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Gray Wolf – best known animal from prehistoric times

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Description
    The gray wolf or Canis lupus is one of the most widely known and dispersed mammals in the world. Linked to the existent timber wolves of today, the gray wolf ventured in wooded regions since the Pleistocene period and hunted in packs. All dogs that we know today are descended actually from the wolf.

Prehistoric animal,dog ancestor,Canis lupus,Pleistocene,Gray wolves

The domestication of these ancient wolves led to the evolution of today’s domestic dog or Canis lupus familiaris. In the Early Pleistocene area, approximately 1.5 million years ago, canidae species were widely distributed in the northern hemisphere, starting from North America all the way to Eurasia. Within the Late Pleistocene era, approximately 10,000 years ago, humans began domesticating the wild wolves. After they were domesticated, wolves went through structural alterations, especially in their skulls. Ultimately, the wolves that were domesticated got classified as another species, the domestic dog. Throughout the centuries, selective breeding created various types of dogs that differ between each other through size, shape and coloration. The gray wolf is also known by the name of timber wolf, true wolf or western wolf and it’s an indigenous canine to the wilderness and regions of North America, North Africa and Eurasia. 

Prehistoric animal,dog ancestor,Canis lupus,Pleistocene,Gray wolves


    The gray wolf is the largest amongst roughly 41 wild species of canids and they differ in size mainly depending on geographic localization, with southern population usually smaller in comparison to northern ones. The gray wolf’s length measured from the nose to the tail is between 1000 and 1300 mm when it comes to males, and between 870 and 1170 mm in females. This wolf’s tail is long from 350 to 520 mm. Males typically have approximately from 20 to 80 kg weight and an average male has 55 kg, while females can have a weight from 23 to 55 kg and an average weight of 45 kg. The gray wolf’s is mainly tall from 60 to 90 cm when it’s measured from base of paws to shoulder. Furthermore, the gray wolf’s fur coat varies in color based on geographical locality, with pure white wolves in Arctic populations and also combinations of white with gray, cinnamon, brown, and almost consistent black in a few color phases. Gray wolves from North America possess 3 precise color phases, more exactly the normal which is defined by differing combinations of white tinted with black, gray, cinnamon, and brown placed on the upper surfaces of the body. Most commonly, the back is more deeply black, and the snout, ears, and limbs are colored in cinnamon.

Prehistoric animal,dog ancestor,Canis lupus,Pleistocene,Gray wolves

      The under body areas are whitish colored and the tail is prominently black throughout the tail gland, and lighter underneath the tip, which is almost pure black. The black wolves of North America have upper parts that vary from brown to black, with patches of white, whereas their under parts are lighter in color, and frequently they have a pure white medial dapple on their pectoral. The first pelage of young wolves is preceded by the third color phase, when their upper parts are colored in dreary gray, covered with brownish-black, and the under parts are lighter also, and the ears differ from black to caramel brown, varying from one subspecies to another. Basically, gray wolves possess a dense undercoat layer, which offers them a great insulation against cold weather. Also, they can be separated from other species of wolves, such as the red wolves or Canis rufus, because they are larger in size, they have a wider snout, and smaller ears. From coyotes or Canis latrans, they can be distinguished because they are from 50 to 100% larger than them and they possess a wider snout, and bigger feet. 

Prehistoric animal,dog ancestor,Canis lupus,Pleistocene,Gray wolves


    Moreover, gray wolves are very social animals that live in packs. Every pack is composed of 2 to 36 individuals, based on habitat and plentitude of prey. The majority of packs consist in 5 to 9 wolves. Packs are mainly made up of an alpha pair and their young, including the old ones. Immigrant wolves with no relation may enter the packs as members. In every pack there exists a powerful authority hierarchy. In general, the pack leader is the alpha male, who is dominant over all other members, and the second dominant pack member is the alpha female, who only listens to the alpha male, being just its subordinate. In case the alpha male gets wounded and isn’t able anymore to preserve its dominance, the beta male takes over its position in the hierarchy. Usually, the alpha males abandon the pack if this happens, but this doesn’t occur always. Rank is important in every pack because the hierarchy decides which wolves can mate and which ones are allowed to eat first. Rank is established by postural cues along and facial expressions, for instance like stooping, chin touching, and rolling over to reveal the stomach. Every year, these wolf packs go through a stationary and nomadic phase. Stationary phases happen in the spring and summer, when the young wolves are raised, and the nomadic ones happen in the fall and winter. Gray wolves are active typically during the night and travel long distances. A daily covered distance can reach 200 km and the common pace is 8 km/hr. Wolves have the ability to run at speeds between 55 and 70 km/hr.



Habitat
    These particular wolves represent one of the most widely spread land animals. They inhabit a large variety of environments, such as tundra, forest, arid landscapes and prairies. Gray wolves choose their habitat depending on its abundance of prey, snow conditions, lack or low livestock densities, paths densities, human occurrence and topography.



Diet
    Gray wolves are carnivore animals. They mainly go after preys on their own in packs, take the prey of other predators, or collect dead bodies. Basically, the prey’s location is determined by chance or scent. The gray wolf’s diet differs geographically and is based on prey availability. They mainly hunt in packs to get larger preys like bison, moose, elk, reindeer, and musk oxen. After these big ungulates are caught, the gray wolves attack their croup, flank, and shoulder parts. Wolves dominate prey population by attacking the old, immature, and especially weak animals. A gray wolf has the ability to eat up to 9 kg of meat during a single meal. In general, wolves use the full carcass along with some hair and bones. Lone wolves usually hunt smaller preys like beavers, rabbits and other similar mammals, small in size, and they represent a significant portion of their diet. Furthermore, wolves can eat as well livestock and garbage when it’s accessible.



Breeding
    Within a gray wolf pack, the dominant pair represents the only wolves that mate. However, this pair is monogamous; more exactly if the alpha female or male dies a new individual will replace one of them as the mate.
    Breeding happens from January to April, while northern wolves mate later in the season in comparison to southern populations. Female wolves pick their mates and they frequently make a lifelong pair connection. Gray wolf pairs spend a considerable amount of time together. One time a year, the female wolf comes into estrus and this usually extends from 5 to 14 days, and breeding happens during this period. After mating happens, the female wolf digs a lair in which to raise her pups.

Grey_Wolf_puppies

     Young wolves are born in the lair and will stay there for many weeks after their birth. Dens are usually situated under cliffs, under fallen trees, and also in caves. The young wolves stay in the den till they reach the age between 8 and 10 weeks, and their mother remain with them nearly entirely for the first 3 weeks. All individuals of the pack take care of these pups; before the young reach the age of 45 days, they are fed regurgitated food by all members. Female pups attain maturity at the age of 2 years, while male pups will not achieve full maturity until they are 3 years old. The majority of gray wolf pups separate from their natal pack when their age is between 1 and 3 years.



Extinction
    The range of this species of gray wolves has decreased drastically to roughly one third due to deliberate human persecution by livestock predation and fear caused by attacks on humans. Today, this species are extinct in a great part of Western Europe, throughout Mexico and also a huge part of the USA. Now, the gray wolf is found predominately in wilderness and remote regions, especially in Canada, Alaska and the north part of USA, Europe, and Asia, from approximately 75°N to 12°N. Wolf population began diminishing since the year 1970, and there has been established recolonization and reintroduction in areas of its early range because of legal protection, modifications in the usage of land and rural human population shifts to towns. The unceasing competition amongst humans for livestock and game species, worries over the peril posed by wolves to humans, and natural environment fragmentation represent a perpetual threat to the gray wolves. In spite of these menaces, due to this species’ relatively wide distributed range and steady population, the gray wolf is considered as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.



Interesting facts
•     Wolves are often cited in human folklore. For instance, in roman mythology, the Wolf-Goddess Lupa discovers Romulus and Remuse, the legendary founders of Rome, when they’re still young and raises them until a shepherd looked after them. On the other hand, in Norse and Japanese mythology, wolves were depicted as almost deities. For example, in Japan, grain farmers venerated wolves at places of worship and gave them food offerings close to their lairs, pleading them to defend their crops from deer and boars. In Norse mythology, however, the wolf Fenrir was portrayed as the son of Loki.
•     The Vikings used to wear wolf skins and also consumed wolf blood in order to acquire the spirit of wolf in battle. They also considered real wolves as battle comrades or hrægifr, which means corpse trolls.
•     Lifespan of gray wolves can be 13 years in their natural habitat, though an average wolf usually lives between 5 and 6 years.
•     The gray wolf is one of the world's best known and well researched animals, with probably more books written about it than any other wildlife species.
•     Wolves possess approximately 200 million scent cells, while humans just have roughly 5 million, that’s why wolves have the ability to smell other animals over 1 mile, as in 1.6 kilometer, away.
•     The earliest identifiable C. lupus remains date back to the Middle Pleistocene, and occur in Beringia.

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Published by Claudia Barbu

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