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Updated on December 1, 2016

Wolf, the largest species of wild dog, and of interest as being the original stock whence our domesticated breeds are believed to be derived; such breeds as Eskimos and Alsatians closely resemble it in size and other characters.

Wolves are found in temperate and cold parts of the Northern Hemisphere and differ considerably in size and length of coat in accordance with locality, the finest specimens, which are often white, inhabiting the confines of the Arctic Circle, and the smallest the plains of India. Black specimens are not uncommon.

Wolves feed mostly on wild game, and in settled districts have been mostly killed out, owing to their propensity for destroying sheep and other farm stock. In England they were exterminated in the Middle Ages. They usually hunt in packs and are especially bold and dangerous in winter, but in the early spring the packs break up and the sexes pair off for breeding.

Among the best-known wolves are the European wolf, the timber wolf, the arctic wolf, the eastern wolf, the plains wolf, and the Mexican wolf. All these wolves belong to the species Canis Lupus. Another familiar species is the red wolf, a relatively small, tawny-gray wolf native to the southern United States. The prairie wolf is better known as the coyote.

European and Timber Wolves

Some of the largest European and timber wolves stand about 3 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh nearly 160 pounds. They are about 7 feet (2 meters) long, including the 16-inch long tail. Their dense, shaggy coats range from pale-creamy-white to black. The arctic wolf, which inhabits cold, snow-covered regions, is usually nearly all white.

Wolves have long legs, and their bodies are stout and muscular. They can run as fast as 35 miles an hour, and they have great endurance. When chasing prey, a wolf may maintain a speed of 15 miles an hour for as long as 8 to 10 hours. Seldom seen by man, wolves are known mostly by their tracks and their cries. The cries are usually given at dusk just before the wolves start to hunt.

Usually, wolves hunt in packs, which consist of the members of a single family. The packs attack deer, mountain sheep, moose, and caribou, and they also prey on smaller animals, such as rabbits and mice.

After a fast, wolves have tremendous appetites, and a wolf may eat as much as 25 pounds of meat at one time. Wolves also feed on fruit and grains.

Unlike most other animals, wolves are believed to mate for life. The mating season occurs in February and March, and the young pups are born 2 months later in an underground den or cave. A litter usually consists of 6 pups, but it may contain more than 12.

The pups are nursed for 6 to 8 weeks. Their first solid food is some partly digested food that has been regurgitated by the mother. When they are about 4 or more months old, the pups follow the mother in hunting, and they remain with the family for about 2 years. A wolf usually lives 12 to 15 years.

Contrary to popular belief, wolves rarely attack human beings, and no proof of a wolf bite has ever been recorded in the United States. However, in the past, in some parts of the world, particularly the Soviet Union, wolves have been known to attack men riding horses or in horse-drawn vehicles. One explanation is that the wolves were hunting the horses, not the men. Another possible explanation is that the attacking wolves were the descendants of wolves that once mated with domestic dogs. Unlike purebred wolves, these descendants were not afraid of man.

Sometimes, wolf pups are captured and raised as pets. They become quite tame, and they can be trained to pull sleds and other loads. For many years, Eskimos have mated wolves with domestic dogs. The offspring of such crosses are usually stronger and hardier than domestic dogs.

Occasionally there are reports of a female wolf that has adopted lost or abandoned children and has reared them with her own pups. None of the stories has ever been authenticated.


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