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Gray wolf

Gray wolf
Temporal range: 0.7–0 Ma
Middle – Recent
European grey wolf in Prague zoo.jpg
Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus).
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Synapsida
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Caniformia
Family: Canidae
Tribe: Canini
Genus: Canis
Species: C. lupus
Binomial name
Canis lupus
Linnaeus, 1758

Numerous and disputed, see Subspecies of Canis lupus

Wolf distr.gif
Historical (red) and modern (green) range of wild subspecies of C. lupus

Numerous and disputed, see Subspecies of Canis lupus

The gray wolf or grey wolf (Canis lupus), also known as the timber wolf or western wolf, is a canine native to the wilderness and remote areas of Eurasia and North America. It is the largest extant member of its family, with males averaging 43–45 kg (95–99 lb), and females 36–38.5 kg (79–85 lb). Like the red wolf, it is distinguished from other Canis species by its larger size and less pointed features, particularly on the ears and muzzle. Its winter fur is long and bushy, and predominantly a mottled gray in color, although nearly pure white, red, or brown to black also occur. As of 2005, 37 subspecies of C. lupus are recognised by MSW3.

The gray wolf is the second most specialised member of the genus Canis, after the Ethiopian wolf, as demonstrated by its morphological adaptations to hunting large prey, its more gregarious nature, and its highly advanced expressive behavior. It is nonetheless closely related enough to smaller Canis species, such as the eastern wolf,coyote, and golden jackal to produce fertile hybrids. It is the only species of Canis to have a range encompassing both the Old and New Worlds, and originated in Eurasia during the , colonizing North America on at least three separate occasions during the Rancholabrean. It is a social animal, travelling in nuclear families consisting of a mated pair, accompanied by the pair's adult offspring. The gray wolf is typically an apex predator throughout its range, with only humans and tigers posing a serious threat to it. It feeds primarily on large ungulates, though it also eats smaller animals, livestock, carrion, and garbage.

Expressive characteristics of visual features
used during social interactions in wolves
Feature Aggressive Fearful
Eyes Direct stare
Open wide
Looking away
Closed to slits
Ears Erect and forward Flattened and turned down to side
Lips Horizontal contraction
("agonistic pucker")
Horizontal retraction ("submissive grin")
Mouth Opened Closed
Teeth Canines bared Canines covered
Tongue Retracted Extended ("lick intention")
Nose Shortened (skin folded) Lengthened (skin smoothed)
Forehead Contracted (bulging over eyes) Stretched (smoothed)
Head Held high Lowered
Neck Arched Extended
Hair Erect (bristled) Sleeked
Body Erect, tall Crouched, low
Tail Held high
Tucked under body

  • Locating prey: The wolves travel in search of prey through their power of scent, chance encounter, and tracking. Wolves typically locate their prey by scent, though they must usually be directly downwind of it. When a breeze carrying the prey's scent is located, the wolves stand alert, and point their eyes, ears and nose towards their target. In open areas, wolves may precede the hunt with group ceremonies involving standing nose-to-nose and wagging their tails. Once concluded, the wolves head towards their prey.
  • The stalk: The wolves attempt to conceal themselves as they approach. As the gap between the wolves and their prey closes, the wolves quicken their pace, wag their tails, and peer intently, getting as close to their quarry as possible without making it flee.
  • The encounter: Once the prey detects the wolves, it can either approach the wolves, stand its ground, or flee. Large prey, such as moose, elk, and muskoxen, usually stand their ground. Should this occur, the wolves hold back, as they require the stimulus of a running animal to proceed with an attack. If the targeted animal stands its ground, the wolves either ignore it, or try to intimidate it into running.
  • The rush: If the prey attempts to flee, the wolves immediately pursue it. This is the most critical stage of the hunt, as wolves may never catch up with prey running at top speed. If their prey is travelling in a group, the wolves either attempt to break up the herd, or isolate one or two animals from it.
  • The chase: A continuation of the rush, the wolves attempt to catch up with their prey and kill it. When chasing small prey, wolves attempt to catch up with their prey as soon as possible, while with larger animals, the chase is prolonged, in order to wear the selected prey out. Wolves usually give up chases after 1–2 km (0.62–1.3 mi), though one wolf was recorded to chase a deer for 21 km (13 mi). Both Russian and North American wolves have been observed to drive prey onto crusted ice, precipices, ravines, slopes and steep banks to slow them down.
  • Ethiopian wolf
  • OR-7, a gray wolf being electronically tracked in the northwest United States
  • Apollonio, Marco; Mattioli, Luca (2006). Il Lupo in Provincia di Arezzo (in Italian). Editrice Le Balze. ISBN . 
  • Bibikov, D. I. (1985). "Volk: Proiskhozhdenie, sistematika, morfologia, ekologia [The Wolf: History, Systematics, Morphology and Ecology]" (in Russian). Nauka, Moscow, USSR. ASIN B001A1TKK4. 
  • Busch, Robert H. (2009). Wolf Almanac. The Lyons Press. ISBN . 
  • Coleman, Jon T. (2006). Vicious: Wolves and Men in America. Yale University Press. ISBN . 
  • Dutcher, Jim; Dutcher, Jamie (2003). Wolves at Our Door: The Extraordinary Story of the Couple Who Lived with Wolves. William Andrew. ISBN . 
  • Fischer, Hank (1995). Wolf Wars. Falcon. ISBN . 
  • Fuller, Todd K. (2004). "Wolves of the World". Voyageur Press. ISBN . 
  • Grooms, Steve (1999). "Return of the Wolf". Northword Press. ISBN . 
  • Hampton, Bruce (1997). The Great American Wolf. Holt Paperbacks. ISBN . 
  • Harrington, Fred H.; Paquet, Paul C. (1982). Wolves of the world: perspectives of behavior, ecology, and conservation. Simon & Schuster. ISBN . 
  • McIntyre, Rick (1996). A Society of Wolves: National Parks and the Battle over the Wolf. Voyageur Press. ISBN . 
  • McNamee, Thomas (1998). The Return of the Wolf to Yellowstone. Holt Paperbacks. ISBN . 
  • Mech, L. David (1966). Wolves of Isle Royale. U.S. Department of the Interior, Park Service. 
  • Mech, L. David (1993). "The Way of the Wolf". Voyageur Press. ISBN . 
  • Murie, Adolph (1944). Wolves of Mount McKinley. U.S. Department of the Interior, Park Service. 
  • Musiani, Marco; Boitani, Luigi; Paquet, Paul C. (2010). The World of Wolves: New Perspectives on Ecology, Behaviour, and Management. University of Calgary Press. ISBN . 
  • Nie, Martin (2003). Beyond Wolves: The Politics of Wolf Recovery and Management. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN . 
  • Peterson, Rolf Olin (1977). Wolf Ecology and Prey Relationships on Isle Royale. National Park Service Scientific Monograph Series. 
  • Weaver, John (1978). Wolves of Yellowstone. U.S. Department of the Interior, Park Service. 


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