Grey wolf — largest member of the canine family. A beautiful, strong animal, has an external resemblance to the East European Shepherd Dog, but looks more slender, more harmonious. Animals are very smart. Deftly leave the chase and confuse the tracks. Forming a pair, take care of the offspring. Therefore, in addition to fear, they cause a feeling of respect.
The origin of the species and description
Common wolf or gray wolf (from the Latin Canis lupus) belongs to the canine family. Together with the coyote, the jackal, and a couple of other species, they make up the genus of wolves. During the study of their DNA, it was revealed that the animal is the direct ancestor of the domestic dog, while the second is considered as a subspecies of the wolf.
The most probable ancestor of the beast is Canis lepophagus, a representative of canines with a narrow skull that existed during the Miocene period. After the extinction of borophags, in the course of evolution C. lepophagus grew in size, the skull expanded. Fossils found in North America likely belong to the ancestor of all modern wolves.
Video: Gray wolf
The first gray wolves began to appear during the Pleistocene era, about two million years ago. Among them was the species Canis priscolatrans, which later evolved into C. mosbachensis, which is very similar in appearance to the current common wolves. About 500 thousand years ago, it evolved into Canis lupus.
During the Holocene, the species inhabited North America, where the dire wolf already lived. Due to the lack of large prey, the dire wolf died out about 8 thousand years ago. The introduction of the gray wolf sparked competition for small and nimble prey, accelerating the extinction process.
The species has 37 subspecies according to Mammal Species of the World and 38 according to the Joint Taxonomy Information Service, 13 of which are now extinct. Many populations were formerly considered separate subspecies, but were later merged due to insufficient genetic differences.
Appearance and Features
A slender predator, with a powerful physique, long legs, high withers. The neck is short and thick, the back is sloping, the head is relatively large with a wide forehead, the muzzle is short. The coat is hard, a dark stripe runs along the ridge, more pronounced in males. The color is gray, with brown and reddish hues. On the paws and belly, the color is lighter.
Features of the physique:
- body length – 100-160 cm;
- tail length – 30-50 cm;
- height at the withers – 75-90 cm;
- weight – 35-70 kg;
- weight at 1 year – 20-30 kg.
Females are about 20% smaller and lighter. The size makes the animal one of the largest mammals in the family. Individuals reach a mature age at 2.5-3 years. By this time they weigh about 50 kilograms. The inhabitants of Siberia and Alaska are slightly larger, their weight is more than 70 kilograms.
The beast runs with its head down. One ear is alert forward, the other back. When walking, the tail hangs down, when running it is raised to the level of the back. The tracks are similar in shape to those of a dog, but larger, claw prints are more visible. The length of the trace is 10-12 centimeters. Unlike dogs, wolf fingers are kept in a «lump».
An interesting fact: When walking, especially when jogging, the beast steps footsteps. The hind legs hit exactly the mark left by the front legs. The tracks are arranged in a straight line.
The skull is massive, the nostrils are wide. The mouth has 42 sharp teeth that can withstand a load of about 10 megapascals. Loss of teeth for a predator is fatal and leads to starvation. According to the expressive muzzle of the animal, scientists distinguish more than 10 types of moods – anger, anger, fun, threat, affection, alertness, fear, calmness.
Where does the gray wolf live?
In terms of habitat area, the range of animals in the past ranked second after humans. It was most of the Northern Hemisphere. In our time, the habitats of wolves have been greatly reduced. Today, the animal is distributed in many European regions, in North America, Asia, on the Hindustan peninsula.
The northern border of the range is the coast of the Arctic Ocean. South – 16 degrees north latitude. Animals live in various landscapes, but they distinguish steppes, tundra, semi-deserts, forest-steppe. Dense forest areas are avoided. The largest subspecies are found in the tundra, small ones inhabit the southern regions.
In mountainous areas, it occupies places from the foot to alpine meadows. Prefer open areas. They can settle near human habitation. In the taiga, it spread along the clearing zone of the taiga zone. Animals mark the boundaries of their sites with urine and feces.
The territory occupied by one flock is 30-60 kilometers. In late spring-early summer, when the flock breaks up, the occupied zone is also fragmented. The best area goes to the main couple. In the steppes and tundra, you can often find individuals roaming behind herds of domestic animals or deer.
When breeding offspring, natural shelters are usually used – thickets of shrubs, crevices in rocks, burrows of other animals. Sometimes predators dig them on their own. After the cubs grow up, the family stops using the den, they settle in other safe places for a rooming house.
Now you know where the gray wolf lives. Let's see what this predator eats.
What does the gray wolf eat?
Wolves are hardened predators. Food is obtained by active hunting, pursuing victims.
In different regions, various animals form the basis of the diet of wolves:
- tundra – reindeer;
- forest belt – wild boars, elk, roe deer, deer;
- steppes and deserts – antelopes.
Often the beast can be caught hunting livestock – cows, sheep, horses, and sometimes dogs. In the absence of large prey, they catch hares, mice, gophers. In summer, they will not fail to destroy the bird's nest and feast on eggs or small chicks. Sometimes they can pull a domestic goose out of a flock.
It happens that corsacs, foxes, raccoons become the prey of the animal. Particularly hungry individuals can disturb the bear in the den. They do not disdain to eat the corpse of livestock, sick animals, weakened due to a fight, shot by hunters. In the hungry season, they tend to return to the remains of prey.
Interesting fact: There is a case when a pack of wolves killed a young bear.
On the sea coasts, they feed on the carcasses of dead seals washed ashore. A hungry beast will attack a frog, a lizard, a snake or a large beetle without hesitation. Southern residents include berries, fruits, and sometimes mushrooms in their diet. In the steppes, they raid melons and watermelons to quench their thirst, which torments them in hot weather. Why don’t they eat the first watermelon that comes across, but gnaw it until they find a ripe one.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Predators are nocturnal. To announce their presence, they emit a loud howl. With the help of it, individuals communicate with each other over long distances, howling allows you to recognize each other, claim rights to your possessions, care for a future partner.
When hunting, wolves behave quietly, without giving extra sounds. Of all the senses in mammals, hearing is the most developed, followed by smell, vision is in third place. Reflexes and mental functions are well developed and perfectly combined with dexterity, strength, speed and other data that increase the chances of survival.
Wolves can not only howl, but also growl, yelp, squeal, bark. In a pack, the leader gives the signal to attack. The others join him. This sound is similar to the growl of an angry dog, ready to attack. Mostly howling is heard in the evening or at night, but not daily. Collective howling refers to a sign of existence in society.
An interesting fact: The naturalist writer F. Mowat met an Eskimo named Utek in the Canadian tundra, who understood the voice messages sent by wolves to each other.
Smell allows creatures to hear prey on distance up to 3 kilometers. In size, their nose is 14 times larger than a human, but the scent is 100 times better. Humans distinguish 5 million shades of smell, while wolves – 200 million. Most of the information for the animal comes through smells.
Predators never hunt near their lair. In search of prey, they go 8-10 kilometers from home. Animals are capable of speeds of 50-60 km/h. During the night they can walk 70-80 kilometers. They need 4 meters to run at full speed.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Gray wolves are monogamous. They have a family lifestyle. A flock can contain from 3 to 40 individuals. It consists of an alpha male, an alpha female, their children and relatives. The couple will exist until one of the partners dies. Cubs of one litter do not mate, instinct forces them to look for a mate in another flock.
The breeding season is January-April. As the partners of the alpha pair aggressively protect each other from other individuals, tensions circulate in the pack. Males revolve around lonely she-wolves. Often there are fights for females, often with a fatal outcome.
As soon as a pair is formed, partners immediately look for a suitable place for future offspring. At this time, the male and female flirt with each other, rub their sides. As soon as a she-wolf enters estrus, pheromones are released in her urine, signaling the male to mate.
Pregnancy lasts about 2 months. From 3 to 13 blind babies are born at one time. After two weeks, they begin to see. First, the cubs feed on their mother's milk, then the parents burp the meat for them. Then they bring the dead victims. The whole flock is involved in this process.
By the end of summer, wolf cubs begin to participate in hunting. Although parents zealously protect their children, up to 80% of offspring die in the first year. Females become sexually mature at 2 years, males at 3. Old age occurs at 10-12 years. Average life expectancy is 15 years.
Natural enemies of the gray wolf
Forest nurses have very few natural enemies. Skirmishes can occur between wolves and lynxes, bears. Sometimes during the hunt, predators can be fatally injured by elks, bison or horses. One of the main enemies is hunger. Both adults and puppies die from it.
But the main threat comes from humans. Previously, people were afraid of predators because of defenselessness in front of them. But now, in the age of civilization, wolves have remained outside the law. They attack humans very rarely, with the exception of cases of rabies, but they are direct food competitors of humans, sometimes they attack livestock.
Under the pretext of protection, people hunt the beast in a variety of ways that are not distinguished by humanity. Hunting is carried out for fun, with the involvement of hounds, greyhounds, golden eagles, with the help of traps, catching on a decoy, tracking in the wake, with a gun.
Interesting fact: Mammals are not for nothing called the orderlies of the forest . Because of their extermination, outbreaks of epidemics among other animals often occur.
In most countries, animals have a negative image. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that wolves serve the devil. Since ancient times, predators have been the negative heroes of fairy tales. These excuses have always been used to exterminate animals. Actually, extermination is justified only in case of rabies in wolves.
Population and species status
The gray wolf is threatened with extinction in some countries. Much of this was due to human fear of losing livestock. The predator is mercilessly poisoned and shot. These actions led to a sharp decrease in the number of creatures, so in many regions, for example, in Minnesota, the wolf has long been considered an endangered species.
Changing landscapes also leads to population decline. In Canada, Greece, Finland, Italy, Poland, Alaska, the Middle East, the general state of the population is assessed as stable. Poaching and degradation of the range threaten to reduce the population in Hungary, Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, Slovakia, Romania.
The number of the species is unknown. It is only clear that it is rapidly declining. Although many subspecies are considered extinct, the total number of individuals does not make it possible to include the species in the Red Book. At the same time, many populations are protected by Appendix II of the CITES Convention.
Last calculations were made in 1998. In Alaska, a stable state of populations is registered – 6-8 thousand individuals. About 60,000 gray wolves live in Canada. 30,000 individuals have been registered in Russia, 2,000 in Belarus, 6,000 in China, 1,600 in India, 500 in Estonia, 900 in Latvia, 9,000 in Kazakhstan, etc.
The gray wolf has exceptional endurance and the ability to adapt to any living conditions. A myriad of legends about the wolf make it the undisputed leader in the animal kingdom.