Nature scrapbook: Wolves


Feasting on the fruits of the privations of winter, wolves are at their fattest during the leanest time of year. With their prey more vulnerable and frozen rivers and lakes extending their reach, wolf packs prosper and even find time for romance in the sub-zero grip of the season.

Province-wide mosaic: The large, classic grey wolf occupies the Hudson Bay Lowlands and other parts of the province’s north, but genetic research has revealed that most Ontario wolves south of the French River are, in fact, a completely separate species called the eastern wolf, about two-thirds as big as the grey wolf. In between, hybrids of the two species, dubbed Great Lakes wolves, roam much of northern Ontario.

Long-distance dining: Winter is big-game season, when many packs fixate on deer wherever they’re plentiful. Wolf packs regularly travel far from their territories to deer yards, where venison buffets await in the shelter of extensive stands of hemlock, cedar, 
or other evergreens. A pack can cruise at a steady pace of eight kilometres per hour, and can sprint as fast as 70 km/h to close on their quarry. Constant patrolling also turns up the gifts of winter, such as weakened or freezer-fresh dead deer, and winter-tick-infested moose that die from hypothermia after rubbing off much of their fur.

Felling the mighty: In the north, beyond the realm of white-tailed deer, wolves focus on moose and caribou in the winter months. While moose frequently stand their ground and send their assailants packing, in deep snow even smaller eastern wolves can gain the advantage. Young, old, and weak moose are most often singled out. Evidence suggests a wolf—able 
to pick up scents more than two kilometres away—may even 
be able to detect gum disease in a moose, which indicates 
an elderly animal weakened by the difficulty of feeding with worn-down or infected teeth.

Top dog privileges: From late January through February, lust drives wolves to mark their territories more aggressively. 
The complex, hierarchical social structure of a pack—which grows to an average of four to seven animals in late fall and winter—usually allows only the dominant pair to mate. Both animals, but particularly the top female, will aggressively keep subordinates celibate, occasionally by administering a tussle or a nip. The alpha pair normally seclude themselves for 
a day or two of undisturbed eros, and deliver the resulting four to six pups nine weeks later.

Length of front paw print (cm)

Red fox: 5.5-7.5
Alaskan malamute: 10
Eastern wolf: 10-12
Medium Tim Hortons coffee cup: 8.5