Distribution and Habitat
Wolves were common in North America in forests, tundra and prairies, but are now restricted to wilder northern regions and NATIONAL PARKS. Their only enemies, humans, hunt them for sport and to protect livestock, and have uprooted them from the settled parts of North America, where COYOTES or feral dogs replace them.
Reproduction and Development
Wolves live in packs (usually 3 - 7) with a dominant male and his breeding bitch. Breeding starts at about 2 - 3 years. Litters of about 7 (4 - 13) pups are born after 63 days gestation. The bitch whelps (gives birth) in a den, either a burrow or natural shelter. The pack protects and brings food to the nursing mother.
Evolution and Phylogeny
The genus Canis, of which wolves, coyotes, dogs and foxes are the most familiar forms, derives from the small, fox-sized Miocene (23.7-4.9 million years ago), North American canid Cynodesmus. By Early Pleistocene times (about 1.65 million years ago), Canis was widespread in North America, Asia and Europe.
During the Late Pleistocene, at least 12 000 years ago, wolves were tamed to become dogs. DOGS differ structurally from wolves in having shorter faces, smaller and more crowded cheek teeth, and higher foreheads.
Early dogs were smaller than most wolves, and subsequent selective breeding has produced dogs of many sizes and conformations. Dogs also possess a unique feature in their lower jaw, a posteriorly recurved coronoid, which all wolves lack, except for the Chinese C. l. chanco, known from Mongolia and China. This form of the coronoid is characteristic of omnivorous CARNIVORES (bears, raccoons, etc) and has been interpreted to suggest that the smaller omnivorous ancestor to C. l. chanco was preadapted to living with humans, as it could share food.
Tamed wolves, or ones that associated with humans, are first recorded with Late Palaeolithic mammoth hunters at Mezin, Ukraine, during the last ICE AGE. The oldest dogs are reported from the Bonn-Oberkasse site, Germany (dated at 14 000 BP) and Mallaha site, Israel (about 11 500 BP). The oldest dated North American records are from the Agate Basin, Wyoming (10 500 BP) and Koster site, Illinois, (8100 BP). A jaw recovered from the Old Crow Basin may be of Late Pleistocene age and thus as old as or older than the other New World records.
Dogs became common about 2900 BC at Pan p'o, China, and from about 100 AD onwards in North America. No evidence exists for deriving dogs from North American wolves, although husky bitches have been bred with wolves (C. l. lycaon) to maintain larger size, stamina and hardiness.
Author C.S. CHURCHER
Marco Musiani, Luigi Boitani, Paul C. Paquet, eds, The World of Wolves: New Perspectives on Ecology, Behaviour, and Management (2010); Rebecca L. Grambo, Wolf: Legend, Enemy, Icon (2005); Erin McCloskey, Wolves in Canada (2011).
Links to Other Sites
Natural History Notebooks
View illustrated descriptions of a huge variety of Canadian animal species, prehistoric creatures, and endangered/extinct animals. A Canadian Museum of Nature website.
Canadian Biodiversity Website
A great information source for all budding biologists. Learn about biodiversity theory, natural history, and conservation issues. From McGill’s Redpath Museum.
Winter habits of northern wolves revealed
A news story about a scientific study of the behaviour of Arctic wolves during the winter season. From thestar.com.
Wolves of the High Arctic
Follow the travels of a pack of wolves on Ellesmere Island. Features colourful maps and photos of wolves. From the blog site "Wolves of the High Arctic – Research on the Arctic Wolves of Ellesmere Island."
View an online collection of Paul Nicklen's outstanding nature photographs. Click on each image to access photos of seals, polar bears, whales, walruses, Arctic landscapes, and much more. Note: requires Flash Player.
Aurora Research Institute
Check the website for the Aurora Research Institute for news about their latest research projects.
View a selection of films about canoeing and outdoor recreational adventures created by acclaimed filmmaker Bill Mason from the National Film Board website.