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Wolves

Essay by   •  December 21, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,950 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,559 Views

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The wolf was once a much slandered animal. In the western world, people feared and hated wolves, and this legacy is reflected in stories such as Little Red Riding Hood and The Boy Who Cried Wolf. In these popular children's tales the wolf is made out to be a prowler and a killer of livestock and people. There is some basis for The Boy Who Cried Wolf, for wolves have killed cattle and sheep. But what of Little Red Riding Hood? There are no records of wolves killing humans in Canada or the United States. Yet, when wolves were spotted near rural communities, fear used to grip the populace, but over time this has become less prevalent.

Today, many people know that scientists studying wolves have lived very close to dens where there were pups without being attacked. They have even taken pups from a den without being injured. The parents have usually run away, returning later to take their young to a more private den or to a rendezvous site (a place where the pack meets).

In areas where wolves are hunted or trapped they fear people and are very wary. However, in remote places, such as in the Canadian Arctic, they show little fear and will often allow people to live near them.

Two hundred years ago, Canis lupus, also known as gray wolves, were more widely distributed than any other mammal of historic times. They lived in large areas of North America, Europe, and Asia; the only places they could not occupy were deserts, tropical rain forests, and peaks of the highest mountain ranges. Wolves still live in large areas of the northern hemisphere; however, their primitive range has been greatly reduced due to changes in the landscape and people's efforts to exterminate them. In North

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America, wolves have been exterminated in the Atlantic provinces, Mexico, the United States (except Minnesota, Alaska, and some of the western states), and the heavily populated areas of southern Canada. They are still common in lightly settled portions of Canada from Labrador to British Columbia and in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

The red wolf was once common in the southeastern United States. It has been eliminated in the wild. However, through a captive breeding program, the species is being reintroduced into its former range.

It is virtually impossible to describe the typical appearance of wolves. Wolves of many large arctic islands and Greenland usually appear snow-white from a distance, but closer up often reveal gray, black, or reddish shades. Wolves of northern North America and Eurasia vary in color. A single pack may contain animals that are black, shades of gray-brown, and white. Wolves in the heavily forested areas of eastern North America are more uniform in color. They are often a grizzled gray-brown like some German shepherd dogs. This color variation is a good example of natural selection, which enables those animals best suited to a particular environment to survive. On the arctic islands, where much of the ground is snow-covered for at least nine months of the year, being white is a distinct advantage, so wolves in the Arctic may be nearly white. In the mottled grey, green, and brown world of the eastern forests the normal coat of the wolf is an effective camouflage. As a wolf moves stealthily, or rests, it blends into the background and is hardly seen. Wolves in the Arctic have extremely dense under-fur, which insulates

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them against rigorous winters. Another adaptation to environment is their habit of hunting in packs, or groups, which enables them to kill large animals.

The wolves' habit of hunting in packs has resulted in the development of complex patterns of social behavior. Wolves are gregarious: they not only hunt in packs or groups but live most of their lives with other wolves. Studies in Alaska, Minnesota, Michigan , and parts of Canada show that a family made up of male, female, and pups is the basic pack unit. Other adults are pups of previous years or, more rarely, adults from other packs. Adolescent wolves have been learning to hunt for at least a year, so can probably hunt big game animals, wolves' usual prey, with the rest of the pack. Studies of wolf packs in captivity show a highly organized social structure centering on a dominant male and a dominant female. A dominant wolf holds its tail high, stands stiff-legged, and bristles its mane. In its presence, a subservient animal cowers on the ground with its ears back or stands with its tail between its legs, maintaining a slinking posture.

The pack bond is strongest during winter, when the wolves travel and hunt together. In summer, when the pups are young, the adults seldom go on long forays. They may hunt together occasionally after meeting at the den or home site where the pups are being cared for.

Wolves differ from domestic dogs in their reproductive cycles. Male dogs can breed at any time of year and females every six months, whereas both male and female wolves in the wild can breed only once a year. In captivity, male wolves can successfully breed with more than one female. Breeding time varies with the latitude but most

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commonly occurs in March and April. After a nine-week gestation period, litters of five or six pups (sometimes eight or more) are born. Wolves usually reach sexual maturity in their second year. It is possible for younger animals to have pups, but this is not normally the case. A pack may include several mature females that can produce pups.

Wolf pups are usually born in a whelping den that, in coniferous forests and on tundra, is commonly dug in a type of soil that lends itself to digging, such as in an esker or similar area. In mixed forest areas the den may be located in an old pine stump or rock crevice. The pack usually remains at the whelping den for a month or more unless it is disturbed. The pups remain at whelping dens for approximately two weeks. When they begin to move around outside, another member of the pack may sometimes baby-sit while the parents go hunting. Occasionally, the pups are left alone for a day or longer at a time. By mid-autumn they are traveling with the pack and participating in hunting and other pack activities. Frequent play helps young wolves develop hunting skills. Mature wolves can set up ambushes or drive prey toward other wolves. These learned (non-instinctive) skills originated in their clumsy attempts as pups to hide behind obstacles and then jump out at each other. Even in winter, after they are almost fully grown, pups continue to play in a variety of ways; chasing around a tree in a forest opening or having a fast-moving game on a wilderness lake with a piece of wood or garbage as the prize.

Wolves are territorial. Each pack occupies an area that it will defend against

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