The gray wolf’s ancestors probably first evolved in Eurasia about 800,000 years ago, spreading to North America via the Bering land bridge 300,000 - 400,000 years ago. Once in North America, the gray wolf coexisted with the much larger and more powerful Dire wolf until its extinction 8,000 years ago.
The wolf is a very clever animal. Their skulls are 20 % larger than a dog of the same size and their brains are 10% larger than a dog. They have a complex system of communication, ranging from barks and whines to growls and howls. While they don't howl at the moon, they do howl more when it's lighter at night, which occurs more often when the moon is full.
Wolves eat large hoofed mammals, like elk, deer, moose and caribou. Wolves are also known to eat rabbits, beaver and other small prey. Wolves are also scavengers and often eat animals that have died due to other causes like starvation and disease.
Wolves were once common throughout all of North America but were killed in most areas of the United States by the mid 1930s. Today their range has been reduced to Canada and the following portions of the United States: Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Mexican wolves are found in New Mexico and Arizona.
Wolves live, travel and hunt in packs of 4-7 animals on average. Packs include the mother and father wolves, also called the alphas, along with their pups and several other subordinate or young animals. The alpha female and male are the pack leaders that track and hunt prey, choose den sites and establish the pack's territory. Wolves develop close relationships and strong social bonds. They often demonstrate deep affection for their family and may even sacrifice themselves to protect the family unit.
Even today the wolf faces terrible discrimination. Without strong federal protection wolves will be mercilessly shot, trapped and even gassed in their dens. Since wolves lost protections in the northern Rockies and the Great Lakes, state-sanctioned hunts have slaughtered more than 2,200 wolves in the last two years.
Click here to find out more about what's happening to wolves today, and learn about some of our favorite non-profit organizations that are doing great work to protect wolves and ensure their survival.
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Click here to read more, about the history of wolves and humans
wolves_howling_Recorded by Carl_Safina0:43
Wild Wolves from Yellowstone
Image and sound, Courtesy of Carl Safina - carlsafina.org