, from Canada to Greenland. It is a small species known for its snow-white coat and shorter, less-pronounced muzzle. The tundra environment in which they live is known for its vast tracts of low-growing shrubs, lichens and wildflowers, among them dwarf birch (Betula nana), tundra willow (Salix arctica) and crowberry (Empetrum). Along with polar bears (Ursus maritimus), arctic wolves are the top predators within their environment, hunting smaller animals such as northern collared lemmings (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus), arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) and ptarmigan (Lagopus muta). When hunting in large packs, arctic wolves even hunt muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus), a large bovine species named for its pungent musky odor.
Mexican Wolf Habitat Plants and Animals
Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) hold a small range within the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It is the smallest and rarest species of wolf in North America, occurring in the dry subtropical forest and high-desert areas of the Sonoran Desert. Their range overlaps several distinct ecosystems, each home to a variety of plant life. Mountain forests rich in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) comprise the largest portion of their habitat, where prey animals such as elk (Cervus canadensis), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and the white-nosed coati (Nasua narica) exist in great abundance.
- "Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation"; L. David Mech; 2007
- "The Return of the Mexican Gray Wolf: Back to the Blue"; Bobbie Holaday; 2003
- "The Wolf Almanac: A Celebration of Wolves and Their World"; Robert H. Busch; 2007
- Photo Credit Winfried Wisniewski/Photodisc/Getty Images
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