wolf It is the non-domestic member of the dog family (Canidae). It is thought to have survived the ice age, and the species is around 300.000 years old.

Wolves were domesticated several thousand years ago, and selective breeding produced dogs.

Close-up of a wolf
Close-up of a wolf


The wolf belongs to the species Canis lupus. Although there are several subspecies, but scientists do not agree on the number of them, and there are still doubts in their classifications, since most of them are hybrids.

  • Domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) -
  • European wolf, common or eurasian (Canis lupus lupus) - Europe and Asia.
  • Siberian wolf (Canis lupus albus) - North of Russia.
  • Durable wolf, polar or white (Wolf) - Canadian Arctic.
  • Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) - Mexico and southwestern United States.
  • Lobo de Baffin (Canis lupus manningi) - East Greenland.
  • Yukon wolf or Alaskan black L. (Wolf pambasileus) - Alaska (Yukon and surrounding areas).
  • Dingo (The dog simensis) - Southeast Asia and Australasia.
  • Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs) - Egypt, Jordan, Arabian Peninsula and Israel.
  • Italic Wolf Italian (The dog Wolf) - Italian Peninsula
  • Vancouver Wolf (Canis lupus crassodon) - Vancouver Island.
  • Mackenzie Wolf (Wolf) - Alaska and northwestern Canada.
  • Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) - Middle East and Southwest Asia to India.
  • Indian wolf (Canis lupus signatus) - Iberian Peninsula.
  • New Guinea Singing Dog (Canis lupus hallstromi) - New Guinea
  • Red Wolf (Canis lupus rufus) - Southeastern United States

There are other species of animals called wolves, but that do not belong to the genus Canis, such as: maned wolf, sea lion and Tasmanian wolf.


The red wolf has a length between 105 - 125 cm, excluding the tail that measures between 33 - 43 cm and weighs between 20 - 37 kg. Formerly it was not considered a species other than the wolf, but various molecular studies determined that it is a hybrid between the gray wolf and the coyote, and that more than 75% of its ancestry comes from the coyotes. Currently there is still a discrepancy between whether to consider it a subspecies or a different species.

The eastern wolf is native to eastern North America and bears a strong resemblance to the gray wolf, both in size and coloration. For a long time it was considered a subspecies with the taxonomic name C. lupus lycaeon. During the first part of the XNUMXst century, C.lycaeon was recognized as a unique species, but recent molecular studies report that they are hybrids of gray wolves and coyotes.

The Ethiopian wolf (C. simensis), currently in critical danger of extinction, has a very similar appearance to the coyote.


The species (Dusicyon australis) from the Falkland Islands, or Antarctica, now extinct, departed from North American wolves about six million years ago. Although the Isthmus of Panama, which allowed canids to migrate to South America, did not form until 2,5 million years ago, D. australis was somehow able to reach the Falkands.

The big bad wolf (C. dirus) was common in western North America during the Pleistocene epoch, but is now extinct. It was the largest wolf known, being again half the size of the modern gray wolf.


A typical wolf is about 2 meters long, including a half-meter long tail. From the ground to the shoulder it measures 76 cm and weighs around 45 kg, although in general, its weight ranges between 14 - 65 kg depending on the geographical area where it lives. The female is 20% smaller than the males.

They are made to be a great predator, to be tough and to travel. Their long legs and large feet and their deep narrow chest help them spend their entire lives on the move. Keen senses, large canine teeth, powerful jaws, and the ability to chase prey at 60 km / h prepare the wolf for a predatory way of life.

The fur is formed by thick hair that is necessary for those wolves that live in areas near the polar circle where temperatures are extreme. On the upper part of the body, although it is generally gray in color, it can be brown, reddish, black or whitish, while the lower parts and on the legs are usually yellow-white. Light-colored individuals are common in arctic regions.


The wolf is grouped in packs made up of dozens of individuals, although the most common packs are between 6 - 10 individuals. These packs are made up of a dominant male and female wolf (alpha) and their descendants of various ages.

Within the mandate, each individual has their own personality. This characteristic means that they can strengthen strong social ties between them that allows them to form herds.

They must follow a strict hierarchy, which helps to maintain order. The alpha male and female constantly prevail over the other members and guide the activities of the entire group. The females carry out the role of care and defense of puppies, while the males are responsible for making long trips in search of food. Regarding the attacks and the killing of prey, both sexes act together, although solitary deficiencies predominate in summer.

Pack of wolves
Pack of wolves

The territory of a herd can extend up to 3.000 km2, depending on the abundance of prey. They are marked with urine and feces. They do not tolerate neighboring herds, so intruders are often killed, but in some circumstances they are accepted.

To communicate they use visual cues (facial expression, body position, tail position), vocalizations and scent marks. The howl is used to keep in touch and to strengthen social ties between its members.


The wolf inhabits all types of terrain, with the exception of tropical areas and arid deserts. They can be found in forests, deserts, mountains, tundras, grasslands, and even urban areas.


The wolf in the pass was one of the land animals more widespread, with the exception of the human and the lion. It spread throughout North America, from Alaska and the Canadian Arctic south to central Mexico, and throughout Europe and Asia above 20 ° N latitude.

The largest species are found in west-central Canada, Alaska, and northern Asia. The smallest tend to be near the southern end of their range (Middle East, Arabia, and India).

Several subspecies are found in North America, Eurasia, and Africa.

howling Wolf
howling Wolf


The wolf is a carnivorous animal that consumes large animals, but they also hunt small animals if they need to.

Before finding food, it is not uncommon for them to travel 20 km or more in one day. They move and hunt at night, taking advantage of the warm weather.

The main prey are the large herbivores such as deer, Canadian deer, moose, bison, sheep, caribou and musk oxen, which chase, catch and throw to the ground. If available, beavers and hares are also hunted. Individuals living in western Canada fish for Pacific salmon.

To hunt large animals, such as elk or deer, they cooperate alongside the herd. They are opportunistic animals and will not run after a healthy deer, if they have an injured or sick one nearby. So they are more likely to kill young animals, old animals in poor condition. After killing it, the herd gorges itself (consuming between 3 to 9 kg per animal). Normally they take advantage of the whole animal and leave them in the bones before going to look for more food.

During the winter months the colarías are more important. Large animals suffer greatly from the cold, and lack of food weakens them, so this is when the wolf is most successful in hunting.


The wolf has no real natural predators; Their greatest threat is other herds, in adjacent territories. Its main, unnatural enemy is humans.

In the wild it can live for about 13 years, although most will live before that age. While in captivity it can double its age, having better conditions.

Diseases and parasites that affect wolves include canine parvovirus, distemper, rabies, blastomycosis, Lyme disease, lice, mange, and heartworm.


The wolf breeds between February and April, and a litter of five or six pups is born in the spring after a gestation period of about two months, when the weather is warmer and prey is plentiful.

The young are born in a guard that consists of a natural hole or burrow. A crack in the rock, a hollow log, an overturned stump, or an abandoned beaver house can also be used.

At birth they are fed breast milk. Between six and nine weeks they are weaned and go on to eat regurgitated meat.

With the arrival of spring and summer, all members of the pack offer their care, are practically the center of attention and become the geographic center of the group's activities.

After a few weeks, the hatchlings are moved to a "gathering place" above ground, where they play and sleep while the adults hunt.

The young grow quickly and move more as the summer ends. In autumn, the herd begins to travel through their territory again, and the young must pass their first test, which is to survive their first winter. Most of the hatchlings are almost adult in October or November.

After two or more years in the pack, many leave to find a mate, establish new territory, and possibly start their own pack. Those who stay in the herd can replace one parent to become a breeding animal (alpha).

Large packs appear to be the result of fewer young wolves leaving the group and litters produced by more than one female. Wolves leaving their packs are known to have traveled up to 886 km.

State of conservation

The wolf is considered in danger of extinction because they have been exterminated from their areas of distribution through hunting, poisoning and trapping to obtain their skins and protect livestock.

They have also been affected by habitat loss and have been forced to move to smaller and smaller territories where food is not enough to support a pack of hungry wolves.

These limitations force them to produce a strong inbreeding, which is very detrimental to the future of the species.

Relationship with humans


The wolf is an ancestor of the domestic dog. Thousands of years ago they were domesticated and selective breeding was used to pick out the typical attractive features of puppies and eliminate the features of the not-so-attractive adult wolves. This selective breeding produced today's dogs.

It can be crossed with dogs, red wolves, coyotes, and jackals to produce fertile offspring. Although there are physical, behavioral and ecological differences between these species, they are fully generically compatible. The exception is in the fox, which are generically too far apart.


Primitive human societies (who hunted to survive) admired the wolf and tried to imitate its habits, but once that lifestyle was abandoned, in recent centuries, the wolf was seen as a threat, a danger to humans ( especially in Eurasia), a strong competitor for large game animals, and especially for livestock. The heavy predation of livestock was the main justification that humans found to eradicate it from practically all the United States, Mexico and part of Europe. In the United States, during the XNUMXth and early XNUMXth centuries, only herds remained in the northwestern corner of Minnesota.


To deal with discriminatory hunting, protectionist and tolerance laws began to be created in the late XNUMXth century, increasing populations in parts of North America and Europe.

In 1995 in Canada reintroductions were made in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho. Beginning in 1998, a subspecies was bred in captivity in Mexico and reintroduced former range in eastern Arizona. At the beginning of the 65.000st century, between 78.000 and XNUMX individuals were estimated to inhabit North America. The largest population was in Canada (although the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island were devoid of wolves), followed by Alaska and Minnesota. Other states, Michigan and Wisconsin have smaller populations but are in the process of recovery.

Individuals living in Canadian territory are protected only within provincial parks, while in the United States they receive protection from the federal and state governments. Populations in southern Europe and Scandinavia, although small, are in the process of recovery. In Eursia it is also offered legal protection and populations exceed 150.000 specimens and it is increasing.

They currently occupy two-thirds of their former range, so there is still a lot of work to do. Although it is a wild animal, they can thrive around humans when they are not excessively hunted and the food is abundant.

Attacks on agricultural areas

They can kill cattle and dogs when they have the opportunity, but they do not rarely or never kill, even if they live close to the cattle.

In America the number of animals killed by wolves is increasing as they expand the area of ​​distribution.

During the 1990s, the average annual losses for wolves in Minnesota were 72 cows, 33 sheep, and 648 turkeys, in addition to a few other livestock. Stock losses are greatest in Eurasia. In some areas, wolves survive only by killing cattle and eating cattle carrion and human garbage. However, wolves often avoid contact with humans. There have been few confirmed wolf attacks on humans in North America. These attacks are rare, but they have occurred in Eurasia and India and have sometimes resulted in death.

Popular culture

The wolf, being such an ancient animal, is present in the culture of all the civilizations that have inhabited the earth.

Personal names

Ancient English literature contains several instances of Anglo-Saxon kings and warriors who took the term wulf as a prefix or suffix in their names. Some examples are Wulfhere, Cynewulf, Ceonwulf, Wulfheard, Earnwulf, Wulfmǣr, Wulfstān, and Æthelwulf. They were also common among pre-Christian Germanic warriors: Wolfhroc (Wolf-Frock), Wolfhetan (Wolf Hide), Isangrim (Grey Mask), Scrutolf (Garb Wolf), Wolfgang (Wolf Gait) y Wolfdregil (Wolf Runner).

Folklore, religion and mythology

It is present in the folklore, religions and mythologies of many cultures. Legend has it that Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, were raised and suckled by a he-wolf.

In Norse mythology we find the feared giant wolf Fenrir, the eldest daughter of Loki and Angrboda, the wolves Geri and Freki, and Odin's loyal pets.

For the Christian religion the wolves were represented as threats in the form of metaphors. In the New Testament, Jesus is quoted as having used wolves as an illustration of the dangers his followers would have faced had they followed him (Matthew 7:15, Matthew 10:16, Acts 20:29).

To the Pawnee people, Sirius was the "wolf star" and its appearance and disappearance meant that the wolf was moving to and from the spirit world. Both Pawnee and Blackfoot called the Milky Way the "wolf route."

In many cultures, certain people can turn into wolves. A Greek myth tells of Lycaon of Arcadia being transformed into a wolf by Zeus as punishment for his wrongdoing. The legend of the werewolf has been widespread in European folklore and involves people willingly turning into wolves to attack and kill others. The Navajos have traditionally believed that witches would turn into wolves by dressing in wolf skins and would kill people and raid cemeteries.


Aesop was an ancient Greek fabulist who often compared the wolf to humans to criticize the behavior of the latter. His further fable is "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", which is directed at those who knowingly give false alarms.

The story of Little Red Riding Hood, first written in 1697 by Charles Perrault, is largely considered to have had more influence than any other source of literature in forging the negative reputation of the wolf in the Western world.

Wolves are among the central characters in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, and his depiction of wolves has been posthumously praised by wolf biologists for his depiction of them: rather than being villains or wolverines, as was common in Depictions of the wolves at the time of the book's publication are shown to live in friendly family groups and are based on the experience of sick but experienced elderly pack members.

Farley Mowat's largely fictional memoir from 1963 is by far the most popular book about wolves, having been adapted into a Hollywood movie and taught in various schools decades after its publication. Although he is credited with changing popular perceptions of wolves by portraying them as loving, cooperative, and noble, he has been criticized for his idealization of wolves and their factual inaccuracies.


The wolf has been frequently represented as a symbol in the English armory. It is found on the coats of arms of Lord Welby, Rendel, and Viscount Wolseley, and can be found on Lovett's coat of arms and on the vast majority of the Wilson and Lows.

Wolf heads are common in Scottish heraldry, particularly in the coats of the Clan Robertson and Skene. It is also the most common animal in Spanish heraldry, and is often depicted carrying a lamb in its mouth or on its back.

In modern times, the wolf is widely used as an emblem of military and paramilitary groups. It is the unofficial symbol of spetsnaz, and serves as the logo of the Turkish Gray Wolves. During the Yugoslav wars, several Serbian paramilitary units adopted the wolf as their symbol, including the White Wolves and the Vučjak Wolves.

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