Gray wolf or common wolf: find out what this animal is like, its physical characteristics, character, behavior, etc. The gray wolf (Canis lupus), also called common wolf, is a...

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The gray wolf (Canis lupus), also called common wolf, is one of the best-known canine species. Nevertheless, they can possibly be confused with other species of wolves as well as some species of dogs that look like wolves. Traditional wisdom and popular culture tended to claim that dogs were directly descended from wolves. Although some genetic research has verified that dogs are genetically related to gray wolves, it is not yet possible to state with precision that dogs are directly descended from this species.

If you want to discover more curiosities about the gray wolf, we invite you to continue reading this PlanetAnimal sheet to learn more about their origin, their behavior and their reproduction .


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Origin of the Gray Wolf

Today, a species called Miacis cognitus, belonging to the oldest known group of primitive carnivores (Miacis), is recognized as the common ancestor of all modern carnivorous mammals. These earliest carniform ancestors are believed to have lived during the Late Cretaceous, which spanned between 100 and 66 million years ago.

Then the members of Miacis began to differentiate morphologically, giving rise to different groups of carnivorous mammals, among which we find the first canids to live on our planet which appeared about 38 million ago of years.After experimenting with many evolutionary changes, they gave birth to Eucyon davis, a species of primitive canine that lived about 10 million years ago and was probably the one who crossed the Bering Strait in order to arrive in Africa and Eurasia, where the first modern canids appeared.

Nevertheless, the first fossil specifically associated with the gray wolf dates from around 800,000 years ago. Originally, the world population of gray wolves was very abundant and it extended throughout Eurasia, North America and the Middle East. Unfortunately, hunting and the transformations of their territory as well as the productive and economic progress of Man have meant that the environment of the gray wolf has been significantly reduced, like its population.

Appearance and anatomy of the gray wolf

Like most wolf species, gray wolves show great morphological diversity.The height, weight and body dimensions of each individual belonging to this species can vary significantly, depending mainly on the conditions of their habitat. In general, the harsher and colder the climate in which it lives, the larger and more robust the wolf will be. Regardless of its exact measurements, all wolves have a harmonious body that allows them to perform quick and precise movements that are essential for hunting.

Generally speaking, a gray wolf's body ranges between 1.3 and 2 meters in length, measured from the nose to the tip of the tail, which is up to ¼ of the total length. The height at the withers ranges from 60 cm in the smallest individuals and up to 90 cm in the tallest. The average body weight of the species is also very variable, ranging from 35 to 40 kilos in females up to 70 kilos in males.

Their anatomy is perfectly adapted to the long distances they need to travel to find their food.The strong back, the thin chest, the very muscular legs, have some of the remarkable physical characteristics of the gray wolves which facilitate their mobility and provide them with great resistance to face their long days of hunting.

" Their all-terrain paws are also very important for their adaptability, as they allow them to walk on different surfaces. Between their toes, gray wolves have a small intertooth membrane that facilitates their locomotion through the snow that abounds in their territory during the winter. They are also digitigrade animals, that is, they walk on their tiptoes without relying on their heels, they have longer hind legs and they have a vestigial fifth toe than on their front legs."

The head and muzzle of the gray wolf are smaller than in other types of wolves, and their chest is also thinner. The gray wolf relies on sharp teeth located in its powerful jaw, which makes its bite extremely powerful.The colors of its coat can also vary, but as its name suggests, grayish shades tend to predominate its coat, with yellowish, orange or reddish highlights or wisps. However, their eyes are usually yellow in color.

Gray Wolf Behavior

Gray wolves live in packs that can bring together between 5 and 20 individuals in which an extremely developed and complicated hierarchical structure will follow. Generally, a pack of wolves is composed of a breeding pair, formed by the alpha and its partner (commonly known as beta female) and their children. Possibly, it is possible to see wolves traveling alone, but it is not known why they were separated from their packs.

This capacity for social organization as well as the instinct for protection and cooperation between pack members has been fundamental to the survival of gray wolves, as it allows them to improve their hunting efficiency in groups. , ensuring better nutrition for all members of the pack.This way of life allows them greater reproductive success because males and females do not need to be exposed to harsh climatic conditions to find each other, in addition, cubs are less vulnerable to predator attack because they are protected by their pack.

" As far as nutrition is concerned, the wolf is a carnivorous mammal whose diet is based on the consumption of the prey that it manages to hunt in its habitat. Thus, the diet of the gray wolf can vary according to the biodiversity of its environment, that is to say according to the animals that live around its territory. In general, the favorite prey of the gray wolf is a medium to large animal, such as pig, goat, reindeer, bison, deer, sheep, antelope, moose, among others. But they can also catch small prey, like birds and rodents, mainly if they sense a shortage of food in their environment."

Individuals living in marine areas may also incorporate aquatic mammals, primarily seals, into their diet. Additionally, wolves living between Alaska and Canada may consume salmon to supplement their diet. Finally, wolves living near urbanized centers may profit from the waste of human food in times of low food availability.

It is also important to mention the remarkable ability of vocalization of the gray wolves, the latter plays a fundamental role in the communication between the members of the pack and in their social organization. Howling is their main noise and it keeps the pack in touch even as some members move away to hunt or during mating season when breeding pairs may be separated from their pack for several days to mate. . Additionally, the howls also help to scare away predators or possible wolves from other packs that might eventually want to approach to dispute their territory.

Reproduction of the gray wolf

The reproductive behavior of wolves can vary depending on the species and the conditions of their habitat. The gray wolf stands out as one of the most faithful animals to its partner, always mating with the same individual until one of the two dies. In general, only the breeding pair mates to give birth to young, but if the pack lives in a territory where food is abundant and favorable climatic conditions, it is possible that the brothers also reproduce. Conversely, if they perceive food shortages and unfavorable conditions in their environment, even the breeding pair may decide not to breed in order to avoid food shortages for the pack.

The wolf mating season occurs between January and April, during winter and early spring in the northern hemisphere. The males begin to show more affection for the females, grooming them and spending more time with them a few weeks before they enter their fertile period.Each season, females can be receptive for about 5-14 days, during which they will mate several times with their mate. Additionally, males typically ejaculate multiple times each time they mate, increasing the reproductive success of their species.

Gestation of gray wolves lasts about 60 days, at the end of which they usually give birth to a litter of 4-6 cubs, although they can give birth to more than 10 cubs. With the help of the male, the female will find a cave or shelter where she can safely experience birth and nursing. The little ones will be nursed by their mother and will stay with her in the shelter for the first three months of their life. The alpha male will be in charge of protecting the cave from his pack, he will only be absent to go hunting for food.

After three months of life, Cubs will begin to gain greater autonomy and explore their environment.But it is only after six months of life that they will be able to fend for themselves. When they have completed their development and are sexually mature, usually after their second year of life, young wolves usually separate from their original pack (that of their parents and siblings) to form a pair and form their own pack.

Conservation status of the gray wolf

" Today, the gray wolf is classified as a species of least concern, according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species. However, their population has declined drastically over the past two centuries, especially in North America and Eurasia."

Hunting remains the biggest threat to the conservation of this species, as wolves are often mistakenly considered dangerous animals or capable of attacking people for no reason. It is therefore necessary to invest more in awareness campaigns on the behavior and importance of wolves in their ecosystems, as well as in a better demarcation of production areas and urban centers in order to prevent any further excessive encroachment on the environment. habitat of the gray wolf.

Photos of gray wolf or common wolf

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