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NATURAL HISTORY

NORTHERN ROCKY MOUNTAINS GRAY WOLF } Canis lupus irremotus
FAMILY: Canidae

DESCRIPTION: Gray wolves are about 2.5 feet tall and five to six feet long with a broad snout, round ears, and a coat varying in color from black to white.

HABITAT: Northern Rocky Mountains 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: Northern Rockies gray wolves presently occur throughout most of Idaho and western Montana and Wyoming, and they have begun to colonize eastern Washington and Oregon as well as northern Utah and Colorado.

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: Wolves’ breeding season occurs from late January through April, with those wolves in the highest latitudes usually breeding the latest in the year. In the northern Rockies, an average of five wolf pups are born any time from late March to late April or possibly early May. 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 depend on ungulates like bison, deer, elk, and moose for food during the winter and supplement this during the spring and fall with beaver and other small animals. They are opportunistic predators.

THREATS: Gray wolves are endangered mostly due to federal predator control, poaching, and trapping.

POPULATION TREND: Gray wolf populations were eliminated from Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming by the 1930s. Thanks to federal protection, they began to successfully recolonize northwest Montana in the early 1980s. By the end of 2010, estimates of wolf numbers were 739 wolves in the Central Idaho Recovery Area, 501 in the Greater Yellowstone Recovery Area, and 374 in the Northwest Montana Recovery Area, for a total minimum estimate of 1,614 wolves in the three recovery areas.

Photo courtesy of USFWS