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Canis lupus  Linnaeus

Image of Gray Wolf.  By Roger Barbour.
Photograph by Roger Barbour

Kingdom: Phylum: Class: Order: Family:
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Canidae
Animals Vertebrates Mammals Carnivores Wolves, Foxes

The largest wild dog, the gray wolf is usually mottled gray but may be black or white or any grade in between. The first mention of the status of wolves in this area came in 1844 when a letter to a member of the House of Representatives (Lanman, 1849) stated that sheep were destroyed by wolves. The gray wolf is a social animal, usually living in packs of 5-10 members. Generally wolf packs contain a set of parents (the "alpha pair") and some of the offspring of their past 2-3 litters. In the wild, wolves can live to be about 16 years of age (Mech, 1999).


SPECIES DESCRIPTION

- Adult Total Length:  1,270-1,670 mm (50-65 in.)
- Tail:  280-450 mm (11-18 in.)
- Hind Foot:  200-250 mm (8-10 in.)
- Weight:  21-45 kg (45-100 lb.)
- Physical Characteristics:  The largest wild dog, the gray wolf is usually mottled gray but may be black or white or any grade in between. It is distinguished from its nearest relative, the red wolf, by being 10 - 50% larger and by having a broader snout and proportionately shorter ears, and from the coyote by being 50 - 100% larger and having a broader snout and proportionately larger feet.

- Skull Drawings:

N/A

DISTRIBUTION

North America:

Map depicting the North American range of the Gray Wolf.  From: The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals, edited by Don E. Wilson and Sue Ruff. Copyright 1999. All rights reserved.
The gray wolf was formerly distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere. However, deliberate extermination has restricted the wolf's current North American range to Canada, Alaska, Montana, northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan (including Isle Royale in Lake Superior). Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota support sporadic individuals, and Mexico may have a few.

In Park:

Map depicting GSMNP range of Gray Wolf.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, National Park Service.

The first mention of the status of wolves in this area came in 1844 when a letter to a member of the House of Representatives (Lanman, 1849) stated that sheep were destroyed by wolves; "which have not yet been entirely eliminated."

The following account of the history of the gray wolf is taken from Linzey and Linzey (1968): "The gray wolf once occurred in the Great Smoky Mountains in fair numbers but became increasingly less common as more of the land was settled. Buckley (1859) reported that wolves were "troublesome" to the mountain farmers of North Carolina and Tennessee. In 1887, C.H. Merriam (1888) noted that wolves "still occur" in the Great Smokies. John Oliver, a former resident of the Park, remembered hearing wolves howling in Cades Cove when he was a boy (1880-90). A resident of Gatlinburg recalled seeing one of these animals that had been caught in a bear trap near the Sugarlands during the 1890's. He also heard two wolves howling near the area that was formerly Chimneys Campground. Brimley (1944) wrote that wolves were "apparently finally exterminated in or about 1890, up to which time they still occurred sparingly in the mountains." Hamnett and Thornton (1953) stated: "In the Mountain Region, wolves existed in the more remote sections until the late 1800's and possibly until the very early 1900's."

" There have been occasional unconfirmed reports of wolves in the mountains after 1900. The Knoxville News-Sentinel (Brewer, 1964) printed a column indicating that wolves were seen on Mt. LeConte as late as 1925. Ganier (1928) speculated that a few might still be present in the "wilder mountainous sections." An animal that was reported to be a gray wolf was killed near Waynesville, Haywood County, North Carolina, February 27, 1933. Official verification is lacking for all of these reports."

NATURAL HISTORY

Habitat

Wolves range widely across a great variety of open to wooded habitats.

Reproduction

After a courtship that may last from days to months, wolves copulate during estrus, which occurs once per year and lasts 5-14 days. The receptive period may be as early as January in low latitudes or as late as April in high latitudes. During copulation the pair remains coupled for as long as 30 minutes, during which ejaculation occurs many times. Gestation lasts 63 days, and litters average six young. The young are born blind and helpless, usually in an underground burrow. The same den may be used year after year (Mech, 1999).

The female usually stays near the young for at least three weeks. During this time, the male and other pack members hunt and feed her and the pups. The pups' eyes open between 11 and 15 days of age, and they are weaned when 9 weeks old. Healthy pups join adults in their travels as early as October. In the wild, wolves do not breed until they are 2, 3, or 4 years of age. Both sexes may continue to breed through at least 10 years of age (Mech, 1999).

Longevity

In the wild, wolves can live to be about 16 years of age (Mech, 1999).

Terrestrial Ecology

The gray wolf is a social animal, usually living in packs of 5-10 members, although packs of up to 36 have been reported. Generally wolf packs contain a set of parents (the "alpha pair") and some of the offspring of their past 2-3 litters.

Wolves are primarily predators on ungulates, beavers, and hares, although almost any species of animal may be eaten, including any type of domestic animal.

Predators and Defense

Humans are the only enemy of gray wolves.

Parasites

None recorded from the park.

CONSERVATION BIOLOGY

Special Protection Status

- Rangewide:  The gray wolf is on the federal Endangered Species List in the 48 contiguous states, but will probably be delisted by 2001.
- In Park:  All plants and animals are protected within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Collection requires a permit which is usually granted only for research or educational purposes..

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Field work:

N/A

Supporting Institutions:

N/A

Text:

Dr. Donald W. Linzey, Wytheville Community College, Wytheville, VA (wclinzd@wcc.vccs.edu)

Christy Brecht, Wytheville Community College, Wytheville, VA (wcbrecc@wcc.vccs.edu)

Photographs:

Roger Barbour. All rights reserved.

Drawings:

N/A

Maps:

The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals, edited by Don E. Wilson and Sue Ruff. Copyright 1999. All rights reserved.

Richard Schulz, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Steve Hadden, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

REFERENCES

Brewer, C. 1964. Hike recalls tales of tall guide, panther wrestling. The Knoxville News-Sentinel. June 28.

Brimley, C.S. 1944-46. The Mammals of North Carolina. Eighteen installments in Carolina Tips. Carolina Biological Supply Co., Elon College, North Carolina.

Buckley, S.B. 1859. Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. American Journal of Science and Arts, 2nd Series 27: 286-294.

Ganier, A.F. 1928. The Wild Life of Tennessee. Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science 3(3): 10-22.

Hamnett, W.L., and D.C. Thornton. 1953. Tar Heel Wildlife. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Lanman, C. 1849. Letters from the Alleghany Mountains. New York: George P. Putnam.

Linzey, D.W. 1995a. Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Inc., Blacksburg, Virginia.

Linzey, D.W. 1995b. Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park-1995 Update. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 111(1): 1-81.

Linzey, D.W. 1998. The Mammals of Virginia. The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Inc., Blacksburg, Virginia.

Linzey, D.W. and A.V. Linzey. 1968. Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 84(3): 384-414.

Mech, L.D. 1999. Gray Wolf. Pages 141-143. In: D.E. Wilson, and S. Ruff (eds.). The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Mech, L.D. 1981. Canis lupus. Mammalian Species No. 37. American Society of Mammalogists.

Merriam, C.H. 1888. Remarks on the Fauna of the Great Smoky Mountains; with Description of a New Species of Red-backed Mouse (Evotomys Carolinensis). American Journal of Science. 3rd Series 36(216): 458-460.

Stupka, A. 1935-63. Nature Journal, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 28 vols. (years) each with index. (Typewritten copy in files of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)