Gregarious grey wolves

The Wild Files: It’s our Nature

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

While it’s possible that a few people may have been howling at the moon on New Year’s Eve the fact that wolves do is a myth, even though the first full moon of the new year ( on January 6), is referred to as the Wolf Moon. With more than 30 sub-species of the wolf (canis lupus) the two main species are the red wolf and the grey wolf. It is the latter that we see more commonly in North America, especially in B.C., while red wolves are rarer and more native to the southeastern parts of the U.S. Some sub-species of the grey wolf are the arctic wolf, great plains wolf, Mexican wolf, and the eastern timber wolf.

Out of the canidae kin, which includes coyotes and jackals, wolves are the largest. The length of an adult grey wolf from head to tail is typically two meters and they weigh about 45 kilograms (kg) and can range from 80 to 85 centimetres (cm) tall at the shoulder. Female wolves tend to be smaller than males by 20 per cent. While mostly grey in colour, grey wolves can also be white and sometimes reddish.

Bite worse than it’s bark

Red Riding Hood had good reason to be taken back by the wolf’s teeth at grandma’s house; a wolf’s jaw and 42 teeth are impressive. They have four canines that are used to grasp their prey when they are in pursuit at up to 60 kilometres (km) an hour. Wolves are night hunters and the prey for these nocturnal canines includes deer, elk, moose, bison, bighorn sheep and musk oxen, and they are always up for some tasty beaver or rabbit too.

Wolves in the western parts of Canada such as the Columbia Valley are apt at fishing for salmon. Kills are shared amongst the pack. Oh, what sharp teeth they have! The other 12 incisors, 10 carnassials and 16 premolars are used to shred off chunks of their prey for swallowing. The crushing power of a wolf’s jaw is five times the amount of a human and twice that of a large, domesticated dog.

Oh, what neat eyes they have

When wolves are cubs their eyes are baby blues, which change to a yellow hue by the time they are three months old. While many humans may reach for their glasses when night driving, wolves have great night vision due to their reflective retinas and a greater concentration of ‘rods’ – receptors. Various studies show that wolves can see colours, especially hues of red and yellow.

A nose for it

A wolf’s long snout gives it 25 times more the surface area to detect smells and their noses can do it a hundred times better than that of a human’s. Wolves communicate through their noses by sniffing each other, as well as prey and territories. When around humans, they can pick up where we’ve been, what we’ve eaten and even our state of health.

Lone Wolf

People who prefer to be alone may refer to themselves as lone wolves, but the fact is wolves are quite gregarious and prefer to be in packs. When one sees a lone wolf, referred to as a disperser, it means they’re going off to start a pack of their own. Dispersers keep wolves healthy by not only bringing new genes from different packs into the mix, but by also populating new areas. Wolves will travel hundreds of miles in pursuit of a mate and location to start a pack of their own. All packs have a female and male leader known as the alphas. Wolves mate for life, and usually it is only the alphas of the pack that do so. Breeding takes place from January through March. After 63 days a female wolf will give birth to a litter of four to six cubs.

Courageous Canines

Wolves are held in high regard in Indigenous cultures. They are associated with courage, strength, and loyalty. They are thought of as medicine beings and excellent hunters.

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer