Facts About The Gray Wolf

Gray Wolf Anatomy

Gray wolves are slim, have a powerful physique with a large, deep-set chest and a sloping back. The belly of a gray wolf is retracted, the neck is muscular. Their limbs are long and robust, with relatively small legs. On each front paw, there are five fingers, on the back – four. Females, as a rule, have a narrow snout and forehead, thin neck, female paws are slightly shorter than those of males, and less massive shoulders. Wolves are powerful for their size; they have enough strength to turn a horse or frozen moose carcasses.

In general, gray wolves are the largest of the animals in the Canidae family, not counting some the larger breeds of domestic dogs.

Gray Wolf Diagram

The length of the adult gray wolf is 105 cm to 160 cm, the vertical height of the animal from the shoulder is 80-85 cm. The weight of the wolf varies in different geographic areas; On average, a European wolf can weigh 38.7 kg, a North American wolf – 36 kg, and an Indian and Arab wolf – 25 kg. Females of the wolf, as a rule, weigh 5-10 kilograms less than the males. Wolves weighing more than 54 kilograms are rare, but extremely large breeds have been sighted in Canada, Alaska and in the former USSR.

How Fast Can Gray Wolves Run?

Gray wolves can run at a speed of 56-64 km/h and can run without stopping for more than 20 minutes, although not necessarily at the same rate. In coldder climates, wolves can reduce blood flow to maintain body heat. The heat of the lower parts of the paws is maintained separately of the rest of the body and kept at a level just above where the paws are in contact with snow and ice. The head of a gray wolf is large and heavy. Ears are relatively small and triangular. As a rule, in physical form, they resemble German shepherds and huskies.

In winter, gray wolves have a very dense and fluffy coat, with a short undercoat and long protective hairs. Most of the undercoat falls out in the spring and grows back in the fall. Winter wool is very resistant to cold; wolves in northern countries can safely be in open areas at -40 °, placing the muzzle between their hind legs and covering it with the tail. Wolf’s hair provides better insulation than the dog’s coat; ice can’t accumulate on it.

Their sense of smell is poorly developed compared to some breeds of hunting dogs. Because of this, they rarely catch hidden hares and birds, although they can easily track down prey on fresh tracks.

The Wolf Pack

When you come to understand how a pack of wolves work internally, the idea that man is the only animal capable of living in a perfectly defined social structure becomes somewhat pretentious. If we get rid of the connotations of “dangerous group” that carries the word “pack”, we can see that, in reality, the pack is a group of individuals united in favor of the protection of each other. Each wolf accepts his individual position in the pack, in the same way that members of a family do.

Structure and leadership in the pack

A pack of wolves usually consists of the following elements: 1) an alpha or dominant pair, 2) a beta pair, which in addition to occupying the second place in importance, will most likely be the substitutes of the alpha pair, 3) middle-range individuals; and 4) lower-range individuals, also called omega. The alpha pair leads the entire group, while the beta pair is in charge of the mid-range wolves. The other adults are responsible for directing the other members of the pack in the middle and lower ranks. Both ends of the pack hierarchy, except in cases of injury by accident or death, tend to remain unchanged; instead,intermediate grades are subject to frequent changes in social equilibrium. While they do not reach the age of their sexual maturity, wolf pups remain outside this complex hierarchical system. The females play the role of subaltern with respect to the males of the same hierarchy.

As it fits a leader, the dominant wolf demonstrates a pose and attitude corresponding to its status – erect body, head and tail raised, erect ears. The alpha animal also demands important privileges – such as the right to devour prey before the other members of the pack. The rest of the wolves, less dominant, will have a submissive attitude towards the alpha animal: lick the leader’s muzzle, shrink their bodies and place their heads, tails and ears lower than the upper limbs. The existence of the omega wolf, on the other hand, is much harder. Their role is to act as a “social mediator”, offering an easy prey in the violent moments of game, and calming other superior individuals in hierarchy in moments of conflict. The omega wolf often plays the role of “black sheep”, being treated by the rest of the pack with little regard. Omega wolves are usually the last ones in order to eat.

The myth of the lone wolf

lone wolft

Conflicts often arise between the different ranks, and it can happen that sometimes a wolf is expelled from the pack and lives according to its own rules, becoming what is usually called “a lone wolf.” However, as the saying goes, “in the union is strength”, although wolves can hunt alone (and sometimes do), hunting is much more successful when carried out as a team, and the pack is directed by a single intelligence with the aim of knocking down its prey. The pack is also essential to give meaning to the existence of animals. As with the family, a pack of wolves are a social unit, and it is the lack of that feeling of belonging to a group and the corresponding social support, which the lone wolf is forced to endure. That is, his lonely life does not have the charm with which we usually imagine it. It is a hard and lonely existence, in constant struggle for survival.

The image of wolves hunting in a pack can evoke feelings of fear and anxiety. However, it is precisely this act of collaboration – a work in conjunction with self-preservation as an objective – the complexity of their social relationships, and the use of body language to transmit the rules of the pack, which makes us stop and reflect on of the magnitude of intelligence and depth of emotions in these animals.

What do Wolves Eat?

  • Wolves mainly feed on ungulates (sometimes 10-15 times larger than themselves). They hunt marmots, hares, badgers, foxes, ferrets, gophers, mice, hamsters, voles and other rodents, as well as insectivores.
  • Wolves can also eat carrion readily, especially during a nutritional deficiency. They often eat waterfowl, lizards, snakes, frogs, toads and rarely large insects.
  • During the harsh winter, packs often attack weak or wounded wolves; they may even eat the bodies of dead members of the pack.

As we said above, wolves eat almost everything. Of course, they have their own preferences, such as large ungulates. Unlike bears or big cats, wolves do not have big claws that can quickly kill a victim. Read more information what do wolves eat.

Wolf Communication


The body language of wolves consists of various expressions of the muzzle, the position of the tail. An aggressive or defensive wolf is characterized by slow and deliberate movements, high posture and raised hair, calm wolves have a neutral stance, smooth hair lowered ears and tail. With the help of howling, wolves gather a flock (as a rule, before and after a hunt), transmit information, find each other during a storm or in unfamiliar territory, and communicate, overcoming long distances.