Arctic Wolves: Learn Amazing Facts About the Far North Snow White Predators
One thing that shows the diversity of wildlife is the wide distribution of living beings on Earth. Even in the regions where the weather is harsh, either boiling and humid like the equatorial tropical rainforest or super freezing like the north and south poles, we can still find organisms surviving and nourishing there.
The North Pole is also referred to as Arctic while the south pole is Antarctica.
Though it might seem to us that living in such places is hard, it is not. Every organism is given the ability to survive in its natural habitat. Their bodies are backed by superpowers that closely take care of them and protect them mainly against harsh weather as well as predation.
For instance, in previous articles on our website, we explored the life of two famous species living in the north and south poles: the polar bear and the penguin. We learned about their terrific bodies and how they assist the animals’ survival in their icy, snowy habitats.
In today’s adventure, we will go back to the north pole to study one of the most distinctive animal species. You might recognise it from Sing 2, the famous animated film that came out in late 2021, which I hope you watched.
Today, we are exploring the life of Mr Crystal, also known as the Arctic wolf.
Wolf? Is there a wolf species living at the north pole?
You bet there is. So let’s hop into today’s lesson.
As you may remember from our previous article on wolves, there are three species of them: the grey wolf, the eastern wolf, and the red wolf. These three species further branch into 40 subspecies. Each of these subspecies shares some physical features and traits with the others but also possesses some unique things.
The Arctic wolf is a subspecies of the grey wolf. It is called the Arctic because, yes, it lives at the north pole. More precisely, the Arctic wolf is endemic to the northernmost regions of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland.
Like the polar bear, the Arctic wolf can also be called the polar wolf, the white wolf, or the snow wolf. However, the polar bear is never called the Arctic, the white, or the snow bear.
Like the rest of its wolf relatives, big cats, bears, and sharks, the Arctic wolf is an apex predator. It mainly feeds on meat by hunting other animals, but no other animal ever feeds on it. That is why the Arctic wolf is found at the top of the food chain.
Obviously, there is a strong connection between wolves and their distant cousins, dogs. And why not? Have they not descended from the same ancestor a few million years ago?
Generally speaking, grey wolves are bigger, taller, and longer than dogs. The Arctic wolf, however, is somewhere between grey wolves and dogs. It is smaller than the grey wolf but still larger than the largest dog, which is the central Asian shepherd dog, by the way.
Hopefully, this could make it easier for you to picture the size of Arctic wolves.
Speaking of its conservation status, the Arctic wolf is not threatened or even vulnerable. Its current population is estimated to be 200,000, and it has been relatively stable. This is mainly attributed to the Arctic wolf living far from human reach. So it does not face the danger of habitat destruction or fragmentation.
However, global warming might impose a threat on Arctic wolves. Such animals that live in these highly harsh environments are well adapted to the cold weather and can perfectly survive there. However, warmer weather disturbs their balance.
Come to think of it. Arctic wolves have, as we will see in a bit, very thick fur. This fur keeps their internal temperature at 37°C, no matter how cold it gets on the outside. If the weather was warm, the Arctic wolves’ bodies would become hot. This may badly affect the biological processes in the body and disturb the animals.
Global warming may also force the Arctic wolf to relocate.
As a close relative to the grey wolf, the Arctic wolf is super attractive and has pretty unique looks. Like the polar bear, the Arctic wolf is all white. Yet, the beautiful white fur might sometimes look greyish or creamy in some individuals—it might have something to do with age.
The fur coat is the Arctic wolf’s most crucial asset to survive at the north pole. It is thick, soft, and long, providing the wolf with a strong shield against severe weather.
In fact, the fur has two layers. The first one is the internal layer or the undercoat. It has very dense, soft, short hairs that encapsulate the body and confines the heat. The upper layer is the upper coat. The hairs in that layer are tough and dense to stop water and snow from getting to the undercoat. Therefore, it stays dry all the time, and the wolf remains warm.
The Arctic wolf has fur on its paws as well to keep them warm. Yet, the fur is slightly shorter on the face, ears, and legs.
Interestingly the fur colour stays the same all year long. However, the fur itself sheds in the late spring, and the wolf grows new hair in the summer and autumn. So we can pretty much say that the Arctic wolf starts every winter with brand-new clothes!
Under this two-layer white fur coat lies a thick layer of body fat. This also keeps the Arctic wolf warm during winter.
Interestingly, this white fur coat enables the Arctic wolf to blend into the environment to look invisible. This immensely supports the wolf’s hunting skills when catching prey. It also provides it with protection from any attacks by larger wild animals, such as the polar bear.
As we mentioned, the Arctic wolf is smaller than the grey wolf. Its muzzle is shorter, and its ears are smaller and rounder. They are this way to help reduce heat loss so the wolf stays warm.
That said, biologists have found that the skull of the Arctic wolf has been shrinking generation after generation ever since 1930. And that is because of dogs. Or should we say, humans?
Humans breed domestic dogs with Arctic wolves. The offspring, called a wolfdog hybrid, usually combines traits from both parents. And since dogs have smaller skulls, the offspring, in return, gets a smaller skull.
Now to body measurements. The Arctic wolf is 63.5 to 79 cm tall at the shoulders and 91 cm from head to toe. It is 90-150 cm long in addition to a relatively long tail measuring 30 cm. That long tail is bushy, bottle-shaped, and well-brushed.
Usually, Arctic wolf males are larger than females. An adult Arctic wolf male weighs between 34 and 46 kg, while the female’s weight ranges between 36 and 38 kg.
The Arctic wolf’s front feet have five toes, while its hind feet have only four.
The Arctic wolf is a carnivore. It mainly feeds on meat, and its favourite prey is the muskox. This is a hoofed mammal that lives in the Arctic as well. The Arctic wolf might also feed on Arctic hares, reindeer, and Arctic foxes. On some occasions, it may consume birds, beetles, and rodents.
While adult Arctic wolves mainly feed on the muskox, they also hunt its calves and feed them to their babies, called pups. That said, if Arctic hares are found in large numbers, the Arctic wolf is more likely to hunt them for their pups instead of the muskox’s calves.
The Arctic wolf is backed with many survival skills that make it a perfect hunter and keeps it alive. First of all, it can run as fast as 64 km/h to catch prey. Besides, it enjoys a sharp sense of smell that enables it to smell prey even if it is more than 1.6 km away.
In addition, Arctic wolves have razor-sharp claws and a set of 42 teeth, including four canine ones, that assist in catching and taking down prey. Interestingly, when Arctic wolves succeed in catching prey and start to eat it, they do not usually chew meat but they just swallow it in large chunks.
As we mentioned, Arctic wolves also eat small prey like rodents. But those tiny animals can be a little hard for the wolves to catch. However, the wolves’ perfect sense of smell guides them to the entrance of the rodents’ dens, and there they make the attack.
Like the grey wolf, the Arctic wolf is a social animal living in groups with strongly bonded members. Usually, the groups are called packs. Each pack has seven, eight, or up to 10 members. The leaders of the pack are usually a couple, the group’s most dominant male and female. The male is called the alpha, and the female is the beta.
The rest of the pack members have different ranks based on their strengths. Interestingly, highly ranked wolves communicate their power and dominance through body postures. They pose in a way that immediately displays they have a higher power.
Arctic wolves are territorial. Each pack chooses an area of their habitat and decides it is its sacred home. The pack members mark the borders of their territory using their body scents which they leave on the rocks, trees or snow.
Usually, the territory is the area where the pack looks for food. So it can be large or small based on the availability of food. The more scarce it gets, the further the wolves need to wander, and the wider their territory. Some territories may extend to 2,500 square kilometres.
The pack members enjoy strong bonds and are always there for one another. When it is time to eat, the pack, led by the male alpha, goes together to look for prey. The whole pack cooperates to take it down if they are hunting large prey like muskox.
On the other hand, if the prey is as tiny as an Arctic hare, just one Arctic wolf is enough to catch it. But if the hare happens to be super fast and sneaky, like this one, the whole pack will unite to capture it.
Like their cousins, Arctic wolves are able to mate when they are between two and three years old. A male chooses a female he likes and proposes to her, and then they start a family. Arctic wolf couples also stay together for life.
Arctic wolves usually breed in winter, between January and March. A female stays pregnant for 57 days on average and 61 days at the maximum. During pregnancy, the female prepares a den for the young.
Unlike the polar bear that digs burrows in the snow that can be a metre deep and 2.4 m wide, the female Arctic wolf cannot dig dens due to the nature of the soil in its habitat. Most of the time, it is too frozen to dig in. If it is not, the female might dig dens in there or take over already dug and abandoned ones.
Yet, most of the time, the female chooses a den in caves or depressions. Such places are often safe, shielded, and away from any possible attacks.
Then, the female gives birth to two or three pups, each weighing about 450 g. The Arctic wolf litter size is smaller than that of the grey wolf—a female grey wolf gives birth to four to six pups at a time.
Pups are helpless at birth. Their eyes are closed, and they cannot hear. They are born with fur all over their bodies though it has a darker, more of a grey colour. The older the pups get, the lighter the fur colour becomes. Pups depend entirely on their mother for food and care.
Ten days after birth, pups open their eyes. At first, the eyes are usually blue, but their colour changes to golden brown or brown with time. By the time they are three weeks old, their ears have fully developed, and they can finally hear well.
At one month old, pups begin eating solid food, meat.
The male does not directly contribute to the upbringing of his pups. Yet, he offers help by caring for the mother and bringing her food.
That said, the other pack members contribute to taking care of the pups. Like some monkey species, the pack members become caregivers and take turns looking after the pups. They feed, play with, groom, and protect them.
Interestingly, younger pack members also take care of the older and weaker members or the sick ones by feeding and protecting them.
When it is time to hunt, all the pack members will go, but one usually stays behind to look after the young.
At two months of age, pups usually leave the den and start to explore the surroundings. At six months old, they can go hunting with the pack as they have finally become able to travel for long distances.
The alpha male and the beta female are the only breeding couple. In other words, only they are allowed to breed and have babies in the group. It is believed things are so because they are concerned about the food availability in relation to the number of pups.
If too many pups are in the pack, parents might not be able to feed them all well. So only the alpha male and beta female can mate. That is why there are more adult wolves than young ones in the pack.
Many animals either hibernate or migrate during winter. Those who hibernate usually prepare for the harsh season by eating a lot and fattening up. Then, they enter their dens and sleep for the entire season.
Interestingly, their bodies lower their metabolism rate to the minimum and use the extra fat they gained during summer to keep them alive until the spring. Bears, bats, and squirrels hibernate during winter.
Other animals, especially birds, migrate. They leave their habitat altogether and move to other warmer places where food is more available. They stay there until the end of the winter and then go back home.
As explained in a previous article, hawks migrate to other places during winter. Hawks, too, consume a lot of food and gain weight to be able to fly long distances. Unlike the common belief, flying is a strenuous and physically consuming activity.
That said, Arctic wolves, well, all species and subspecies of wolves, do not hibernate or migrate. The Arctic wolf is designed to bear low temperatures. No wonder it survives at the north pole.
The Arctic wolf’s super thick fur regulates the body’s internal temperature to keep the wolf warm no matter how low the outer temperature gets. And when it comes to food scarcity, wolves are used to wandering for long, long distances looking for prey. So they have no problem if food is scarce during winter as they will go as far as they might have to to find it. And when they travel that far, they usually return home after eating their catch.
Like dogs, Arctic wolves often express their emotions by wiggling their tails. They can communicate whether they are happy, angry, or afraid through different tails movements.
They can also display other emotions and how robust their rank in the pack is by moving their ears and heads and making eye contact.
Like grey wolves, Arctic wolves will howl in order to
- gather the pack to go hunting.
- communicate their locations to other pack members.
- warn intruders who come closer to their territory.
Vocalisations are almost the Arctic wolf’s most important communicative asset. Maybe that is why it is powerful. A wolf’s howl can be heard at a distance of 5 km.
Contact with humans
In our previous article, we explored the relationship between humans and wolves. Humans usually perceive wolves as evil creatures, which is how they portray them in literature. And because wolves sometimes attacked livestock, humans started killing them.
This aggression from humans has developed fear in the wolves that grew from one generation to another. Nowadays, wolves experience stress and fear only when they see humans.
However, it is the complete opposite with Arctic wolves. Researchers who have explored the north pole and come across Arctic wolves report that they, the wolves, are not afraid of people. They attribute that to the wolves not seeing or interacting with humans too much.
As a result, there is no reason for Arctic wolves to fear humans. Instead, like cats, they approach them curiously but still with caution.
And here we come to the end of today’s journey, the one in which we explored the Arctic wolf.
The Arctic wolf is a subspecies of the famous grey wolf, yet, it is smaller and differently coloured. Living in the Arctic regions of Canada and Greenland, the Arctic wolf is as white as snow which they use to camouflage into the environment to trick prey or avoid attacks.
In this article, we discussed the Arctic wolves’ feeding and breeding habits. We learned that it is a highly social creature that usually lives in packs of eight to 10 members.
Couples stay together for life, and only they can breed in the pack. All the pack members cooperate in hunting and taking down prey, educating the young, looking after the old, and defending their territory.
Ultimately, we learned that the Arctic wolf is not threatened thanks to its habitat being far from human reach. So they are not in danger.
Despite everything we have learned, there is still too much that we do not know about the Arctic wolf. Thanks to its far and freezing habitat, studying it as closely and consistently as other animals that live in more favourable conditions is pretty hard.
We hope you enjoyed today’s journey in the snowy world of the Arctic wolf. Tell us in the comments what you liked the most about the Arctic wolf and how you perceive wolves in general.
If you enjoyed learning about this facinating animal why not check out more fantastic facts about other animals: Koalas, Land Animals, Sharks, Raccoons, Moon and Sun Bears, Rats, Chickens, Cats, Pandas, Monkeys and Whales.
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