Wolves: Amazing Facts for Kids about the Real Night Howlers

Wolves are quite unlike many other predators in terms of their body structure, behaviour, and long-lasting existence. Interestingly, wolves have also been kept as pets.  On some occasions, they were used as working animals despite their predatory nature. So what is it about wolves that make them so special?

Well, let’s find out.

Wolves

An interesting YouTube video by BBC Earth with over 24 million views shows a hunting mission of a hare by a wolf, well a four-member pack of wolves. The wolves are very fast. Their excellent hunting skills should normally make it easy for them to catch the prey. But the hare is faster thanks to its small size. It is also sneakier. Whenever he feels the wolves are about to catch him, he changes direction swiftly. This delays the wolves a little bit and gives him more time to escape.

But eventually, the wolves lay hold of the hare.

By comparing the DNA of multiple similar predators, scientists found out that all the dogs that had ever existed and will continue to exist descended from an ancient wolf population. That population is now extinct. But it used to live on Earth around one million years ago.

At some point in Earth‘s history, humans started domesticating some of those wolves. Thousands of years of evolution have turned them into the dogs we now keep as pets. The rest of the wolves that were left in the wild evolved as wolves.

Scientists classify wolves into three species: the grey wolf, the eastern wolf, and the red wolf. In addition to this, there are around 40 subspecies of wolves. Those might look similar but do possess some key differences which set them apart, each in a subspecies.

Unlike kangaroos which are only found in Australia and New Guinea, wolves are pretty much found in North America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. As of 2018, the worldwide population of wolves was estimated to be 250,000 compared to 300,000 in 2003.

In our minds, wolves are associated with aggressive, dangerous animals. They are ruthless killers and would attack humans once they see them. That is not quite true. Wolves rarely attack humans. In fact, wolves are afraid of humans.

Such fear developed through traumatic experiences wolves had with humans. In the past, hunters and shepherds had deliberately persecuted wolves so as to protect themselves and their livestock.

Such practices scared the wolves and the fear passed from one generation to another. 

This resulted in the wolves experiencing some hormone disruption and getting extremely stressed once they see humans.

Wolves were also forced to move farther away, abandoning two-thirds of their habitat.

Appearance

Despite looking a little similar to dogs, wolves have pretty unique looks and overall body structure. The wolves’ bodies are strong and muscled. They have long legs which allow them to run fast. They also have large heads, long, strong jaws, and large, heavy, and sharp teeth that enable them to crush bones. In addition, their ears are small and triangle-shaped while their tails are long and fluffy.

The entire wolf body is covered with a two-layer fur coat. The outer layer is made of long, coloured hair. The inner layer, known as the undercoat, is made of shorter hair that is more like wool. The ears and limbs are covered with short hair as well.

Such a heavy fur coat highly protects the wolves from the cold during winter. In the north, the snow conceals the wolves; habitat and the temperature drops to as low as −40 °C. With that fur coat, wolves can survive comfortably. 

Fur colour is generally determined by genes. It can be white, brown, black, or grey. Sometimes wolves have yellowish-rusty fur. Grey and black are the most common fur colours for wolves. On the other hand, red-coloured wolves, just like white tigers, are quite rare.

Speaking of body measurements, wolves are relatively big. Adult wolves range from 105 to 160 cm in body length and 80 to 85 cm at shoulder height. Their ears are around 10 cm long and the tails can reach a length of 50 cm. 

Wolves weigh 40 kg on average, with females being somewhat smaller than males. That said, the largest wolf ever found weighed 79.4 kg. Apart from some exceptions in Alaska and central Russia, wolves rarely weigh over 54 kg.

Feeding

Wolves’ habitat is highly diverse. They can live in forests, grasslands, deserts, mountains, and also areas flooded by water.

Wolves feed on wild animals, usually those with hooves such as deers, elks, moose, and bison. Wolves also hunt hares, rabbits, and rodents as well as waterfowl. If there are not many options to choose from, wolves may prey on frogs, lizards, snacks, and large insects too.

Interestingly, wolves do not hunt alone but rather in groups known as packs. When it is time to eat, which happens every few days, members of the same pack gather around and go hunting. This cooperation allows the pack to bring down large prey that can equal the weight of all of them combined.

The wolves’ diet, however, can vary depending on what is available in their habitat. For instance, wolves in coastal areas eat salmon and other fish. Wolves in North America tend to be a little vegetarian, eating blueberries and raspberries as well as grass. In Europe, wolves eat berries, cherries, apples, and melons.

When food is scarce, wolves eat the flesh of dead animals. Sometimes, in extreme weather conditions, wolves may attack weak or injured wolves and may eat their dead bodies.

As we mentioned just a few paragraphs ago, wolves used to prey on livestock on farms. They sensed that such animals were unable to defend themselves since they were kept and taken care of by their owners. That made them easy prey for the wolves.

However, humans sensed the danger. So they dedicated extreme protection to their livestock against wolves. This included shooting the wolves. As a result, the wolves abandoned livestock and developed a fear of humans. If wolves happen to come across humans snowmobiling in their habitat, the wolves are the ones who escape, feeling highly stressed.

Breeding

Unlike many other animals, wolf partners stay together for life.

Wolves are able to mate and start a family at around three years of age. Breeding can happen on an annual basis. Before giving birth, a female wolf usually builds a hidden home for her pups. Pups are the wolf’s babies and their home is called den.

Dens are usually quite far from the areas where pack fights may take place. But they are also as close as 500 m or less to a water source. Females also build dens in a way that makes them exposed to sunlight to provide warmth for the pups. 

Female wolves stay pregnant for 2 to 2.5 months and usually give birth in spring and early summer. Interestingly, the number of pups in one litter—one pregnancy—increases with age. For instance, young females usually give birth to four or five pups. An older female gives birth to seven pups on average and 14 at maximum!

At birth, pups can neither see nor hear. They are also so small, weighing between 300 and 500 g. After a week or so, pups begin to see. After three weeks from birth, they can leave the den. During this period, the mother does not leave the den either. It is the father here who is in charge of feeding his family and bringing food to the den.

Pups usually grow incredibly fast. Once they leave the den, they are able to eat solid food. Within the first four months, they can grow to weigh 15 kg. As the pups grow older, they also get a little bit more aggressive. This develops into young wolves starting fights with one another to determine their social ranks within the pack. The more fights a young wolf wins, the higher their rank becomes.

By the age of three months, young wolves are mature enough to join other pack members on hunts.

Society

Wolves are never solitary. They are highly social animals who usually live in packs. The only occasion on which wolves may be on their own is when they step outside their pack to join another pack or to start their own.

Wolf packs have a very organised social structure, something that proves their high intelligence. Packs are usually wolf families consisting of a wolf couple and their offspring.

On average, wolf packs are made of eight members, a male, a female, and six offspring of two generations. This is in North America and Asia. However, in Europe, packs were found to include around six members only.

Inside the one pack, there seems to be a hierarchy that categorises the members into ranks. Speaking of one-family packs, the father and mother are usually the alphas or the leaders of the group. They are the breeding couple responsible for producing new members. They are also in charge of protecting other pack members. Usually, the male alpha is the strongest member of the pack.

The different generations of offspring may rank as beta, mid-rank, or omega. The beta wolves are the second in line after the alphas. They also get in charge of the group if the alpha is out on a hunt or injured. You can think of them as vice presidents. They rise to power if the alpha is killed or dead. Sometimes, only one wolf can rank as beta.

Then there are the mid-rank wolves. This rank includes the majority of the pack members including pups and older wolves as well; members that need to be cared for and educated.

The lowest rank is the omega wolves. These are the weakest members of the pack. They do not have any authority. They are also as weak as getting bullied by other wolves.

Wolves LearningMole

Sometimes small packs join together to form a larger pack. Some exceptional examples reported some packs having up to 42 members. Packs also join together, though temporarily, when food is abundant.

Since they are family, the bond amongst the pack members is usually strong. When a member dies, for instance, sadness takes its toll on the other members, shown in an increased level of stress. Pack members also work as a team. Such cooperation allows them to bring down large prey.

When pups grow up and mature, they tend to leave the pack and spread far away. Sometimes they travel great distances that may reach 670 km to go away from their birthplace. Most of the time, wolves meet other-sex ones who also walked away from their packs. They join together, mate, and establish their own pack.

Howling 

Many animals communicate with one another using sounds and vocalisations. When it comes to wolves, they howl. Howling is a very distinct sound made by wolves usually to share their locations with other members of their pack. The sound is so strong that it can be heard up to 16 km away in open areas.

Another reason why wolves howl is to warn other packs or strangers not to cross their limits and enter their territory. This is usually aggressive howling full of warnings and threats.

Wolves in human culture

Since ancient times, wolves have been considered evil creatures. When humans developed literature, they often portrayed wolves as characters with cruelty, little to no nobility, and aggression.

A famous example of this literary influence is the 17th century story Little Red Riding Hood. In other tales, wolves were portrayed as villains, hunters, and goat-eating predators. This manifested the wolves’ bad reputation in the public mind even more.

As a result, humans themselves developed hostility and hatred towards wolves. And despite lions, tigers, and cheetahs also being predators, wolves were labelled as hateful and wicked. 

Conclusion

Despite being that badly portrayed, wolves are just predators on top of the food chain. They are a part of the inevitable cycle of life, whether humans accept that or not.

In comparison with other predatory animals, wolves are uniquely distinct. In this article, we have demonstrated some interesting facts about wolves, starting from their appearance, body structure, and their exceptional protective fur to their highly organised social structure known as packs.

Packs are centred on the family being the most important thing. Pack members have strong relationships that help them care for and protect one another. This also appears in cooperation during the organised hunts wolves usually go on.

So how did you find today’s lesson about wolves? We hope it helped change any incorrect impressions you previously had about wolves. Tell us in the comments which part you found the most interesting.

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