Average Height: Greatly Varies
Sapience Level: Sapient
The wolf is the largest extant member of the Canidae, excepting certain large breeds of domestic dog. A wolves weight and size can vary greatly, tending to increase proportionally with latitude, with some of the largest wolves weighing 3–6 times more than the average wolf. On average, adult wolves measure 105–160 cm (41–63 in) in length and 80–85 cm (32–34 in) in shoulder height. The tail is ⅔ the length of the head and body, measuring 29–50 cm (11–20 in) in length. The ears are 90–110 millimeters (3.5–4.3 in) in height, and the hind feet are 220–250 mm. The skull averages 9–11 inches in length, and 5–6 inches wide.
The wolf is a slender, powerfully built animal with a large, deeply descending ribcage and a sloping back. Its abdomen is pulled in, and its neck heavily muscled. Its limbs are long and robust, with comparatively small paws. The front paws have five toes each, while the back paws have four. The forelimbs are seemingly pressed into the chest, with the elbows pointed inward, and the feet outward, thus allowing both fore and hind limbs on the same side to swing in the same line. The wolf's legs are moderately longer than those of other canids. This enables the animal to move swiftly, and allows it to overcome the deep snow that covers most of its geographical range. Females tend to have narrower muzzles and foreheads, thinner necks, slightly shorter legs and less massive shoulders than males. Compared to its smaller cousins the wolf is larger and heavier, with a broader snout, shorter ears, a shorter torso and longer tail.
The gray wolf's head is large and heavy, with a wide forehead, strong jaws and a long, blunt muzzle. The ears are relatively small and triangular. The teeth are heavy and large, being better suited to crushing bone than those of other extant canids, though not as specialized as those found in hyenas.The canine teeth are robust and relatively short (26 mm). The wolf can exert a crushing pressure of perhaps 1,500 lbf/in2. This force is sufficient to break open most bones. In cold climates, the wolf can reduce the flow of blood near its skin to conserve body heat. The warmth of the footpads is regulated independently of the rest of the body, and is maintained at just above tissue-freezing point where the pads come in contact with ice and snow.
Although some wolves are solitary, most are highly gregarious animals. The basic social unit of a wolf pack is the mated pair, accompanied by the pair's adult offspring. In ideal conditions, the mated pair produces pups every year, with such offspring typically staying in the pack for 10–54 months before dispersing. The average pack consists of a family of 5–11 animals (1–2 adults, 3–6 juveniles and 1–3 yearlings), or sometimes two or three such families, with exceptionally large packs consisting of 42 wolves being known. Triggers for dispersal include the onset of sexual maturity and competition within the pack for food.
A new pack is usually founded by an unrelated male and female, traveling together in search of an area devoid of other hostile packs. Wolf packs rarely adopt other wolves into their fold, and typically kill them. In the rare cases where other wolves are adopted, the adoptee is almost invariably an immature animal (1–3 years of age) unlikely to compete for breeding rights with the mated pair. In some cases, a lone wolf is adopted into a pack to replace a deceased breeder. During times of ungulate abundance (migration, calving etc.), different wolf packs may temporarily join forces.
Wolves are highly territorial animals, and generally establish territories far larger than they require to survive in order to assure a steady supply of prey. Territory size depends largely on the amount of prey available and the age of the pack's pups, tending to increase in size in areas with low prey populations or when the pups reach the age of 6 months, thus having the same nutritional needs as adults. Wolf packs travel constantly in search of prey, covering roughly 9% of their territory per day (average 25 km/d or 15 mi/d). The core of their territory is on average 35 km2 (14 sq mi), in which they spend 50% of their time. Prey density tends to be much higher in the territory's surrounding areas, though wolves tend to avoid hunting in the fringes of their territory unless desperate, due to the possibility of fatal encounters with neighboring packs
Aging, Lifespan, and GrowthEdit
Wolves bear relatively large pups in small litters compared to other canid species. The average litter consists of 5–6 pups, with litter sizes tending to increase in areas where prey is abundant, though exceptionally large litters of 14–17 pups occur only 1% of the time. Pups are usually born in spring, coinciding with a corresponding increase in prey populations. Pups are born blind and deaf, and are covered in short soft grayish-brown fur. They weigh 300–500 grams at birth, and begin to see after 9–12 days.
The milk canines erupt after one month. Pups first leave the den after 3 weeks. At 1.5 months of age, they are agile enough to flee from danger. Mother wolves do not leave the den for the first few weeks, relying on the fathers to provide food for them and their young. Pups begin to eat solid food at the age of 3–4 weeks.
Pups have a fast growth rate during their first four months of life: during this period, a pup's weight can increase nearly 30 times. Wolf pups begin play fighting at the age of 3 weeks, though unlike young foxes and coyotes, their bites are inhibited. Actual fights to establish hierarchy usually occur at 5–8 weeks of age. This is in contrast to young foxes and coyotes, which may begin fighting even before the onset of play behavior. By autumn, the pups are mature enough to accompany adults on hunts for large prey.
The wolf is generally monogamous, with mated pairs usually remaining together for life, unless one of the pair dies. Upon the death of one mated wolf, pairs are quickly re-established. Since males often predominate in any given wolf population, unpaired females are a rarity. If a dispersing male wolf is unable to establish a territory or find a mate, he mates with the daughters of already established breeding pairs from other packs. Such wolves are termed "Casanova wolves" and, unlike males from established packs, they do not form pair bonds with the females they mate with. Some wolf packs may have multiple breeding females this way
The age of first breeding in wolves depends largely on environmental factors: when food is plentiful, or when wolf populations are heavily managed, wolves can rear pups at younger ages in order to better exploit abundant resources. This is further demonstrated by the fact that captive wolves have been known to breed as soon as they reach 9–10 months, while the youngest recorded breeding wolves in the wild were 2 years old. Females are capable of producing pups every year, with one litter annually being the average. Unlike the coyote, the gray wolf never reaches reproductive senescence. Estrus typically occurs in late winter, with older, multiparous females entering estrus 2–3 weeks earlier than younger females.
Because estrus in wolves lasts only a month, male wolves do not abandon their mates to find other females to inseminate as dogs do. During pregnancy, female wolves remain in a den located away from the peripheral zone of their territories, where violent encounters with other packs are more likely. Old females usually whelp in the den of their previous litter, while younger females typically den near their birthplace. The gestation period lasts 62–75 days, with pups usually being born in the summer period.
Wolves are an extremely social animal. They exist as a social unit called a pack. Wolves travel and hunt in a group and perform almost all other activities in the company of fellow wolves. The pack, the basic unit of wolf social life, is usually a family group. It is made up of animals related to each other by blood and family ties of affection and mutual aid.
The core of a pack is a mated pair of wolves - an adult male and female that have bred and produced young. The other members of the pack are their offspring: young wolves ranging in age from pups to two and three-year-olds. Pack sizes vary, most packs have 6 or 7 members, although some may include as many as 15 wolves. The size depends on many variables including the current numbers of the wolf population, the abundance of food, and social factors within the wolf pack.
Within each pack is an elaborate hierarchy. It may consist of a single breeding pair, the Alpha male and female, a lower group consisting of non-breeding adults, each with its own ranking, a group of outcasts, and a group of immature wolves on their way up. Some of the younger wolves of the pack may leave to find vacant territory and a mate.
Individual wolves in a pack play different roles in relation to the others in the group. The parent wolves are the leaders of the pack - the alpha male and alpha female. The alpha male and female are the oldest members of the pack and the ones with the most experience in hunting, defending territory, and other important activities. The other pack members respect their positions and follow their leadership in almost all things, The alpha wolves are usually the ones to make decisions for the pack when the group should go out to hunt or move from one place to another.
The other Pack members all have positions in the hierarchy inferior to those of the alpha male and female. The young adult wolves, who are the grown-up offspring of the alpha pair, have their own special roles under the leadership or their parents. Some of them me able to "boss around," or dominate, their sisters and brothers because they have established themselves as superior in some way. This superiority might be physical-larger size or greater strength - but it can be based on personality Dominant wolves in the pack usually have more aggressive and forceful personalities than their relatives of the same age.
The juveniles and pups-wolves under two years old do not occupy permanent positions within the pack hierarchy. They all take orders from their parents and older brothers and sisters, but their relationships with each other change frequently. During their play and other activities, they are constantly testing one mother to find out who will eventually be "top wolf" in their age group.
- List of Wolves