The mighty, beautiful Wolf!! In nature, as spirit animals, totems or guides... Their beauty and strength can be an awesome, yet at times frightening, sight to see. My Wolf has been with me since I was about 6 years old. He was a great comfort then, as he is still today, and I will be 62 this year.
Whether you love our beautiful wilderness and the many beautiful animals we share our earth with, or if you have Wolf as your totem/spirit animal there is much to be learned.
In this first part I will go over information that deals with the real-life wolves and the amazing creatures that they are. Later in a continuing blog we will research Totem Wolves/Spirit Animals.
Wolf Ecology and Behaviour - Wolves are highly social animals that live in packs. A pack is an extended family group comprised of the breeding or “alpha” male and female pair and some of their subordinate offspring and current pups from one or more years. The alpha wolves decide when the pack will travel and hunt, and normally are the first to eat a kill. The pair's offspring normally disperse into adjacent or available territories at 2 to 3 years of age. For packs studied in the Northern Rocky Mountain region, the average dispersal distance and subsequent new pack formation is about 65 miles. For highly cursorial and very mobile wolves, this is “next-door.” Recent satellite-collar tracking data, however has shown that some offspring and individual wolves have dispersed more than a thousand miles in three or four months.
Almost always, the only male and female alphas of the pack will mate. Wolf packs typically have one litter of pups per year. Mating typically occurs between January and March. Wolves begin breeding between 2 and 3 years of age and are believed to mate for life. Once sexually mature, most wolves leave their birth pack to search for a new territory or to join an existing pack. Dispersing wolves roam 40 to 70 miles on average, and sometimes more than 100 miles, depending on gender, available habitat, and presence of other packs.
Wolf pups are born blind and deaf in an underground den after a 63-day gestation period. Litter size averages 4 to 6 pups. During the first 3 weeks, pups nurse every 4 – 6 hours and need help regulating their body temperatures. The mother usually stays with her young in the den, eating food brought to her by other members of the pack.
Wolf pups are weaned at about 8 weeks of age once they have begun eating semi-solid food, regurgitated by the mother or other members of the pack. As pups begin eating more solids, they are moved to one or more “rendezvous sites,” where they spend the remainder of the summer learning proper pack behaviour and etiquette. At 6 to 8 months, the pups begin to travel with the pack and join in hunts. Fewer than half of wolf pups born in the wild survive to adulthood. Survival rates are affected by disease, malnutrition and predation.
Few wolves live more than 5 years in the wild, but with ideal conditions can reach 15 years of age. Wolf populations are naturally regulated by prey density and territorial disputes among wolves. In many areas, numbers are mainly limited by human-related factors, including illegal killing, control efforts to address livestock depredation and car accidents.
Wolf Diet – In the western United States, wolves prey primarily on deer, elk and moose. Wolves are opportunistic feeders and will also eat smaller mammals such as beavers and rabbits, as well as occasional domestic livestock, dead animals, and vegetation. Coastal wolves in British Columbia are known to eat migrating salmon and even mussels on the salt-water beaches. Adult wolves eat 5 – 134 pounds of meat per day on average, but sometimes 12 days or more may pass between feedings. Because hunts are successfully only 3-14% of the time, wolves survive on a “feast or famine” diet. After a successful kill, wolves devour the carcass, sometimes eating as much as 20 pounds, and then may remain relatively inactive for one or more days, digesting their meal.
Wolf Habitat and Territory – Wolves can survive in a variety of habitats, including forests, tundra, mountains, swamps as well as deserts. Wolf territories usually vary in size from 200-500 square miles to as much as 1,000 square miles. One wolf per every 10 square miles is considered ideal for wolf health. Territory size is typically based on the density of prey but is also influenced by pack size, presence of neighbouring packs, and human land use. Wolves will aggressively defend their territories from other packs. Wolves spend about 35% of their time traveling. They often travel 20 to 30 miles per day but may cover over 10 miles in a day when prey is scarce.