110 Gray Wolf Facts Everyone Should Know

by Sankalan Baidya
gray wolf facts

Spine-chilling howls, piercing looks – no doubt, the gray wolf has managed to take the center stage of mythology and fairy tales since times immemorial.

They are fascinating creatures and in this article on gray wolf facts, we are going to learn what makes them so fascinating.

We humans are pathetic, to say the least. There was a point in time where we nearly drove them to extinction, without even realizing that they are a key element in the ecosystem.

Not just gray wolves, we humans are responsible for the extinction of various other animals and we like it or not, we are the worst offenders ever when it comes to the destruction of the nature that nurtures us.

We as a species, need to understand that every animal (terrestrial, marine or avian), every insect, every plant that exists today on this planet is there for a reason – a reason far bigger than the ability of our puny minds to comprehend.

So, while you engage in reading these amazing gray wolf facts, feed your mind with one tiny piece of information – ‘they exist for a reason, they are necessary.’

Now, let us come back and start with our list of facts about gray wolf. We hope you are ready!

Gray Wolf Facts: Scientific Classification

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Carnivora
Family Canidae
Genus Canis
Species C. lupus
Binomial Name Canis lupus

Gray Wolf Facts: Subspecies

There is a lot of fuss about the total number of gray wolf subspecies available (or, was available) on this planet. The ones that have been majorly identified are mentioned below:

Gray Wolf Facts: North American Extant (Living) Subspecies

C. l. arctos Arctic Wolf
C. l. baileyi Mexican Wolf
C. l. columbianus British Columbian Wolf
C. l. crassodon Vancouver Island Wolf
C. l. hudsonicus Hudson Bay Wolf
C. l. irremotus Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf
C. l. labradorius Labrador Wolf
C. l. ligoni Alexander Archipelago Wolf
C. l. lycaon Eastern Wolf
C. l. mackenzii Mackenzie River Wolf
C. l. manningi Baffin Island Wolf
C. l. occidentalis Northwestern Wolf
C. l. orion Greenland Wolf
C. l. pambasileus Alaskan Interior Wolf
C. l. rufus Red Wolf
C. l. tundrarum Alaskan Tundra Wolf

Gray Wolf Facts: Eurasian and Australian Extant Subspecies

C. l. albus Tundra Wolf
C. l. arabs Arabian Wolf
C. l. campestris Steppe Wolf
C. l. chanco Mongolian Wolf
C. l. dingo Dingo and New Guinea Singing Dog
C. l. familiaris Domestic Dog
C. l. filchneri Tibetan Wolf
C. l. lupus Eurasian Wolf
C. l. pallipes Indian Wolf
gray wolf facts
By Wolf_Kolmården.jpg: Daniel Mott from Stockholm, Swedenderivative work: Mariomassone – Wolf_Kolmården.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12423176

Gray Wolf Facts: Extinct Subspecies

C. l. alces Kenai Peninsula Wolf
C. l. beothucus Newfoundland Wolf
C. l. bernardi Banks Island Wolf
C. l. floridanus Florida Black Wolf
C. l. fuscus Cascade Mountains Wolf
C. l. gregoryi Mississippi Valley Wolf
C. l. griseoalbus Manitoba Wolf
C. l. hattai Hokkaidō wolf
C. l. hodophilax Japanese Wolf
C. l. mogollonensis Mogollon Mountains Wolf
C. l. monstrabilis Texas Wolf
C. l. nubilus Great Plains Wolf
C. l. youngi Southern Rocky Mountain Wolf
C. l. cristaldii Sicilian Wolf

Gray Wolf Facts: General Info | 1-5

1. Gray wolf is the common wolf we usually talk about. So, someone says the word ‘wolf,’ know that he or she is talking about the gray wolf.

2. There are many different names that are used for the gray wolf. Most of these names are usually the common names of various subspecies of the wolf.

3. Lobo, timber wolf, grey wolf (note the spelling variation) are some other names that are in use.

4. It belongs to the canid family – the same family which the dogs belong to. Interestingly, gray wolves were domesticated several thousand years ago and through their selective breeding, we now have dogs!

5. Unlike dogs, the wolves belong to the wilderness and they are largest known members of the canid family.

Gray Wolf Facts: Physical Characteristics | 6-25

Gray Wolf Facts: Shape and Structure

6. The gray wolf is the largest member in the whole Canidae family. When we compare coyotes, jackals and gray wolves, we find a constant size relationship between their bodies.

7. If the gray wolf is shrunk proportionately, it will look very similar to the jackal or the coyote.

8. In reality, a gray wolf has a heavier and larger build. It has shorter ears; a broader snout and its tail is longer while the torso is shorter.

9. The neck of a gray wolf is heavily muscled; the back is sloping and the rib cage is deeply descending.

10. Compared to other candis, the legs are slightly longer. This enables swift movement for the gray wolf. Also, the design of the legs allows the gray wolf to easily cross deep snow which is usually found in majority of the wolf’s geographical range.

11. The ears of a gray wolf are triangular in shape and compared to the body, are relatively small.

12. Compared to the male wolves, the female wolves have thinner necks, shorter legs, narrower foreheads, narrower muzzles and less massive shoulders.

Gray Wolf Facts: Weight

13. Generally the male gray wolves are heavier than female gray wolves. On an average, the females are 20% smaller than the males.

14. The mean body mass of a gray wolves is 40 kilograms or 88 pounds. The largest specimen recorded in America had a body mass of 79.4 kilograms or 175 pounds.

15. The smallest gray wolf specimen recorded in America had a body mass of 12 kilograms or 26 pounds.

16. The European wolves have an average weight of 38.5 kilograms or 85 pounds. Those that are found in North America have an average weight of 36 kilograms or 79 pounds.

17. The Indian wolves as well as the Arabian wolves have an average weight of 25 kilograms or 55 pounds.

18. Females typically weigh around 2.3 to 4.5 kilograms or 5 to 10 pounds less than the male wolves.

19. It is quite uncommon to find wolves that exceed the weight of 54 kilograms or 119 pounds. Though such heavy wolves are rare, there have been records of such wolves in at least three places – Alaska, Canada, middle Russia.

20. The heaviest Russian specimen ever found was 80 kilograms or 180 pounds. The largest specimen found in North America was 79.4 kilograms or 175 pounds but it was killed in 1939 on July 12 on 70 Mile River of east-central Alaska.

Gray Wolf Facts: Some Measurements

21. In general, the average length of the adult wolves is between 105 cm and 160 cm (41 inches to 63 inches).

22. Measured at shoulder, the average height is between 80 and 85 centimeters or 31 and 33 inches.

23. The tail has an average measurement of 29 to 50 centimeters or 11 to 20 inches.

24. The height of the ears average between 3.5 and 4.3 inches or 90 and 110 millimeters.

25. The hind feet have an average measurement of 8.7 inches to 9.8 inches or 220-250 millimeters.

Gray Wolf Facts: Fur | 26-32

26. In cold climates, gray wolf has fluffy and dense winter fur. On the contrary, the fur is scarcer and coarse in warmer climates.

27. In the norther wolves, the fur consists of coarse and long guard hairs atop the short underfur.

28. During spring, the wolves will shed most of their underfur and some of their guard hairs. They grow back during the autumn.

29. The winter fur is known to be extremely cold-resistant. In temperatures as low as -40 degrees Centigrade (-40 degrees Fahrenheit), these wolves can happily rest without any discomfort simply by tucking in their muzzle between their hind legs and covering the faces with their tail.

30. Don’t be surprised but the limbs of females are far smoother furred than the males and as they age, females will develop smoothest overall coats.

31. Females that are lactating will retain the winter fur for the longest time frame. However, some hair loss becomes visible around their teats.

32. As the wolves age, they will have more white hair at the tip of their tails, along their noses and on their foreheads.

Gray Wolf Facts: Distribution and Habitat | 33-40

gray wolf facts
By Gary Kramer – This image originates from the National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30605

33. There was a time when the gray wolf was found in very large numbers throughout the entire Northern Hemisphere including North America, Asia and Europe.

34. There were times when the gray wolves were found in every type of environment located in the north of the equator. They were spread out from desserts to tundra.

35. Unfortunately, they were gradually exterminated by humans wherever they were found. The major reason for such persecution was threat to livestock and threat of attack on humans.

36. Today, in most of the United States, Mexico and Western Europe, the wolves have been extirpated (that is, they have been made locally extinct).

37. If we talk of today’s range of the wolves, they can be found in the remote areas and wilderness in Alaska, Canada, Norther United States, Asia and Europe.

38. They can be found in various mountainous areas, desserts, pastures, tundra, inland wetlands, forests and shrublands.

39. Various factors determine how well a habitat is used by wolves. Those factors include abundance of prey, human presence, road densities, livestock densities and even topography of the place.

40. Gray wolf is extremely adaptable. It is one of the very few species that managed to survive the last Ice Age that had hit Earth. Their physical characteristics allowed them to quickly adapt to the harsh conditions of the Ice Age.

Gray Wolf Facts: Diet | 41-46

gray wolf facts
By Denali NPS – Wolf with Caribou HindquarterUploaded by Mariomassone, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19584974

41. Wolves are pack hunters and they usually take down herbivore mammals. They will usually select that mammal that has a body mass that is pretty similar to the total mass of the wolf pack combined.

42. Wolves generally go after large ungulates (hooved mammals like deer, caribou, moose, elk etc.).

43. Hunting in pack, wolves are capable of bringing down prey as large as 500 kilograms in weight.

44. Wild ungulates with weights ranging from 240-650 kg (large ungulates) and 23 to 130 kg (medium ungulates) are majorly hunted down by the gray wolves.

45. Though the gray wolves feed primarily on large and medium ungulates, they even go after small animals like small carnivores, insectivores, hares, rodents etc.

46. Wolves are also known to eat waterfowls and even their eggs.

Gray Wolf Facts: Diet | 47-52

47. When food becomes scarce, wolves can move on to eat large insects, frogs, snakes and lizards.

48. European wolves are known to eat even cherries, berries, melons, figs, pears and apples.

49. Wolves found in North America can also eat raspberries and blueberries.

50. Wolves are known to extract some vitamins by eating grass as well. They even eat shoots of reeds, grain crops, nightshade berries, cowberry, bilberries, mountain ash berries and even berries of lily of the valley.

51. Wolves are not shy of eating carrion (decaying flesh of dead animals) when there is a scarcity of food.

52. Wolves are known to display cannibalism during severe shortage of food. They can attack and kill the weakest or injured wolves and eat. They even feed on the dead bodies of their pack members.

Gray Wolf Facts: Social or Pack Behavior | 53-60

53. Wolves are known to be extremely social animals and they stay in packs. A pack size usually ranges from 6 to 10.

54. A basic wolf pack consists of a mated adult pair and their adult offspring.

55. Sometimes two or three such families make up a pack.

56. A mated adult pair of gray wolves will usually mate every year to produce pups. The offspring stay with the pack for anywhere between 10 months and 54 months, after which they will move out to make their own packs or join other packs.

57. There are usually two things that trigger such dispersal or moving out from the pack. Those two are:

Increased competition for food within the pack.

Onset of sexual maturity.

58. The wolves that disperse out can travel to great lengths. Some can travel 206 kilometers, some travel 390 kilometers and there are some that will travel up to 670 kilometers.

59. Again, there are some dispersed individuals that will disperse out and make new packs close to their natal packs.

60. A new pack is usually formed by a dispersed male and a dispersed female. They will travel together in an area which does not contain any other hostile pack.

Gray Wolf Facts: Wolf Territory | 61-70

61. Wolves are extremely territorial. In order to survive well, they will establish a territory that is way bigger than what they actually need.

62. The reason why they establish a bigger territory is that it ensures a very steady supply of prey.

63. There are at least two determining factors when it comes to the territory size of the gray wolves. One of the factors is albeit, the availability of prey while the other factor is the age of the pups in the packs.

64. The territory size of the wolves can increase under two conditions. One of them is when the prey availability is low. The second condition is when the pups in the pack attain the age of 6 months and they need adult nutrition.

65. Wolves will constantly travel in search of prey. This means that they travel across their territory. In general, a pack can travel and cover up to 9% of the territory every day!

66. The average distance that a wolf pack usually travels in a day is 25 kilometers per day or 16 miles per day.

67. The core of the entire territory that a pack holds is up to 35 square kilometers or 14 square miles. The pack will usually spend 50% of its time within the core territory.

68. Quite normally, the prey density is much higher in the areas surrounding the territory of a pack of wolves.

69. Wolves in general do not tend to hunt in outskirts or borders of their territories in order to avoid fatal encounters with other hostile packs.

70. Wolf pack will usually not leave their territory. Only when there is severe scarcity of food, they will move out of their territory for hunting.

Gray Wolf Facts: Territory Marking | 71-79

71. There are three ways in which gray wolves will make other packs aware of their territory. Those three ways are scent-marking, howling and scratching.

72. The most effective method is the combination of scent-marking and scratching.

73. Wolves will generally scent mark their territories using anal scent glands, feces and urine. They use raised leg urination for scent marking.

gray wolf facts
By Lobo_marcando_su_territorio.jpg: Daniel Mott from Stockholm, Swedenderivative work: Aelykkoe (talk) – Lobo_marcando_su_territorio.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8353049

74. The rate at which the wolves will scent mark their territories increases when they come across scent mark from the wolves belonging to other packs.

75. Newly bonded wolf pairs are the ones who will scent mark their territories most. Lone wolves on other hand will barely scent mark.

76. When it comes to scent marking, the wolves will generally leave scents every 260 yards or 240 meters.

77. The areas where they scent mark across their territories are usual junctions and travelways that they use most frequently.

78. Scent marks can last in a place for 2-3 weeks. The wolves will usually scent mark on skeletons of large animals, trees, rocks and boulders.

79. Despite the fact that the wolves mark their territories, they will often engage in territorial fights which leads to up to 14% to 65% of the wolf deaths.

Gray Wolf Facts: Communication | 80-87

80. If you thought that gray wolves howl at the moon, you are wrong! That’s a notion that has been spread by movies and folklore. Wolves do not howl at the moon.

81. Actually vocalizations by the wolves and the phases of the moon are completely unrelated.

gray wolf facts
Image Credit: Corinna Stoeffl

82. Before they hunt or after they hunt, the wolves will howl in order to assemble the entire pack.

83. They will also howl when they need to pass on an alarm especially near their denning sites.

84. Wolves will also howl when they need to locate other members of the pack during a storm or when they are crossing a territory that is unfamiliar to them or when they need to communicate over great distances.

85. Wolves communicate when they need to anticipate the next move of their packmates or of other wolves.

86. There are other vocalizations that are used by the wolves apart from howls. Those vocalizations include whines, barks and growls.

87. Wolves never bark continuously like dogs. Their barks are not loud as well. They will usually bark for a few times and then retreat if they perceive a threat.

Gray Wolf Facts: Reproduction in Wolves | 88-110

Gray Wolf Facts: Family Foundation

88. Of any wolf pack, the foundation is always the mated pair. Usually, a wolf pack will have only one breeding pair.

89. Wolves are monogamous animals. They will mate with a single partner and stay with the partner for life.

90. A wolf will go out and find a new partner only when its partner dies. The new partner is found pretty quickly.

91. Wolves will become mature when they are 2 years old. However, it takes them yet another year to become sexually mature.

92. The age at which the wolves will first breed will depend on various environmental factors. If the prey is abundant, wolves can rear pups at a young age.

Gray Wolf Facts: Breeding

gray wolf facts
By Korean_wolves_mating_2.jpg: Temakiderivative work: Mariomassone (talk) 22:07, 24 December 2011 (UTC) – Korean_wolves_mating_2.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17789888

93. Females can produce pups every year. On an average, they produce one litter a year.

94. Female wolves never reach menopause (did you know, coyote females reach menopause?).

95. It is the second half of the winter when the female wolves enter their estrus cycle. That is also the time when the breeding season (sometimes called rut) begins and the pack disperses.

96. When pack dispersion begins, the adults are the ones to disperse first. This is followed by the yearlings and then the juveniles. The pack will eventually reunite but they will stay away from the breeding pair.

97. The estrus cycle in a female wolf lasts for 14 days.

98. Once the mating is over and the female wolf conceives, the gestation period in females can last anywhere between 62 days and 75 days.

99. Wolf pups are born during the spring months or during early summers. The places where they are born are very cold, for example, tundra.

100. Young females that conceive can give birth usually produce a litter of 4 to 5 pups. Older females that conceive can give birth to 6 to 8 pups but they may also give birth to up to 12 pups.

Gray Wolf Facts: Wolf Pups

101. Nearly 60% to 80% of the new pups die. The remaining survives.

102. The new born wolf pups have uncanny resemblance to that of the German Shepherd pups.

103. At the time of birth, the pups are all deaf and blind. Their whole body remains covered with short yet soft fur of grayish-brown color.

gray wolf facts
By Arturo de Frias Marques – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73143080

104. When they are born, the wolf pups weigh anywhere between 300 grams and 500 grams.

105. It takes them anywhere between 9 and 12 days to open their eyes.

106. The milk canines in the pups erupt after 30 days but they start leaving their dens by 3rd week.

107. By the time the pups reach the age of 1.5 months, they become agile enough to run away from dangers.

108. It is the duty of the father wolf to provide food for the entire family during the first few weeks because the mother wolf will usually not leave the den.

109. By the time the pups are a month old, they will start eating some solid food and during the first four months of their lives, the pups will grow quickly and gain as much as 30 times their body weight at the time of birth.

110. By the time the pups are 3 weeks old, they will engage in play-fighting with controlled and gentle bites. By the time they are 5-8 weeks old, they will seriously fight and establish hierarchy.

That concludes our gray wolf facts. However, we are nowhere even close to providing a comprehensive list. Want to know more about their hunting habits, their predators, their diseases, interactions with humans, conservation status, their evolution and more? Consider buying our Gray Wolf e-book available on our store for just $1.50.


National Geographic
Encyclopedia Britannica
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