Gray wolves are canines with long bushy tails that are often black-tipped. Coat color is typically a mix of gray and brown with buffy facial markings and undersides, but the color can vary from solid white to brown or black. Gray wolves look somewhat like a large German Shepherd.
Size: Wolves vary in size depending on where they live. Wolves in the north are usually larger than those in the south. The average size of a wolf's body is 3-5 feet long. Their tails are usually 1-2 feet long. Females typically weigh 60-100 pounds, and males weigh 70-145 pounds.
Diet: Wolves are carnivores--they prefer to eat large hoofed mammals such as deer, elk, bison and moose. They also hunt smaller mammals such as beavers, rodents and hares. Adults can eat 20 pounds of meat in a single meal.
Typical Lifespan: In the wild, they live 8-13 years, sometimes more. In captivity, they live upwards of 15 years.
Habitat and Range
Wolves can thrive in a diversity of habitats from the tundra to woodlands, forests, grasslands and deserts.
Today, gray wolves have populations in Alaska, northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin, western Montana, northern Idaho, northeast Oregon and the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. Mexican wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf, were reintroduced to protected parkland in eastern Arizona and southwest New Mexico. The historic range of the gray wolf covered over two-thirds of the United States.
How Wolves Communicate
Wolves communicate through body language, scent marking, barking, growling and howling. Much of their communication is about reinforcing the social hierarchy of the pack.
- When a wolf wants to show that it is submissive to another wolf, it will crouch, whimper, tuck in its tail, lick the other wolf's mouth or roll over on its back.
- When a wolf wants to challenge another wolf, it will growl or lay its ears back on its head.
- A playful wolf dances and bows.
- Wolves bark as a warning.
- Howling is for long-distance communication to pull a pack back together and to keep strangers away.
Life History and Reproduction
Wolves live in packs. Most packs have four to nine members, but the size can range from as few as two wolves to as many as 15. Occasionally, a pack can increase to 30 members until some individuals break off to find new territory and form their own pack.