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Wolf Info
Arctic Wolf (Canis lupus arctos)

Description: Arctic wolves have adapted very well to the icy environment where they live. They have white fur, which allows them to blend into their snowy surroundings. To help reduce heat loss, they have more-rounded ears, a shorter muzzle and shorter legs than other gray wolf subspecies. They also have hair between the pads of their feet and long, thick fur to keep them warm in temperatures that can drop to minus 70° Fahrenheit.

Habitat and Range: Arctic wolves live primarily in the Arctic, the region located above 67° north latitude. The land is covered with snow and ice for most of the year, except for ra brief period during the summer. A low density of prey in the Arctic requires these wolves to have territories of well over 1,000 square miles, much larger than their southern relatives.

Image of an Arctic Wolf
Courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society

Image of an Arctic Wolf
Courtesy Sherry Jokinen
Behavior and Communication: The wolf pack is one of nature's most sophisticated social orders, as well as one of the most intensively studied. A wolf pack is usually a family group of five to eight animals, usually consisting of a pair of breeding adults and their young of 1 or 2 years old. The breeding pair is likely to be the oldest, largest, and strongest wolves in the pack. They are known as the dominant wolves and are usually the only members of the pack to produce pups. Any wolf can become dominant. To do so, it must find an unoccupied territory and a member of the opposite sex with which to mate. Or, more rarely, it moves into a pack with a missing dominant wolf and takes its place, or perhaps kills the dominant wolf and usurps its mate.

Wolves use body language to convey the rules of the pack and rule number one says that the pack is made up of leaders and followers. The dominant male and female are in charge of the pack. To communicate dominance, they carry their tails high and stand tall. Less dominant wolves exhibit submissive behavior by holding their tails down and often lower their bodies while pawing at the higher-ranking wolves. The pack has a complex social hierarchy maintained through a variety of vocalizations, body postures, and scent marking.

Wolves have keen senses of sight, hearing, and smell and can travel at approximately 5 miles per hour for long periods of time while hunting or traveling within their territory. A wolf pack may spend 8-10 hours a day on the move and may cover 40 miles a day during winter hunts. Wolves can reach a top speed of about 40 miles per hour for short periods of time.

Image of an Arctic Wolf
Courtesy Sherry Jokinen

Image of an Arctic Wolf
Courtesy Dave Mech

Diet: The main prey of the arctic wolf is musk oxen, and arctic hare, but they will also eat Peary caribou, ptarmigan, lemmings, seals, and nesting birds.

Breeding and Maturation: The pack's social structure generally determines which wolves breed, usually only the dominant wolves or breeding pair mate and produce a single litter of pups. However when prey in winter is abundant, a wolf pack may occasionally have multiple litters born that spring. After a 63 day pregnancy, the pups are born deaf and blind, but can hear within a 12-14 days. After 3-6 weeks, the pups usually leave the den and begin to investigate their surroundings, staying close to the safety of the den. As the pups mature, the pack moves to a more open area or "rendezvous site" within their territory. By fall the pups are large enough to travel and hunt with the pack. Wolves generally reach adult size by six to eight months of age and are usually sexually mature by 22 months.

Permafrost in the Arctic makes it difficult for the wolves to dig dens. Instead, their dens are often found in rock outcroppings, caves, or shallow depressions in the tundra soil. The mother will give birth to 2-3 pups in late May to early June, about a month later than the other southern subspecies of gray wolves. On average, the number of pups raised in the Arctic is lower than the average 5-6 pups born to wolves farther south. This lower number may be due to scarcity of prey in the Arctic.


Where to see a Gray Wolf in the U.S.


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