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Gray Wolf photo, T.R. Michels Outdoor Photography

Listen to a Wolf Howl


Gray Wolf

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) may be gray, gray-brown, black or white in color. They range from 2-2.5 feet tall and from 4-5 feet long. Male wolves weigh on average 90 pounds and females generally weigh 80 pounds. They can run 35 mph and jump 12 feet. They generally live in packs with 8 to 35 members. The leader of the pack is the alpha male, his mate it alpha female. They mate for live and are the only wolves in the pack that breed. The rest of the pack members are often the offspring of the alpha pair. Wolves mate in the winter and about 9 weeks later 2 to 14 pups are born. Other pack members help take care of newborn pups for the first weeks. Within 3 to 5 months the pups are able to travel with the pack.

The Gray Wolf inhabits Michigan's Upper Peninsula, northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and a large geographic range in Alaska, Canada, Europe, Middle East and Asia. Originally the also lived in Israel and Egypt. There are approximately 2,500 gray wolves in the lower 48 states and about 10,000 in Alaska.


Wolf Communication

Wolves communicate through a wide variety of sounds, body postures and scents.


Researchers have described four main classes of vocalizations: growls, barks, howls and squeaks.


Growls are used in agonistic (you are too close, stay away) or threat (do what I want) situations.


Barks may be used as an alarm or in greeting.


Howls appear to be divided into four main types, possibly used as long distance communication. Generally speaking dominant wolves howl more than subdominants, peak daily howling usually occurs between 8 and 10 AM, and 3 and 6 PM, peak yearly howling generally occurs during the breeding season from late January through mid-March.

Listen to a Wolf Howl

Chorus Howl: in which three or more wolves resting in various positions (lying down, sitting, standing) howl at the same time.

Rally Howl: as opposed to a chorus howl this howl is performed when several members of a pack approach one another after getting up. Usually used by the alpha male and female; often preformed in response to a loud sound such as other wolves or coyotes howling or a storm siren.

Solo Howl: performed by a single wolf (usually standing up), with the howl rises slightly in frequency and is maintained at a steady level for different amounts of time. It is not the full-throated howl heard during a chorus howl.


Squeaks may be used by males, females and young, squeaks may be used as a contact call or wen a pup wants care or wants to feed.


Body Language  

To communicate dominance alpha wolves carry their tails high and stand tall. Subordinate wolves exhibit submissive behavior by holding their tails down and often lower their bodies while pawing at the higher ranking wolves.

Wolves use two types of submissive behavior: active and passive. During active submission the wolves use signs of inferiority such as crouching, muzzle licking and tail tucking. These behaviors are first used by pups to elicit regurgitation (for feeding) by the adults. These behaviors are retained into adulthood by subordinate wolves, where the behaviors are used as a gesture of intimacy, and the acceptance of the differentiation of the roles of the wolves within the pack.

Passive submission is used when a subordinate wolf lays on its side or back, exposing the vulnerable lower side of its chest and stomach to the more dominant wolf. The subordinate wolf may also lift its hind leg and allow the other wolf to smell its anal region. When two wolves have a disagreement they may show their teeth and growl at each other. Usually the less dominant wolf gives up before a fight begins. To show that it accepts the other wolf's authority, it rolls over on its back. Dominant wolves may react to this behavior range from tolerance (during which the dominant wolf stands over the submissive wolf) to attack, particularly in the case of a wolf that does not belong to the pack. Following these dominance rules keeps the wolves in a pack from fighting and hurting each other.

When wolves are angry they stick their ears straight up and bare their teeth. If they are suspicious they pull their ears back and squint. They show fear by flattening their ears against their head. When they want to play they dance and bow.



Wolves use also use urine to communicate. Raised Leg Urination (RLU) is used along trails, at trail junctions and along the edges of territories. Probably used as a means to communicate sex and social status, to navigate, and as a means of marking a territory. Droppings may be left about 240 meters apart, raised leg urination may be left about 450 meters apart, often at closer intervals along territorial boundaries. Rarely is a wolf more than 125 meters from recognizable scent.



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