Winter is a tough time for all kinds of species, but Canada’s grey wolves can profit and prosper in the depths of the cold. Prey species that are tricky to take down when healthy—deer, moose, caribou—are at their most vulnerable during the chilly season. Packs of up to eight wolves will hit up deer “yards”—stands of hemlock or cedar where the prey congregate for shelter—for an all-canine-can-eat buffet. Terrible for the ungulates. Great for the wolves.
Pack hunting makes wolves efficient, food-catching machines. A group can travel steadily at about eight km/h, and sprint as fast as 70 km/h when need be. When live prey is scarce, wolves will eat the freshly frozen corpses of moose or deer that have died from hypothermia. Um…yum?
Like dogs, wolves have a sophisticated sense of smell—they’re able to track scents from two kilometres away. Some research even suggests that they can smell gum disease in moose. That’s a creepy but useful trick: moose with infected teeth can’t feed as easily, and therefore, are likely to be weak from malnutrition. (A healthy adult moose, on the other hand, can kick the heck out of a wolf.)
Dogs descended from wolves about 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, and the two can interbreed to produce fertile offspring. But a wild wolf is vastly different than a domestic dog, and the human-wolf relationship is still complex and somewhat troubled. Yet, we’ve learned to understand them a little better—read about why wolves really matter.
Are you afraid of the big bad wolf? This is why you shouldn’t fear them.
Related Story Wild Profile: Meet the mourning dove