Wolves and humans have lived alongside one another since the beginning. The earliest drawings of wolves are in caves in southern Europe and date from 20,000 B.C. The wolves that were social with humans were domesticated and became what we know today as the domestic dog. Regardless, wolves are still hated and feared mostly due to myths and fairy tales. If you take a closer look however, you will see a completely different side to these animals.
A group, or 'family' of wolves is called a pack. Wolf packs average between 6-8 individuals but can be less or more. Sometimes, a pack can reach over 30 individuals until some split off to find their own territory and create new packs. Territories can range from 50 square miles to over 1,000. Wolves will travel as far as they need to in order to find food. They often travel at five miles per hour but can reach speeds of over 30 miles per hour in short distances, typically when they are chasing prey.
Wolves are mature at 2 years old and when they choose a mate they breed with them for life. Only the breeding male and female have pups while other members of the pack contribute to raising them. Breeding season is typically late January through March, with the gestation period at about 63 days. Litters have 4-6 pups who are born solid brown or black and weigh about one pound each. We are constantly learning new things about wolves and their social structures. Recent studies suggest that labeling a wolf “alpha” or “omega” is misleading because “alpha” wolves are simply parent wolves. Using the “alpha” term falsely suggests a rigidly forced permanent social structure, which has been disproven in wild packs.
Myths and Fairytales
The "big bad wolf" is a widely known term, but in actuality wolves are more afraid of us than we are of them. There have been less than half a dozen wolf attacks in the history of the United States, and in all instances the culprit was an ill wolf. A healthy wolf will not approach a human let alone attack one.
Humans have used the wolf in myth and fairy tales to teach lessons and instill fear in their children. Wolves are often misunderstood because of this. Our biggest mission at Ironwood Wolves is to disprove these myths and remind the public that the stories about them are just that: stories.
Habitat and Diet
Wolves can thrive in a wide range of habitats including tundra, woodlands, forests, grasslands and deserts. In the United States, the wolf population ranges in Alaska, northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin, western Montana, northern Idaho, northeast Oregon and the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. Mexican Wolves, a subspecies of the Gray Wolf, were reintroduced to protected parks in eastern Arizona and southwest New Mexico. Historically, the wolf population once covered over 2/3 of the nation.
Hunting for food is a group effort. Wolf packs only take down about 20% of the prey that they pursue, eating just a few times a week. However, when they do take a kill they will gorge and can eat up to 20 pounds per animal. Other scavengers such as Ravens tend to follow the wolves and pick off of their kills. Wolves tend to eat large ungulates (such as deer, elk, bison and moose) but will also pursue smaller game like rabbits or groundhogs.
Howling is an important way for wolves to communicate. Wolves howl for many reasons: to contact separated members of their group, to mourn the loss of a pack member, to rally the pack before hunting, or to warn rival packs to stay away. Lone wolves will howl to attract mates or just because they are alone. Each wolf howls for only about five seconds, but howls can seem much longer when the entire pack joins in.
Wolves in the Ecosystem
As a large apex predator, the presence of the wolf is essential to keep the ecosystem balanced and in check. Wolves hunt very young, old or ill animals. This leaves the strongest and healthiest animals in the herd to breed and keep the population at a healthy number. Without the presence of the wolf, the ungulates become overpopulated and food sources for them and other herbivorous animals becomes scarce. Biologists saw many positive changes in Yellowstone National Park when wolves were introduced in 1995. By reducing prey numbers, dispersing these animals on the landscape, and removing sick animals, wolves also may reduce the transmission and prevalence of wildlife diseases such as chronic wasting disease and brucellosis. In addition to improving wildlife herds, wolves have also altered the behavior of their prey, leading to beneficial effects on the landscape. In the absence of wolves, elk tended to browse heavily in the open flats along rivers and wetlands, since they did not need to evade predators by seeking thicker cover. Without fear of wolves, elk over-browsed the vegetation inhibiting the growth of new trees. Since the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone, elk spend more time in the safety of thick cover or on the move. Riparian areas and aspen groves that had been suppressed by decades of over-browsing are regenerating, improving habitat for species like beavers and songbirds. Beavers, which create wetland habitats with their dams, have improved water quality in streams by trapping sediment, replenishing groundwater, and cooling water. Species that rely on healthy riparian habitats and benefit from the presence of wolves in Yellowstone National Park include trout, moose, waterfowl, songbirds, small mammals and countless insects. We have learned that without wolves, the ecosystem suffers.
Learn More About Wolves!
Our educational programs include a presentation as well as one of our Ambassadors. These programs are available to schools, libraries and other venues. If you would like more information on our programs, check out the "Education & Outreach" section on our website or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org