About Wolves
(extracted from the PC DOS game "Wolf" by Sanctuary Woods)

Body Language:

The wolf's visual signals consist mostly of body language. Just as humans and dogs show their emotions through various facial expressions, so too does the wolf. This is one reason why a wolf's mask emphasizes facial features so greatly. Humans smile when they're happy, and our dogs assume a "happy face" at times. The wolf and dog happy expression includes an open mouth, tongue hanging loosely, and ears forward. The emotions that a wolf expresses through body language are suspicion, threat, anxiety, and submission. Threat behavior is quite different. The threatening animal - dog or wolf - wrinkles its nose, opens its mouth, bares its teeth, pulls its lips forward, and erects its ears. Usually this expression is accompanied by a growl or a snarl. The anxious dog or wolf on the receiving end of the threat puts on a very different face. It keeps its mouth closed and its lips drawn way back, lays back its ears, and whines. One of the most useful expressions of an alpha wolf is the "fixed stare," or glare. Often, all an alpha has to do is stare at a subordinate wolf, and that animal will immediately cringe, turn, and slink away. The glare is an alpha's way of controlling subordinate pack members.

A wolf or dog also uses certain tail and body positions to communicate. For example, a threatening wolf not only snarls and bares its teeth, but also raises its hackles and tail and essentially inflates its size. Conversely, the wolf being threatened pulls its lips back in a defensive "grin", lowers itself, holds its tail between its legs, and may even roll over on its side or back, trying to make itself look smaller.


Wolves' fur is many different colors. Even a wolf that generally appears gray really has a coat of many colors. White, black, gray, and brown hairs are intermingled, with darker fur usually predominating along the center of the back and tail. The wolf's underside, legs, ears, and muzzle are often tawny. Very old wolves tend to be grayer than younger ones.

The wolf has a double coat of fur and actually has three capes. Long guard hairs on top, which can be as long as four inches, work like an umbrella to help shed moisture like a raincoat. Their underfur keeps the wolf warm in the cold months and the wolf sheds the undercoat in the summer. This is particularly useful in locations such as the Mexican desert where the wolf can withstand temperatures from -60 degrees to 115 degrees. That's a difference of 175 degrees! The colors of a wolf's fur can make it hard to see in its natural habitat. The colors of the fur may blend in with background colors in the habitat and cause a wolf to "disappear." Wolves that spend a lot of time in dark forests often have dark fur. In places where the plants are many different colors, the fur of the wolves is often many different colors.

The wolf's mask is made to draw attention to the eyes since eye contact is so important with the wolf. The way the fur falls around the eyes accents the eyes, making them look much larger than they are. The ears are also highlighted to be seen against a dark or light background. The edge of the wolf's ears are usually highlighted for contrast against dark, and the inside of the wolf's ears are dark for contrast against light.

The Coyote:

Coyotes are about one-third to one-half the size of the wolf. They feed mostly on rabbits, hares, rodents, and other small mammals and birds, but they sometimes kill deer and other large animals, usually young or weakened individuals. Coyotes live mainly in North America, including most of the range of the wolf.


A group of baby wolves born at the same time is called a litter. There are five to fourteen cubs in a litter, but six is the average. Wolf babies are blind and deaf at birth, with fine wooly hair and floppy ears. They weigh about one pound. The babies open their eyes about two weeks after birth and they can hear after about three weeks. The eyes are blue at first but change to yellow later on. The cubs can walk by two weeks of age. A week later, they come out of the den for the first time and play at the entrance. Wolf parents are among the best animal parents in the world, and the cubs get a lot of loving care from their parents, including feeding, cleaning and protection. The mother wolf stays close to the pups. She usually doesn't have to leave the babies to look for food because the father and other family members bring the food to her. In fact, sometimes wolves will carry food more than twenty miles back to the den for their pups.

Wild Dogs:

There are about 35 different species of wild dogs. Besides the wolf, coyote and fox are the bush dog, fennec, jackal, dhole, raccoon dog, African wild dog, and dingo to name a few. Wild dogs have adapted to more different places in the world than any other group of predators. For example, wild dogs that live in grasslands may be tall so they can see over tall grass. A few wild dogs live where there is a lot of brush, so they have short legs for running through it. Some living in forests are good tree climbers, and those that live along rivers are good swimmers. No matter where they live, the main reason wild dogs can survive in so many places is that they eat almost anything. If they can't find one kind of prey, they will hunt something else. And when meat is scarce, they eat plants and insects.

The very first wild dogs lived in North America. These dogs were excellent hunters and adapted quickly to new climates and surroundings. Over thousands of years, they spread to every continent except Antarctica. Their bodies gradually developed in different ways to survive in different parts of the world. These changes led to the different species of wild dogs that exist today.


Wolf packs have a special way to keep members of the family from fighting each other. It's called a dominance order. Every member of the pack has a place, or rank, within this order. When a wolf with a higher rank has a disagreement with a wolf of a lower rank, the lower-ranking wolf usually gives up without fighting. This is very important, because wolves are powerful animals with sharp teeth. If they didn't have a way of preventing fights, they could hurt each other badly.

Very early in life, young wolves may start to establish a dominance order among themselves. When they are only about 30 days old, the pups in a litter may start fighting with each other. They may fight every day for a number of days. In the end, one of the pups will roll over on its back to show that it gives up, and the other raises its tail to show dominance.


The wolf, whose scientific name is Canis lupus, evolved from a more generalized carnivore that roamed the earth about 100 to 120 million years ago. The hoofed mammals, or ungulates, probably all evolved from a common ancestor that lived a few hundred million years ago. Both types of animals became adapted to swift long-distance running on open plains, both developed relatively high intelligence, and both descended from forest-dwelling ancestors. Probably they evolved in long association with one another, since the wolf and its ancestors gradually developed better and better adaptations for killing and eating hoofed animals; and at the same time, the hoofed animals became better adapted to defending themselves against wolves.

The primitive group of meat eaters, known as creodonts, originated in the northern hemispere, and it is thought that the dog family itself developed in North America and gradually dispersed from there.

Approximately fifty-five million years ago, a mammal with partly specialized "flesh teeth," or carnassials, came to be. During the next ten million years a large number and variety of these creatures flourished, and one of them, known as Miacis, was similar to members of the dog family of today. Miacis is a member of the family Miacidae, from which all the present families of meat-eaters eventually arose: the dogs, cats, bears, weasels, raccoons, civets, and hyenas. Thirty to forty million years ago, Miacis gave rise to types of mammals that can be traced through two series of fossils to the dog and bear families. The predecessor to the dog family, Cynodictis, had the same number of teeth as the wolf. It was much smaller than a wolf, however, and its body was long and flexible like that of a weasel; its legs were of moderate length. In the next fifteen million years, the raccoon family branched from this group and developed separately.

Later, fifteen to thirty million years ago, a strong trend occurred toward the characteristics of present-day wolves, from Cynodictis through the animals Cynodesmus and Tomarctus. The creature's legs became longer, the feet longer and more compact, the inner digit became vestigial on the hind foot and much reduced on the fore foot, the tail became shorter, and the entire proportions began approaching those of the wolves and the foxes.

From Tomarctus, both the wolf and the fox arose and began developing separately about fifteen million years ago. Although the fox did not change much in size, the wolf grew larger and larger. A closely related type, the dire wolf (Canis dirus), also branched off. Some of them were much larger than present-day wolves, but they are now extinct. By one or two million years ago, the wolf was much as it is today.

Wild dogs evolved from wolves as they began to depend on humans, probably thousands of years ago, when people lived as wandering hunters. Wolves may have followed the roaming bands of hunters so they could eat scraps of food that people left behind. They slowly overcame their fear of humans and drew closer to their camps. Gradually, people realized that wild dogs could help them. With their superb senses, wolves could lead them to prey and warn them whenever danger was near. So people began to take young wolf pups from the wild and raise them. Before long, there were enough pet wolves to provide a growing number of new puppies.


Wolves have relatively poor frontal vision. They may not be able to recognize members of their own pack beyond 100 to 150 feet. This is possibly one reason why the wolf mask accents their facial features and ears so greatly.

Their myopia evidently stems from the absence of the fovea centralis, the tiny pit at the back, center of the retina which, in humans, primates and some other animals provides the point of sharpest vision.

Just how clearly a wolf sees when looking directly at an object is, of course, impossible to know, but it seems evident that beyond a short distance their vision must be somewhat blurred, rather like that of a photograph taken with a wide- open lens at a slow shutter speed, as opposed to an exposure taken with the smallest lens aperture at a fast speed.

Nevertheless, wolves can see shapes and, especially, movement over long distances, and their peripheral vision is extremely accurate. They are able to detect even the slightest movements of very small animals, such as a mosquito, at a distance of more than ten feet and the movement of larger animals at considerable distances.

There is some controversy as to whether wolves see in color or black and white. Regardless, it is unlikely that they see the various hues of the spectrum as humans see them, because the physical makeup of the eye is different. Nighttime vision for wolves is many times better than human vision in the day or night. Wolves can actually see much better and even much more clearly at night.


The fox is much smaller than the wolf or coyote, usually weighing about twelve pounds. They feed on small birds, rodents, rabbits, hares, berries, carrion, and a variety of other foods. Various similar species inhabit most of the present range of the wolf.


Wolves have incredibly good hearing and can hear sounds up to six miles away, including some high-pitched sounds that even a human can't hear, in the range where bats and porpoises produce sound. Even when it sleeps, a wolf's ears stand straight up so it can catch sounds made by other animals at all times. This helps the wolf catch prey, and lets it know when danger is near. Their large, pointed ears act like big scoops to catch lots of sound. Unlike humans, wolves can easily tell what direction sound is coming from by turning their ears from side to side. The direction the ears are pointing when the sound is loudest tells the wolf which direction the sound is coming from, which can help them locate rodents under a snowpack.


When a wolf pack hunts, the members of the pack work together as a team. The pack combines the strength of many wolves, and this makes it possible for them to hunt some very large animals. In fact, wolf packs seem to prefer hunting large animals.

In order to capture their prey, wolves often surround the prey, often hiding behind bushes, and then go in for the kill.

In another common hunting technique, the wolves chase the prey in single file with the front wolf occasionally moving to the back, to let the "next in line" lead the way. This single file technique is particularly helpful in the snow when the first wolf acts as a "snowplow" leaving footprints that each wolf will follow in.

Wolves are not always successful at catching the prey they go after. In fact, many more animals escape than are caught. If the prey shows that it can put up a good fight, the wolves will often let it go. After a kill, wolves eat a lot of the meat, as much as 20 pounds. If any meat is left, the wolves may come back later to eat it.

Killing Wolves:

Wolves are killed today by illegal hunting, killing to protect livestock, poisoning, traps and shooting from helicopters and planes. A wolf hunter or trapper can earn more than $150 by selling the fur of just one wolf. In fact, out of all the elements of nature, only man has been able to threaten to wipe the wolf off the face of the earth with the use of devices such as traps, pits, corrals, deadfalls, the ice box trap, the edge trap, piercers, fishhooks, snares, den hunting, professional hunting, bounty hunting, poisoning and airplane and helicopter hunting.

Legs and Feet:

There are five toes on a wolf's front paws and only four on the rear paws. Their paws can be up to 5 1/4" long. Thick, rugged, and blocky when the toes are together, the foot can also sprawl, allowing the toes to grasp rocks, logs, and other uneven or steep surfaces. When walking, the wolf holds its foot in the blocky fashion, reducing area and friction.

However, during tricky maneuvering, the toes can spread far apart, much increasing the surface and friction. In order to walk better in the snow, one wolf will make the initial trail and all other wolves will follow by stepping in the original footprints. Wolves run on their toes. This lengthens their legs and makes it possible for them to run faster - up to 40 miles per hour, in fact.

Man Eater?

Contrary to popular belief, wolves are not dangerous to people. The Superior National Forest of Minnesota has always been home for two hundred to four hundred wolves. Some nineteen million visitor-days have been logged in there, yet not a single soul has been a victim of wolf predation. There are several cases of wolves in other areas of North America possibly attacking people. One involved a scientist trying to break up a fight between a wolf and his sled dogs; the man ended up with a torn arm when he tried to grab the wolf by the back of the neck. In Minnesota, a wolf apparently mistook a deer-scent-soaked hunter for a deer and knocked him over. When the wolf realized its mistake, it fled. There have been a few similar events.

If a single wolf, or a pack, wanted to kill someone, it could probably do so without trouble. When killing prey, wolves are swift and silent. Wolves, though, are so afraid of man that in one incident they wouldn't even cross over snowshoe tracks.

Marking Territory:

Each family pack has a hunting territory of its own, and the pack wanders around the territory looking for prey.

They sometimes travel 40 to 60 miles a day looking for food. But most of the time they don't have to go that far before they find something. By having territories, wolves also spend less time fighting other packs, which gives them more time to raise young and hunt for food. Territory sizes range from 50 to 150 square miles or more. Wolves leave fresh scent posts, or messages, marking the boundaries of its territories, by urinating.


As breeding season approaches, members of the alpha pair become increasingly friendly to each other. They sleep closer and closer together, and the male tends to stay close to the female as they travel. Both alphas threaten competitors from within the pack with stares, growls, and grimaces. Meanwhile, male and female groom each other, place forepaws over the other's shoulders, and touch each other more and more.

Often, when about to copulate, individual mated pairs move out of the main pack for a few days. This is probably to avoid interference from other pack members. Sometimes pack associates try to get in on the mating, or they harass the mated pair during copulation.

Wolves copulate like dogs, the male mounting the female from behind.

With the tense period of mating over, the pack animals' former affability and friendliness toward one another resumes. Now their attentions turn back to the task of selecting and preparing a den site for the pregnant alpha female.

Female wolves have complex courtship, pair-bonding, and reproductive behavior as well as complex hormonal characteristics. They are capable of a reproductive state called "pseudopregnancy." Apparently, once a female matures sexually, she either becomes pregnant or pseudopregnant each year. During pseudopregnancy, the wolf's hormonal state is precisely the same as if the animal were pregnant even though she is not. This includes the ability to produce milk and possibly even to nurse the offspring of another female. Dogs also become pseudopregnant.

The period from conception to birth is about sixty-three days. During that time the pack will clean out an old traditional den or find a new location and help the alpha female dig a new one. Usually, the site will be higher than the surrounding ground, allowing the pack to watch over a large area. The site will also be near water, for the female will rarely travel far from her den after her pups are born, at least until they are a couple months old.

The entrance to the den is usually quite small, allowing passage to only the pregnant female. The passageway may extend from a few feet deep to as far back as twenty feet. At the end will be a hollowed-out area barely larger than the tunnel itself. It is here the expectant mother will bear her young.


The wolf's sense of smell is about 100 times better than a human's. It uses its sense of smell more than anything else to find prey, with the ability to smell prey before it can see it, more than a mile away if the wind is right. A wolf's nose can smell things that your nose can't. Like your nose, the inside of a wolf's nose contains moist surfaces that "catch" smells in the air. The wolf's nose has about five times more surface area than yours does, so it can catch more smells from the air than you can. It can even sense the presence of an animal three days after it's gone! The nose itself is not five times larger than a human nose. For all the extra smelling surface to fit inside, it must be wrapped and folded many times.


Wolves hunt many different kinds of animals, and some of their prey is small. Beavers are an important source of food when larger prey is not available. Some wolves hunt rabbits and squirrels. Others chase ducks, geese, and other birds. When prey is really hard to find, wolves may eat mice. The smaller prey may be important when raising pups. This is because younger and less experienced wolves in the pack can hunt smaller prey and help feed themselves and the pups when food demand is especially high. When they can get it, wolves prefer larger prey. They may hunt deer, elk, or mountain goats.

Most of these animals are a good deal larger than wolves, and they can be hard to catch. They can often run fast, and some of them are excellent mountain climbers. Some animals that wolves hunt may be well defended against attack. Deer and elk have hard hooves that can crack a wolf's bones. Big-horn sheep and musk oxen are very strong and aggressive.

Perhaps the favorite prey of wolves is the moose. And these animals can be very big. An average male moose weighs over 1,000 pounds. It may stand over 6 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder. The hooves of a moose can kill a wolf. For this reason, wolves try to find a moose that has been weakened by sickness - or one that is bogged down in deep snow. Wolves don't always catch the prey they go after. In fact, many more animals escape than are caught. Wolves can achieve speeds above 30 miles per hour, but if they can't capture running prey within about 1,000 yards, they usually abandon the chase.

Ranks and Roles:

Alpha - The leaders of a wolf pack are the alpha male and the alpha female, often distinguishable by their raised tails.

Being parents of most of the other pack members, the alpha pair hold the allegiance of the rest of the pack. They maintain this allegiance by continually asserting themselves over their offspring from birth through maturation. For example, on small kills, yearling and other subordinate pack members can only feed by deferring to the alpha pair and often begging from them. Alpha animals are usually mature adults, and they can hold their alpha position for as long as eight years. When traveling, the alpha male usually heads the wolf pack and chooses the route, but the alpha female is close to him in line.

Beta - A beta male lowers his head and tail when around the alpha pair to let them know he will obey them.

Subordinate - These are usually young animals, but occasionally are former alphas who have lost their positions.

If they remain with the pack, subordinates play a strong and important role in helping care for and feed the pups. An unknowing observer watching subordinates around a den would be unable to distinguish their behavior from that of the actual parents. At times, the nurturing by these subordinate helpers may even allow more pups to survive.

Omega or Scapegoat - In large packs of wolves, there is often a lowest-ranking member who becomes the focus of the pack's social aggression. Referred to by behaviorists as the "omega" wolf, this animal seems to be a scapegoat and may actually become an outright outcast. This may be part of the process by which pack members disperse and become independent, rather than remain at the bottom of the pecking order or on the fringes of the pack. A scapegoat keeps its fur and ears flattened, its body close to the ground and its tail often tucked between its legs.

Lone Wolf - A young adult which has left the pack. It may find a new, suitable place to live and mate.


Out of the wolf's forty-two teeth, forty help the wolf in securing its prey. There are six incisors on the top and six on the bottom, two canines on the top and two on the bottom, eight premolars on the top and eight on the bottom, and four molars on the top and four on the bottom. The largest teeth are the canines, or fangs, which may reach two and a quarter inches in total length, including the portion imbedded in the jaw. These are the tools that help the wolf hold onto its prey. The cutting and chewing is done by the carnassials, or flesh teeth - the fourth upper premolar and the first lower molar. These specialized teeth are much like a pair of self- sharpening shears and function well in cutting tendons and tough flesh. The massive molars help crush bones.


Wolves make four types of sounds: howl, bark, whimper, and growl.

Howling is the most familiar wolf vocalization to everyone. When wolves howl together they harmonize, rather than howl the same note, creating an impression of more animals howling than actually are. Wolves don't need to stand to howl. They can howl lying down or sitting. Apparently, wolves howl to assemble the pack, especially before and after the hunt; to pass on an alarm, especially at the den site; to locate each other in a storm or in unfamiliar territory; and to communicate across great distances. There is no evidence that wolves howl at the moon, or more frequently during a full moon.

Wolves only infrequently bark, and it is a quiet "woof" more often than a dog-type bark. They do not bark continuously like dogs but woof a few times and then retreat, as for example when a stranger approaches the den. Barks reported from the field are associated with a pack's being surprised at its den and an animal, usually the female, rising to bark a warning.

Growling is heard during food challenges and, like the bark, is part of threat behavior or an assertion of rights in some social context. Growling is more common among pups when they're playing. Pups also growl when they jerk at the ruff of a reclining adult, and comically will even try to growl adults off a piece of food. Another type of growl is a high-pitched one that begins to sound like a whine and often precedes a snapping lunge at another wolf.

Perhaps the most interesting sounds are the whines and high- pitched social squeaks associated with greeting, feeding the pups, play, pen pacing and other situations of anxiety, curiosity, and inquiry. They are the sounds of intimacy.


The wolf is the largest member of the dog family, averaging from 80 to 100 pounds. Wolves often eat animals much larger than themselves, including moose, big-horn sheep, musk oxen, deer, and elk. They also eat smaller animals such as beavers, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, and other birds, and on some rare occasions they might eat mice. Currently wolves inhabit only North America and Western Europe.

Wolf and Man:

In the very early periods of human existence, there was probably little real conflict between wolves and people. The Plains Indians of North America shared their hunting territories with wolves and respected the skill and strength of these fellow predators. Inuit share their homeland with wolves and hunt the same prey.

Conflict arises when humans begin to produce their own food instead of hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants. Wolves have no choice but to continue their predatory way of life, but now they might not find their prey since humans have domesticated the wild animals, sheep, and cattle for their own use. Therefore, humans believe the wolves are dangerous predators. The human change from hunting and gathering to farming and herding began about 12,000 years ago and there has been a human/wolf conflict since. With hunting or trapping in pits and other devices, wolves were completely wiped out in England by the early 1500's. Scotland got rid of its last wolf in the mid- 1700's. Other European countries eventually wiped out the wolf as well. An estimated 1 to 2 million wolves died in the western part of the United States in the last half of the 19th century.

Wolves as Pets:

Although wolves are ancestors to all dogs, foxes and coyotes, wolves are still wild animals, and no wild animal makes a good pet, especially when well-meaning people adopt a young wild being and treat it as though it were a cat or dog.

Wolves and wolf hybrids (the offspring of wolves bred with dogs) are dangerous as pets because they don't know whether to be a dog or a wolf. Dogs have been domesticated for 15,000 years and wolves have been wild. Wolves cannot be disciplined the same way as a dog. A wolf owner must understand the wolf hierarchy and deal with the animal on its own terms. Wolves and hybrids will respond poorly to being tied up or being kept in small enclosures with cement floors and no trees. The animals might become very fearful or very aggressive.

It must also be remembered that wolf pups begin to become wary of strange individuals at the age of three months and that in the wild they probably fear all strangers after the age of five months. Thus, tame wolves cannot always be expected to behave toward everyone as they do toward those people who reared them.

In addition, these animals should never be allowed to play with small children. There have been many tragedies in that situation. In March 1990, in Anchorage, Alaska, a four-year- old girl was attacked by a hybrid while her parents were nearby. She was grasped by the head and shaken violently. Much of her scalp was ripped away and her face was bitten. Also in the spring of 1990, again in Alaska, a hybrid that was thought to love children attacked a four-year-old boy, broke his arm, and mauled his chest and face.

According to the Humane Society, seven children were killed between 1986 and 1992 by pets classified as hybrids.

Wolf Population:

During the past two centuries, more and more people have spread out across the world. Wolves need especially large, wild areas to live in, with plenty of food. Today, loss of living space is a major problem. People have taken over what used to be wild spaces, and less wild space means fewer wolves. People's misconceptions and misunderstandings of wolves have increased their hate and fear of the animal, leading to the attempt to rid the world of wolves, including the passage of laws that encouraged people to kill large numbers of wolves throughout America, Europe, and Asia.

Today, the wolf is classified as an endangered species in all parts of the United States except Minnesota and Alaska. The endangered classification means that the killing of wolves is strictly controlled by federal law.

Wolf Skull:

The skull of the wolf is large and long and tapers forward, averaging nine to eleven inches long and five to six inches wide. Massive jaws form the foundation to which the strong masseter, or chewing, muscles attach. Wolves survive by using their legs and their teeth.

The wolf is a coursing predator, so its eyes are on the front of its skull. The ears are large to capture sounds and they can be moved to scan and focus on sounds from different directions. The jaws have canines, sharp carnassials for cutting meat, and molars for crushing bone with very strong jaw muscles.

All these characteristics are reflected in the skull.

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