Wild Profile: Meet the wolverine

An adult wolverine lying in the snow By Popova Valeriya/Shutterstock

The wolverine may be part of the weasel family, but it’s almost bear-like in its looks. And, in its clever survival behaviour. Wolverines are smart enough to target winter trap lines and successfully steal the bait. This mustelid is ferocious and always hungry—for almost anything. It’s the only carnivore that will eat the bones of its prey.

Where does it live? 

Most wolverines stick to the Western boreal forests of North America, and, in Canada, the wild alpine areas of Alberta and B.C. (They do carve out habitat in other provinces, including Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.) They’re tough customers, and well-suited to winter, with fur-covered paws to traipse snowshoe-style over deep snow. Although they’ll take down plenty of live prey (again, not picky—they’ll even eat porcupines, ow), in winter, they primarily scavenge. A wolverine will happily chow down on the cold corpses of large mammals (deer, moose) that have died from starvation or frozen to death. The sneakiest will track other carnivores such as wolves and lynx, then steal their unattended leftovers. Not very neighbourly, wolverine!

When do wolverines give birth? 

Wolverines only reproduce every two or three years. A mother-to-be is plucky enough to bed down in a den by February—usually underneath a frozen pile of rocks—and have her babies even in the depths of winter. She’ll often only produce a few kits in a litter.

Are they endangered? 

Wolverines are listed as a species of special concern. Even though many live much farther north than other mammals, they’re still vulnerable to human encroachment, especially backcountry recreation. According to the Species at Risk Public Registry, wolverine numbers have also dwindled in response to losing certain ungulate prey, in particular, the threatened woodland caribou.

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