WOLVES LIVING ON OUR DEGREES OF LATITUDE survive on elks and roe deer. They also like beavers, hares, badgers, deer and in lack of these field mice, frogs and even household waste if accessible for them. Certain individuals do specialize on cattle, especially sheep and reindeer. Some like to eat dogs. In southern Europe normal preys are roe deer, tame dogs that have gone living wild, rats and sheep. The wolf can survive in most types of nature as long as there is sufficient food and no risk to be hunted. They seem to prefer though to live in territories where little or no humans are present.
CERTAIN TYPES OF DOGS do much resemble the wild wolf. This is not to be considered as strange as the dog originates from the wolf and is considered to be of the same race. Some breeds of dogs, e.g. Greenland dogs, different types of huskies and some mixed breeds between German shepherd dogs, do resemble the appearance of the wolf rather much. These likenesses can cause headlines in local papers when such dogs get confused with wolves.
Some features though make the wolf differ distinctly from most of the tame dogs. The wolf has a big head and a coarse neck in relation to the size of the body. The wolf has a more streamlined body as compared to most of the dogs. Typical marks for the wolves are also a straight backline and a straight hanging tail. Wolves move in a characteristic fast trot that makes them seem to “glide” over the terrain without much effort. The basic color of the Nordic and the European wolves is grey, with grey-yellow and red-brown varieties in the summer fur. The winter fur is more of grey. The chin and throat are almost always white. Behind the ears they are nearly always red-brown. The paws are big and the front paws biggest. The teeth are adapted to grip, drag, scratch and cross. The wolf has no problem with, even thicker, thighbones of a big elk bull. The height of the wolf up to the shoulder line is about 90 cm. Nordic wolves have a weight of 35 – 55 kg, whereby the males mostly have a bigger weight than the females.
The family of wolves
THE WOLF IS A RATHER SOCIAL ANIMAL and lives in a nuclear family. This could be one of the reasons why human beings always have had a special relation to the wolves. The family of wolves reminds us of our own families. They are two parents, often called the alpha pair and their cubs from last and latest years. Most of the cubs leave the family before becoming sexually mature; some of them remain for some more time. This induces the parents to make use of the elder cubs as baby sits. The elder cubs use to remain close to the cubs of the younger generation anyway. A wolf family is often called a pack.
The accurately marked home territory where the wolf pack lives is defended actively against trespassing wolves. Full grown fights between family members and trespassing wolves are not uncommon. Wolves may even get killed in such fights.
The size of the home territory may vary considerably. In the Nordic countries such sizes have been calculated with the help of snow trails and radio locations. It was found that a normal home territory measures 800 – 1 000 km 2 . In extreme cases the home territory can go up to 2 000 km2. The access to food seems to be the main factor determining the size of the home territory.
Where sufficient preys are available, a wolf family can be satisfied with a smaller home territory. But, if access to preys is scarcer or the family bigger, the wolf packs may increase the territory. The parents maintain the territory by droppings, by urinating or by scratching markings.
Markings, by means of urinating, resemble male dogs “splashing” on trees, stones, snowdrifts or lampposts. Both parents, male and female, deposit such markings. The cubs, from recent or earlier birth, do not.
Wolves do not go in hibernation; they remain active through the winter.
THERE ARE QUITE SOME MYTH’S about the wolf. One of them is that they should prefer to howl at full moon time. Most probably though, the wolf couldn’t care less about the position of the moon. However, when the weather is cold and clear the howling can be heard at greater distance. Or, should it possibly be like that, that human people like it better to be outside, when there is a clear moonshine then when darkness prevails.
THE HOWLING IS COMPREHENSIVE and may fulfill many different functions. Many times one can perceive differences in the sounds of the individual wolves. It may be difficult to conclude how many wolves are howling simultaneously and it often sounds as if there are many more wolves than there are in reality. Howling, clearly, has a social function. But it also can be a warning to other wolves: “We are the ones that live here and this is our territory!” Howling can sound amazingly emotional. When one in a pair dies, the remaining partner may return to the place where the other one died and then howl in a way that the human ear interprets as mournful and sad. When, however, the family howls together to incite for a hunt, it sounds quite different. Also, the wolves can produce a harsh warning sound. Apart from these sounds, the wolf is a rather silent animal.
Mating time and cubs
THE FEMALE WOLF GIVES BIRTH to, usually 2 – 6 cubs, sometimes even more. Birth takes place during May/June. The weight of the cubs is approx. 400 g. There are reports about a litter of 11 wolf cubs. In the Nordic countries however no bigger litter than 8 cubs has been registered.
The cubs are born in a lair, which can be a (dug) hole in the terrain, or under a block of rock, or in a cavern or a rock crevice. The lair, occasionally, can be simpler; a tight thicket or a depression in the terrain may be sufficient already. The lair is often chosen close to a water source. Preferably, there is plenty of nature’s beauty around and the view from the lair is unobstructed.
Wolves reach sexual maturity at the age of two years. Wolves living in captivity have been found to reach 16 years of age. In free nature, they usually do not surpass the age of 10 years.
The animal moves in a special, light and energy saving trot. Normally the wolf stays in movement 8 hours of a 24 hours day. In winter, the wolf can be moving any time of the day or night. In summer, the wolf tends to be active mostly during the night.