NatureMapping Animal Facts

Gray Wolf

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)
Also know as Wolf, Timber Wolf, Tundra Wolf, Lobo, and Prairie Wolf.
Species Code: CALU

distribution map Description: Gray wolves, are the largest wild members of the dog family. Males are usually larger than females. They have silvery gray-brown backs, light tan and cream underparts, and long bushy tails. Some have grizzled gray-brown fur and look similar to a German shepherd dog. The pelage can be any shade of gray, brown, black, white, or tawny. In winter, their fur becomes darker on the neck, shoulders, and rump (see photo below).

Male: 80-110 lbs. Female: 60-80 lbs.

Height: 26 to 32 inches

Male: 5-6.5 feet (nose to tip of tail) Female: 4.5 to 6 feet

Gray Wolf photo by Tim Knight

Gray wolves are members of the dog family (canids) which includes wolves, jackals, coyotes, dogs, and foxes.

Gray wolves are one of the most wide ranging land animals. They occupy a wide variety of habitats, from arctic tundra to forest, prairie, and arid landscapes. However, due to habitat destruction and other barriers to population growth, gray wolf populations are now found only in a few areas of Canada and the following portions of the United States: Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The gray wolf used to range throughout the U. S. Due to its predatory nature, the gray wolf was seen as a threat to cattle, so by the 1930s many wolves were killed as part of a government extermination program aimed at protecting livestock.

Gray Wolf photo by WDFW

Confirmed wolf sighting in Washington
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed that two adult animals located and radio-collared on July 18, 2008 in western Okanogan County are wild, gray wolves. The radio-collaring effort followed a July 8 howling survey that brought multiple responses from both adult and juvenile animals, indicating a pack was present in the area (see photo of juvenile wolves). Read the News Release »

Click the range map to learn more about the distribution of Gray wolves in Washington.

Diet: Gray wolves are carnivorous -- they primarily eat meat. Wolves often hunt in packs for large prey such as deer, moose, sheep, goats, caribou, elk, bison, and muskox. Wolves also will prey on rodents, beavers, fish, and birds.

As predators, gray wolves help to maintain a balance in the food web. The loss of wolves from ecosystems have lead to the overpopulation of white-tailed deer and other large mammals.

Gray Wolf photo by Tim Knight

Behavior: Gray wolves are territorial and live in packs lead by the alpha pair. A pack of 6 to 8 wolves includes some of the alpha pair's offspring and may include some unrelated wolves. A pack's territory can be as large as 13,000 square km. Howling helps advertise who "owns" a particular piece of territory.

Gray wolves communicate with each other through howling, body language and scent. Howling is used to assemble the pack, communicate with other packs, and assert territorial boundaries. At night, howls can be heard several miles away. Wolves use their facial expression, body posture and tail position to indicate their emotion and status in the pack. A pack marks its territory with urine and feces.

Reproduction: Gray wolves mate between late January and March. Once the female chooses a partner, the animals may remain paired for a number of years. The gestation period is from 60 to 63 days. Litter size ranges from 4-6 pups. They usually breed once each year. Gray wolves can hybridize with domestic dogs and occasionally with coyotes.

Lifespan/Longevity: Gray wolves have been known to live a maximum of thirteen years in the wild, though the average lifespan is about 5 to 9 years. They can live 14-15 years in captivity.

Did you know?

  • The Latin name for Gray Wolf, Canis lupus, is derived from the Latin Canis, meaning "dog", and lupus, "wolf"
  • Wolf tracks can be difficult to distinguish from those of large dogs.
  • Wolf and dog DNA differs by only two-tenths of one percent (0.2%).
  • The Gray Wolf has been exterminated in many parts of North America
  • Howling is used as a form of communication among wolf packs
  • Wolves can reach speeds of 40 mph during a chase
Gray Wolf photo by Natures Pics
Wolf in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada (courtesy of Natures Pics)

Animal silhouettes available to purchase »

More information:
Canid Identification    
Gray wolf - Defenders of Wildlife    
Gray Wolf - Wikipedia    
Gray wolf - Wisconsin Department of Fish & Wildlife    
Gray Wolf Facts - Animal Diversity Web    
Gray wolf factsheet (pdf) - Fish & Wildlife Service    
Red Wolf Conservation - Point Defiance Zoo    
Wolf - Hinterland Who's Who   
Wolf Haven International    

Gray Wolf Conservation and Management - Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)
Wolf pair confirmed in Okanogan County - WDFW (July 23, 2008)

More photos: Wolf Photos by Tim Knight

Photo Credits: Tim Knight (top), Natures Pics (bottom)

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