Gray wolves breed this month, and their pack structure always is an interesting look at family dynamics.
The pack has a dominant adult pair with its not-quite adult and juvenile offspring, although the pack may include other subordinate adults. In order to live together, young wolves must learn to respect authority, and older individuals must show restraint. Food must be shared. The young of the dominant pair must be protected and cared for by the entire pack.
Only the dominant pair breeds, which prevents a higher density of wolves. The social organization of wolves tends to prevent overkill of its prey resource, but also insures that areas of suitable habitat will be occupied.
A wolf pack numbers anywhere from four to a dozen animals.
The population of gray wolves, also known as timber wolves, is about 13,000 in the United States, with the majority living in Alaska. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates that there are 2,650 wolves in the state.
I have seen wolves and their signs in northeastern Minnesota, where nearly all live. About 900 wolves live in Wisconsin and 650 in Michigan. Wolves eat deer, moose, beavers and small animals.
Males average 88 pounds and females 82. They stand about 30 inches and have bushy tails. The winter fur of a wolf is long and mostly mottled gray, black and white. All-white and brown to black wolves also show up. Up to 38 subspecies of the wolf have been recognized including the domestic dog. Yes, the wolf is the common ancestor of all our modern dog breeds.
Gray wolf attacks on humans are rare, in part because wolves today tend to avoid people.
Wolves mate in February; after a 63-day gestation period, four to seven pups are born in April or May. Pups are reared in an underground den. Both parents are involved in care and feeding. A wolf’s life span is about six to eight years.
Jim Gilbert’s observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota.