Gray Wolf

A grey wolf outlined against the tundra stares at something in the distance.

NPS Photo

Iñupiaq Name: Amaġuq
Scientific Name: Canis lupus

Grey wolves are the largest of the canine species. It is one of two universally recognized species of wolf. The other being the Red Wolf (Canis rufus).

Grey wolves are known by various names, like timber wolf, gray wolf, or tundra wolf, occur in Eurasia, Africa, and North America with many subspecies (some estimates in the upper 30's).

Wolves are found throughout most of Alaska, excluding many of the islands in the Aleutian Chain, Kodiak, St. Lawrence, and others that wolves cannot swim to. Historically, they were found throughout two-thirds of the United States, but today they are limited to Alaska, northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, western Montana, northeast Oregon, and the Yellowstone part of Wyoming.

Wolves are able to make many habitats their home. The only main preference is the presence of prey species. They are at home in the forest, tundra, plains, or even deserts.

Life History:
Typically, there is only one breeding female (22 months or older) within a pack and she will have an average of 7 pups per litter. Breeding happens between February and March, with pups being born in May or early June. The pups are born in a den, which can be up to 10 feet deep and dug into well drained ground. Pups start getting weaned during midsummer. By early winter, they are capable of traveling and hunting with the adults

Wolf packs average around 7-12 individuals, but they can be as small as 2 and as large as 20-30 individuals. In those larger packs, there can be 2 or 3 litters of pups from more than one female.

Wolf packs can have a territory anywhere from 200-1,000 sq. miles. The average area in Alaska tends to be around 500 sq. miles. Some wolf packs will follow caribou as they migrate and will temporarily abandon their territory.

In our parks, wolves prey upon primarily caribou, and will follow herds as they migrate throughout the year. They will also prey upon moose (especially calves), muskox, and Dall sheep for larger animals. They will also hunt hares, beaver, and squirrels, if needed. They are known to be opportunistic, meaning they will go after the easiest animal they can, which usually means older or sick individuals.

Humans are the main predators of wolves. However, other animals may kill wolves if needed. This could be by another wolf pack guarding or expanding its territory, encounters with bears, or even a pup that has strayed away from safety.

Iñupiaq Cultural Use:
Harvested to use for clothing. Fur can be used to make hats, mittens, and cuffs on parkas and ruffs on the hoods.

Last updated: September 20, 2023

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