Gray Wolf

Canis lupus

  • Classification: Mammal
  • Lifespan in Captivity: 15-18yrs
  • Lifespan in the Wild: 7yrs
  • Length: 4-9ft
  • Weight: 55-130lbs
  • Range: Canada, Alaska, Great Lakes, Northern Rockies, Pacific Northwest
  • Habitat: contiguous forest and/or mountainous terrain
  • Diet: Carnivore
    • Diet in the Wild: large game
    • Diet at Wildlife Images: donated meats, venison, elk, chicken, beef

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Gray wolves come in many shades of color, despite their name. They can have coats colored from pure white, cinnamon, black, brown, sandy, and gray, but they all have a thick layer of insulating gray fur next to their skin. In the wild, wolves live in family units of 8 to 12 individuals; however, there have been incredible numbers recorded of extreme wolf packs –anywhere from 40 to over 100. Wolves rely on each other to hunt, protect the pack, and rear young. Wolves have strong legs and thick paw pads. Their cardiovascular and respiratory systems are made for endurance. They spend a lot of time chasing down prey and patrolling their territory, which can range up to 800 square miles. Wolves use howling as communication. They will howl to locate one another, strengthen their bonds as a pack, and keep neighbors at bay. A fun fact about wolf howls: each wolf howls on a different note so when a pack howls together, it is in harmony. This harmony can make the pack sound larger. Wolves were once common across North America, but were killed in most areas of the United States by the 1930s. Wolves play a key role in keeping ecosystems healthy. They help keep deer and elk populations in check, which can benefit many other plant and animal species. The carcasses of their prey also help to redistribute nutrients and provide food for other wildlife species, such as grizzly bears and other scavengers. Thanks to the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in 1995, the park has become an amazing source of research and a favored place to see and hear wolves in the wild! There are an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 wolves in Alaska and more than 5,000 in the lower United States. We even have wild wolves moving back into Oregon. In 2011, a radio-collared wolf designated OR-7 from the Imnaha pack in Northeastern Oregon made history by taking an epic journey across the state. The two year old male became the first gray wolf recorded west of the Cascades since 1947, hopping into California to break the 90 year record of no wolves in the state before returning once again to settle in Oregon. In 2012 he was aptly named, “Journey”. He has since found a mate, had at least 3 pups, and was joined by another wolf to form what ODFW has deemed “the Rogue Pack”.