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Wolf Info
Great Plains Wolf (Canis lupus nubilus)

Description: The Great Plains wolf is the most common subspecies of the gray wolf in the continental United States. A typical Great Plains wolf is between 4 ½ and 6 ½ feet long, from snout to tail, weights from 60-110 pounds and may have a coat of gray, black or buff with red-ish coloring.

Range and Habitat: The historic range of the Great Plains wolf was throughout the United States and the southern regions of Canada. It is currently found in the western Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. North and South Dakota officials have noted lone wolves, but evidence indicates that the wolves were dispersers from populations outside the Dakotas, and that a breeding population probably does not exist there.

Image of Great Plains Wolves
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 take 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.

Average pack size for the Great plains wolf is five to six wolves.

Image of Great Plains Wolves
Courtesy Sherry Jokinen
Diet: The typical prey for the Great Plains wolf consists of white-tailed deer, moose, beaver, snowshoe hare, and smaller birds and mammals.

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. In northern climates such as Minnesota, the mating season is usually early January through late February, with a litter of 4 to 6 pups born 63 days later in a den. A den may be located in a rock crevice or a hole dug by the parents or even a tree stump. The pups are born deaf and blind, but can hear within a 12 to 14 days. After 3 to 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.

Conservation: By the 1930's, Great Plains wolves were extirpated almost eliminated completely, in much of the western United States. In Wisconsin and Michigan, the Great Plains wolf was eradicated by the mid-1960's. Only a small group of wolves survived in northeastern Minnesota along the Ontario border. In 1974, the Great Plains wolf in the Great Lakes region became fully protected as an endangered species. By 1978, Minnesota's wolf population had increased enough that the wolf was reclassified as threatened in Minnesota. The Great Plains wolf is found in the Eastern distinct population segment (DPS) categorized under the Endangered Species Act. In 2007, this DPS was removed from the endangered species list. The estimated population for the Great Plains wolves for 2006 in the United States was over 3,900 wolves.

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

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