This member of the weasel family is reclusive yet fierce

Published: January 14, 2019

a-wolverine-forest-animal Photo by Frenchwildlifephotograher/Shutterstock

Deep in the snowy Western wilderness, the wolverine hankers for its next meal.

Bear-like, ferocious, and ever hungry, the reclusive wolverine is a dog-sized member of the weasel family. Fabled for extraordinary strength and stamina, it wanders through the Western boreal forest as far north as the high Arctic tundra, as well as in remote alpine wilderness in British Columbia and Alberta. Though superbly adapted to winter, even giving birth in its grips, the solitary mustelid walks a fine line of survival through the bleakest months of the year.

Wolverines dispatch anything on offer, from mice to porcupines. But above all, they’re scavengers, especially in winter. Held aloft over snow by enormous, fur-soled paws, a male may patrol a thousand square kilometres for big game that has succumbed to the season. Wolverines can scent long-distance or deeply buried carrion and will track wolves, coyotes, cougars, lynx, and foxes to their leftovers or unattended food stashes.

Though reputed to savagely fend off larger adversaries, wolverines gorge in haste, usually ripping into frozen finds with their inch-long claws and bone-crushing teeth to cart off pieces to their own larders. Deep beneath snow-caked boulders, their provisions may stay refrigerated late into spring or summer.

Pregnant since summer, females will den in February or March beneath ice-covered rock piles or treefalls close to food caches and give birth to two or three kits. Females commonly only deliver litters every two or three years. Many families disperse the following winter, some male yearlings venturing more than 800 km before settling.

While dealing with frequent starvation and tangling with other predators, wolverines are also vulnerable to human encroachment. Though rated a species of special concern, and despite declining populations in some areas, hundreds are legally trapped each year.

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