Canidae (coyotes, dogs, foxes, jackals and wolves)
HABITAT AND RANGE
Gray wolves are one of the most wide ranging land animals. They occupy a wide variety of habitats, from arctic tundra to forest, prairie, and arid landscapes. The original range of the timber wolf (aka grey wolf) spanned the majority of the northern hemisphere ranging from the arctic rejoins south to Mexico. Due to extermination and habitat loss they are now found in small pockets in the contiguous US, Alaska and Canada.
Timber wolves are the largest of the 41 species of canids. Males average 120 lbs, females 100 lbs but can be as large as 165 lbs. Their coloration is can vary greatly, often due to environment (white in the arctic, reddish in Mexico) but can also be black and most often grizzled gray.
Timber wolves, like most other canids, primarily hunt together in packs. This behavior greatly increases their hunting prowess. When hunting, each individual seems to have a distinct role in the hunt. Some wolves are fast sprinters; some wolves specialize in the actual killing. Often they will take turns pursuing an individual allowing them to conserve energy and be able to bring down prey many times their own size. When large game is not available (i.e. elk, caribou, bison, deer) wolves can subsist on small mammals such as mice, ground squirrels, rabbits and groundhogs. Wolves will also scavenge carrion or steal kills from other predators such as black and brown bears.
REPRODUCTION AND LIFESPAN
Mating season occurs during February and March. Only the alpha males and alpha females are allowed to mate. Litters of usually 4-7 altricial pups are born in April and June after a short 63 day gestation period. Pups emerge from the den after about 8-10 weeks. They are fed regurgitated food for the first month and a half of life and then move on to meat provided by all members of the pack. All members of the pack assist in the care for the young. While the wolves are hunting, one member of the pack (usually a lower ranking wolf) stays behind to guard the pups.
Wolf packs are highly organized. At the top of the wolf pack is the alpha pair (male and female) and each individual below them has a rank all the way down to the omega (lowest ranking) individual. The omega individual usually eats last, gets beat up on by the higher ranking individuals and never mates. Because wolf packs usually consist of familial related individuals, it is to each member’s benefit to care for the young because the young are genetically related to the rest of the pack to a certain degree.