The Amazing Wolverine
Some Wolverine Facts
Life expectancy: 7-12 yrs
Weight: 24-66 lbs (11-30 kg)
Shoulder ht: 14-17 in (36-43 cm)
Head-body: 26-36 in (66-91 cm)
Tail length: 5-10 in (13-25 cm)
I grew up in the State of Michigan, whose nickname is "The Wolverine State." In the 1600s, the wolverine was trapped for its fur, and the main trade center for this activity was Sault Ste. Marie, a city in the Upper Peninsula.
Later in life, I watched an interesting documentary on television about wolverines and their aggressive, relentless tenacity. Pound-for-pound, the wolverine has to be one of the most efficacious predator in the wild from its ability to stay atop of snow and eat every bit of its food, including the bones!
In this hub article, it is my wish that the reader become acquainted with this unique mammal and add to his or her appreciation of nature's creatures.
Where do wolverines live?
Wolverines do best in remote areas away from humans. They range as far south as some northern states of the U.S. and as far north as the subarctic regions, such as Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. Below is a map showing the wolverines' ranges.
How many kinds of wolverines are there?
There appear to be five major species:
- Gulo gulo katschemakensis of Matschie, Kenai (see lead photo, above)
- Gulo gulo luscus of North America (see photo below)
- Gulo gulo luteus of Elliot, California (2nd thumbnail)
- Gulo gulo vancouverensis of Goldman, Vancouver Island (3rd thumbnail)
- Gulo gulo gulo of Eurasia (last thumbnail)
What do wolverines eat?
Wolverines are omnivores, but have canine teeth for tearing. Like a bear, the wolverine will eat berries and edible plants, but its main staple is meat, which may take the form of a small mouse or rabbit--or a larger mammal, such as a deer, elk, caribou, or even moose!
In the wintertime, wolverines will eat hibernating animals and dead carrion, including bones and teeth. Bones contain minerals and fat that helps maintain body temperature in freezing environs, where temperatures can easily fall to -20° F (a town in Russian Siberia experienced a record low of -90° F in 1933).
A Domesticated Wolverine
In Contrast, a Wild Wolverine
Commentary on Videos
If Jasper had not been raised from a kit and bottle-fed, it is unlikely that the first video would even have been made. A follow-up video to Jasper is on YouTube showing how he is able to pull a grown man out of a mock avalanche situation. Speculation is being made about the possibility of training wolverines for just such emergencies because of their uncanny ability to smell through up to 20 feet of snow. If you are interested, the video showing Jasper's rescue technique can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNgv3opJqoQ.
A Book by Doug Chadwick, American Wildlife Biologist
The second video shows the ferocity and tenacity of the wolverine over food. While one would think the small animal would run away from the wolf, members of the wolf family have a built-in sense of hierarchy (a "pecking" order). In a pack, the lead wolf eats first, and so on down the line according to standing in strength. Wolverines, however, are solitary and have no sense of hierarchy, so survival depends upon sheer individual will power. The encounter is a testimony to that unyielding will power!
Sasha, a Wolverine Mother
My name is Sasha; I'm a wolverine living in Siberia. I like the cold, and my wide paws keep me from falling through the snow.
I share my 75-square-mile territory with the father of my kits and can bear as many as three litters over a five-year-period. You humans do not know much about my mating habits, and this is just as well, because i prefer to remain discrete on the subject. I will tell you this, however: I carry my kits inside me for one to almost two months* before they are born, and I usually have two or three kits during the spring season.
In spite of my reputation for being ferocious, I am a dedicated mother and will use my uncanny instinct to find a place where the snow will remain deep into the month of May. Because the seasons keep changing, finding such a place can be quite tricky; however, I always rise to the occasion. Once I have found that spot in early February, I will use my 20 sharp, quarter-inch claws to dig a burrow 10-20 feet deep into the snow where my kits will be safe. Nursing the little ones pretty much ends with the snow melt.
I only have one or two other female wolverines for neighbors, and we respect each other's space while tolerating occasional crossings as may be necessary when scavenging or hunting for food.
*Author's note: There is disagreement among researchers about the length of the wolverine's gestation period. Some smaller mammals in the Mustelidae family, such as the skunk, ferret, and mink have a short gestation, similar to the above. However, the larger mustelids, such as the otter, marten, and stoat may take 9-10 months for the embryos to develop. This latter figure was given by at least one resource as the wolverine's gestation period.
The wolverine, as well as some other mustelids, have a delayed implantation. They are said to mate in mid-summer, but kits are not born until the following winter or spring.
Scientific and Some Common Wolverine Names
- scientific name comes from Latin gulo meaning "glutton"
- alteration of "wolvering," an off-beat variation of "wolf" (orig. 1565-75)
- also called "carcajou," a French-Canadian term from the Montangais language of the Innu
- skunk bear, due to foul-smelling anal glands
- bear cat, due to resemblance of a small bear
- mountain cat, from the Old Swedish fjellfräs
- ahma, derived from Finnish ahmatti, also meaning "glutton," similar to he Estonian ahm
- Polish and Czech rosomak, meaning "fat belly"
Bruno, a Wolverine Father
I am called Bruno, a very masculine name, to describe my hang-tough nature. My ancestor is the Ice Age weasel. At 38 pounds, I can easily climb 4,900 feet of mountainous terrain in an hour-and-a-half and will not hesitate to challenge a grizzly bear. (I have been called "Bad-Ass Bruno" by a naturalist for this reason.)
My average speed over the snow is about four miles per hour, regardless of the weather. I can jump and climb trees. I will stop at nothing for a meal, dead or alive. I am valuable because I help nature to clean out hurt or weak animals that compromise the overall health of a particular species. I keep carcasses from building up, and this helps keep the ecosystem clean and healthy.
I allow no other adult male wolverine in my 500-square mile territory, but I do allow two or three females, each separate in her own area, within my domain. I also take time to teach my half-dozen offspring foraging and hunting skills while taking them to the best sites for food.
At two-and-a-half years of age, I am in the prime of my life. I can figure out how to get a carcass that is out of reach. My sense of smell is uncanny, allowing me to detect carrion up to 20 feet below the snow.
Although I scavenge and hunt mainly at night, should you ever run into me in the wild, you'd be wise to stay out of my way and just observe me from a distance.
Ginger, a Wolverine Kit
I'm Ginger, cute and spicy in demeanor. At birth, I am blind and weigh less than a pound. I usually have at least one other brother or sister, sometimes two, but there can be as many as four others. I need to be fed and cleaned about every four hours. My siblings and I keep mother very busy.
When mother approaches for feeding, you might hear me make a vocal argh-argh-argh that sounds a bit like a dog begging. I grow quickly and reach adulthood in about eight months. During my first year, I stay within my parents' territory and take hunting lessons from my father.
I am curious and agile; I love water. My oily fur provides excellent insulation to keep me warm in extreme cold. The fur is so efficient, I don't even melt the snow when I lie on it. No wonder you humans sometimes trap us.
Because I don't waste my food, my tummy feels like gravel from the bones I ingest.
Very few of us have been born in captivity, and our numbers have dwindled greatly since the 17th century. Our population seems to be stable in remote areas, but our winter and forest domains are changing. You humans don't really know how many of us there are because we are so hard to find and track.
The total Canadian wolverine population is estimated between 15,000 and 19,000 specimens and seems to be holding its own. Alaska harbors some 4,500 to 5,000 wolverines, while the total number in the lower 48 United States is only estimated at a few hundred.
Russia has a little under 3,000 wolverines in the regions of Taiga, Komi, Nenetsky, and Kola Peninsula, and the numbers seem to be declining.
In Scandinavia, the wolverine population is "vulnerable" in Sweden and "endangered" in Finland and Norway. Scandinavians experience a conflict between animal husbandmen and the wolverine, who has been known to prey upon domestic goats and sheep.
What do You Think?
Climate changes and trapping threaten the wolverine. Based on what you've learned, do you think wolverines should be protected?
Credits and Resources
http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/wolverine/ (Wolverine Facts)
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1537&context=parasitologyfacpubs (Reproduction of Wolverines)
http://wolverinefoundation.org/conservation (Wolverine Protection)
The stories of Sasha, Bruno, and Ginger are my own creative work based on research.
© 2014 Marie Flint