The planet Earth is home to a significant variety of animals, some of which really speak to us. As a lover of dogs, whose four Cardigan Welsh Corgis are a big part of our lives, there is one particular animal species that really stands out among these: Canis Lupus.
The wolf stands out to me among animals, and has played a role in my life, since my early years as a cub scout, where our little pack was led by Akela, the den mother from Jungle Book. In all that I learned about wolves, they fascinated me in their social structure and their ability to adapt to their environment in amazing ways.
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to learn more about these magnificent animals up close and even go on a walk through the woods with Denahee. This walk taught me a lot about interacting with Denahee, as she sought out to establish a relationship and determine how we should interact. Her sense of my reaction to her, led to her testing our boundaries by getting closer and closer, until she walked up to me and leaned into my leg, showing her acceptance of me.
This level of trust allowed me to take the image here, as I am at eye level with her about 4-5 feet from my lens. One thing that stands out for me about this image, is the photographer in the background, to whom Denahee is paying attention with one ear.
She was a wonderful ambassador for her entire species, whose spirit and connection I will always carry with me.
Anatomy and dimensions
The gray wolf is the largest extant member of the Canidae, excepting certain large breeds of domestic dog. Gray wolf weight and size can vary greatly worldwide, tending to increase proportionally with latitude as predicted by Bergmann’s Rule, with the large wolves of Alaska and Canada sometimes weighing 3–6 times more than their Middle Eastern and South Asian cousins. On average, adult wolves measure 105–160 cm (41–63 in) in length and 80–85 cm (32–34 in) in shoulder height. The tail measures 29–50 cm (11–20 in) in length. The ears are 90–110 millimetres (3.5–4.3 in) in height, and the hind feet are 220–250 millimetres (8.7–9.8 in). The mean body mass of the extant gray wolf is 40 kg (88 lb), with the smallest specimen recorded at 12 kg (26 lb) and the largest at 80 kg (176 lb). Gray wolf weight varies geographically; on average, European wolves may weigh 38.5 kilograms (85 lb), North American wolves 36 kilograms (79 lb) and Indian and Arabian wolves 25 kilograms (55 lb). Females in any given wolf population typically weigh 5–10 lbs less than males. Wolves weighing over 54 kg (120 lbs) are uncommon, though exceptionally large individuals have been recorded in Alaska, Canada, and the forests of western Russia. The heaviest recorded gray wolf in North America was killed on 70 Mile River in east-central Alaska on July 12, 1939 and weighed 79.4 kilograms (175 lb).
Compared to its closest wild cousins (the coyote and golden jackal), the gray wolf is larger and heavier, with a broader snout, shorter ears, a shorter torso and longer tail. It is a slender, powerfully built animal with a large, deeply descending ribcage, a sloping back and a heavily muscled neck. The wolf’s legs are moderately longer than those of other canids, which enables the animal to move swiftly, and allows it to overcome the deep snow that covers most of its geographical range. The ears are relatively small and triangular. Females tend to have narrower muzzles and foreheads, thinner necks, slightly shorter legs and less massive shoulders than males.
The gray wolf usually carries its head at the same level as the back, raising it only when alert. It usually travels at a loping pace, placing its paws one directly in front of the other. This gait can be maintained for hours at a rate of 8–9 km/h, and allows the wolf to cover great distances. On bare paths, a wolf can quickly achieve speeds of 50–60 km/h. The gray wolf has a running gait of 55 to 70 km/h, can leap 5 metres horizontally in a single bound, and can maintain rapid pursuit for at least 20 minutes.
Social and territorial behaviors
The gray wolf is a social animal, whose basic social unit consists of a mated pair, accompanied by the pair’s adult offspring. The average pack consists of a family of 5–11 animals (1–2 adults, 3–6 juveniles and 1–3 yearlings), or sometimes two or three such families, with exceptionally large packs consisting of 42 wolves being known. In ideal conditions, the mated pair produces pups every year, with such offspring typically staying in the pack for 10–54 months before dispersing. Triggers for dispersal include the onset of sexual maturity and competition within the pack for food. The distance travelled by dispersing wolves varies widely; some stay in the vicinity of the parental group, while other individuals may travel great distances of 390 km, 206 km, and 670 km from their natal packs. A new pack is usually founded by an unrelated dispersing male and female, travelling together in search of an area devoid of other hostile packs. Wolf packs rarely adopt other wolves into their fold, and typically kill them. In the rare cases where other wolves are adopted, the adoptee is almost invariably an immature animal (1–3 years of age) unlikely to compete for breeding rights with the mated pair. In some cases, a lone wolf is adopted into a pack to replace a deceased breeder. During times of ungulate abundance (migration, calving etc.), different wolf packs may temporarily join forces.
Wolves are highly territorial animals, and generally establish territories far larger than they require to survive in order to assure a steady supply of prey. Territory size depends largely on the amount of prey available and the age of the pack’s pups, tending to increase in size in areas with low prey populations or when the pups reach the age of 6 months, thus having the same nutritional needs as adults. Wolf packs travel constantly in search of prey, covering roughly 9% of their territory per day (average 25 km/d or 15 mi/d). The core of their territory is on average 35 km2 (14 sq mi), in which they spend 50% of their time. Prey density tends to be much higher in the territory’s surrounding areas, though wolves tend to avoid hunting in the fringes of their range unless desperate, because of the possibility of fatal encounters with neighboring packs. The smallest territory on record was held by a pack of six wolves in northeastern Minnesota, which occupied an estimated 33 km2 (13 sq mi), while the largest was held by an Alaskan pack of ten wolves encompassing a 6,272 km2 (2,422 sq mi) area. Wolf packs are typically settled, and usually only leave their accustomed ranges during severe food shortages.
Wolves defend their territories from other packs through a combination of scent marking, direct attacks and howling. Scent marking is used for territorial advertisement, and involves urination, defecation and ground scratching. Scent marks are generally left every 240 metres throughout the territory on regular travelways and junctions. Such markers can last for 2–3 weeks, and are typically placed near rocks, boulders, trees or the skeletons of large animals. Territorial fights are among the principal causes of wolf mortality, with one study concluding that 14–65% of wolf deaths in Minnesota and the Denali National Park and Preserve were due to predation by other wolves.
This image was captured with a Canon EOS 1D MkII with an EF 24-105mm f/4L lens attached. Exposure settings were at 1/320 second at f/6.3 with 400 ISO.