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All Creatures,

Episode 109: Howl for the Grey Wolf

August 20, 2019

Grey Wolves in the United States are losing protections that have been in place for decades. Without these, Wolves are now once again being persecuted. The Grey Wolf, also called the Timber Wolf, is the largest canid on the planet and are close relatives to our domestic dogs. These magnificent creatures have so much to teach us.

Grey Wolf History

This history of the Grey Wolf stretches back millions of years. While their ancient ancestors evolved in North America, over 5 million years ago, Grey Wolves actually evolved in Asia. It is thought they evolved there over 700,000 years ago and migrated back into the Americas. At that time, Dire Wolves were a dominant predator, which eventually went extinct at the end of the last Ice Age.

There are a current estimated 38 subspecies of Wolves. Their scientific name is Canus lupus. Subspecies include the Tibetan Wolf, Arabian Wolf, Tundra Wolf, Mongolian Wolf, Indian Wolf and many others. Within the Grey Wolf, there are generally five recognized subspecies. Yet, the total is still under debate. Regardless, the subspecies are:

  • Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos),
  • Northwestern wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis),
  • Great Plains wolf (Canis lupus nubilus),
  • Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi),
  • Eastern timber wolf (Canis lupus lycaon).

A subspecies of the Wolf is the Domestic Dog (Canus lupus familiaris). From the Chihuahua to the Great Dane, all are technically a wolf. There is still great debate on when and where dogs were first domesticated, but it is clear this took place at least 14,000 years ago, if not longer. Some estimates have wolves being domesticated as long as ago as 40,000 years ago.

Wolf Physiology

Wolves are just the larger cousins to our domestic dogs. Bergmann’s rule applies to wolves throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Meaning, that animals in the higher latitudes are actually larger than similar species (subspecies) at lower latitudes. Therefore, wolves that live farther north are actually larger than their southern cousins.

Other Wolf facts include:

  • Live 8 to 10 years in the wild, and up to 15 under human care
  • They can lope over long distances at 5 MPH (8 kph)
  • Can sprint up to 40 MPH (60 kph)
  • Have a bite force of 400 psi, which is strong but not as strong as the king, the Saltwater Crocodile at 7700 psi
  • Wolves are carnivores and preferred prey are larger ungulates, deer, elk, bison, and other mammals.

One of the most incredible facts about wolves is their strong social bonds and behaviors. It can be argued that wolves have culture due to their social learning and behaviors. More can be read HERE.

Angie mentions a book by Dr. David Mech, Wolves on the Hunt, and it can be found HERE.

Wolf Conservation

While Wolves are classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, they still face many pressures. There are only 300,000 estimated wolves. This is over their entire territory which stretches across the entire Northern Hemisphere. Additionally, subspecies of wolves are either extinct or are critically endangered. The Mexican Wolf only has an estimated population of 115 animals left in the wild.

Additionally, in the Lower 48 states in the USA there are only 6,000 wolves. While once stretching throughout the United States, wolves are still contained to only a few states. Hunting restrictions on wolves are continually being lifted and these animals are often killed. These animals need our help and support.

Bottom line, wolves are critically to a healthy ecosystem and our discussion in Episode 110 discusses just how important they are.

Organizations to Support

International Wolf Center

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