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NATURAL HISTORY

GRAY WOLF } Canis lupus
FAMILY: Canidae

DESCRIPTION: Gray wolves are the largest wild members of the dog family, with adults ranging from 40 to 175 pounds. Wolves’ fur color is frequently a grizzled gray, but it can vary from pure white to coal black. A wolf’s longer legs, larger feet, wider head and snout, and straight tail distinguish it from both coyotes and dogs.

HABITAT: Gray wolves are habitat generalists but need a sufficient prey base of ungulates and somewhat secluded denning and rendezvous sites. Areas with limited road access generally provide the best security for wolves.

RANGE: In the Great Lakes region, there are established breeding populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Wolves have dispersed into North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

MIGRATION: Wolves do not migrate but travel over large areas to hunt, sometimes as far as 30 miles in a day; dispersing wolves may travel hundreds of miles in seeking mates.

BREEDING: Normally, only the top-ranking “alpha” male and female in each pack breed once each year. Litters are born from early April into May, and they generally include four to six pups. They are reared in dens by the entire wolf pack.

LIFE CYCLE: Wolves can live 13 years and can reproduce past 10 years of age.

FEEDING: In general, wolves in the Great Lakes states depend on ungulates like deer and moose for food during the winter and supplement this during the spring and fall with beavers and other small animals.

THREATS: Great Lakes wolves are endangered mostly due to human persecution and disease. In recent years, scientists documented widespread hybridization between coyotes and wolves in the Great Lakes, but the full extent of that threat is not currently known.

POPULATION TREND: By the 1960s, wolves were eliminated from Wisconsin and Michigan and nearly all wolves in the lower 48 were found in northeastern Minnesota. Thanks to federal protection, they began to grow in numbers in Minnesota and dispersed to Wisconsin and Michigan. In 2010, scientists estimated that Minnesota is home to approximately 3,000 wolves, with 700 each in Wisconsin and Michigan.
Great Lakes gray wolf photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons/Sakarri