Wolf Biology

Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Handling


Wild gray wolves usually are sexually mature at 22 months of age. Breeding usually takes place from early February through March, although it has been reported as early as January and as late as April. Pups are born 60 to 63 days after conception, usually during April or May. Most litters contain 4 to 7 young.

Courtship is an intimate part of social life in the pack. Mating usually occurs only between the dominant (alpha) male and female of the pack. Thus, only 1 litter will be produced by a pack during a breeding season. All pack members aid in rearing the pups.

Dominance is established within days after gray wolf pups are born. As pups mature, they may disperse or maintain close social contact with parents and other relatives and remain members of the pack.

Little is known about reproduction in red wolves, but it appears to be similar to that of gray wolves. Red wolves may breed from late December to early March. Usually 6 to 8 pups are produced


Gray wolves are highly social, often living in packs of two to eight or more individuals. A pack consists of an adult breeding pair, young of the year, and offspring one or more years old from previous litters that remain with the pack. The pack structure of gray wolves increases the efficiency of wolves in killing large prey. Red wolves may be less social than gray wolves, although red wolves appear to maintain a group social structure throughout the year.

Each wolf pack has a home range or territory that it defends against intruding wolves. Packs maintain their territories by scent marking and howling. On the tundra, packs of gray wolves may have home ranges approaching 1,200 square miles (3,108 km2 ). In forested areas, ranges are much smaller, encompassing 40 to 120 square miles (104 to 311 km2 ). Some wolves leave their pack and territory and become lone wolves, drifting around until they find a mate and a vacant area in which to start their own pack, or wandering over large areas without settling. Extreme movements, of 180 to 551 miles (290 to 886 km), have been reported. These movements were probably of dispersing wolves. The home ranges of red wolves are generally smaller than those of gray wolves. Red wolf home ranges averaged 27.3 square miles (71 km2 ) in southern Texas (Shaw 1975).


Gray wolves occupy boreal forests and forest/agricultural edge communities in Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and northern Michigan. In northwest Montana, northern Idaho, and northern Washington, wolves inhabit forested areas. In Canada and Alaska, wolves inhabit forested regions and alpine and arctic tundra. In Mexico, gray wolves are limited to remote forested areas in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains.

The last areas inhabited by red wolves were coastal prairie and coastal marshes of southeastern Texas and possibly southwestern Louisiana. These habitats differ markedly from the diverse forested habitats found over most of the historic range of red wolves. Red wolves were introduced as an experimental population to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina, with wetlands and swamp forest.

Food Habits

Mech (1970) reported that gray wolves prey mainly on large animals including white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, caribou, elk, Dall sheep, bighorn sheep, and beaver. Small mammals and carrion make up the balance of their diet. During the 1800s, gray wolves on the Great Plains preyed mostly on bison. As bison were eliminated and livestock husbandry established, wolves commonly killed livestock. Red wolves in southern Texas fed primarily on small animals such as nutria, rabbits, muskrats, and cotton rats (Shaw 1975). Carrion, wild hogs, calves, and other small domestic animals were also common food items. A red wolf can consume from 2 to 5 pounds of food per day.