Arguably no other animal on earth has been as important to humans as the wolf. They were gods in the Norse mythologies and nursed Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Most importantly, the wolf was the first animal to ever be domesticated by man, a process still shrouded in mystery that took place well over 10,000 years ago. They have been our dearest friends and direst enemies, and yet there is still so much we don’t know about them.
5. Fact: Black wolves don’t occur naturally.
A 2008 study at Stanford University found that the mutation responsible for black fur occurs only in dogs, so black wolves are the result of gray wolves breeding back with domestic canines. The mutation is a dominant trait, like dark hair in humans, and is passed down to the majority of offspring. It is not entirely clear what benefit black fur has for the animals; they do not seem to be more successful hunters, but do show a marked improvement in immunity to certain infections. Black wolves are far more common in North America than they are in the rest of the world.
4. Fact: A large percentage of coyotes are actually wolf hybrids.
In areas where wolves have been largely eliminated, coyotes have thrived. Over the last few years, large populations have moved east, into suburban areas and even major cities like New York and Chicago. Genetic testing on 100 coyotes caught in Maine revealed that 22 had some wolf ancestry. Coywolves are generally bigger than regular coyotes, but smaller than wolves, and are said to be extremely cunning. They exhibit a fearlessness of human civilization as seen in coyotes, but seem to maintain the wolf’s pack hunting instinct and high level of aggression.
Fact: Cannibalism is common amongst wolves.
Wolves are extremely opportunistic carnivores, and they will not miss a chance at a meal. Living in some of the most unforgiving terrain on the planet, they are sometimes forced to eat sick or injured members of the pack, and any wolf that has died is generally fair game. Wolves caught in snare traps must be very quickly attended to by hunters or they will be torn apart by other wolves. When two packs come into contact, very often they will engage in a fatal battle, with the alpha males most often being killed. Sometimes they are even eaten by their own offspring.
2. Extreme Weight
Fact: The heaviest wolves can approach 200lbs.
Wolves increase exponentially in size the further they are from the equator. Wolves of the tropics are often no larger than medium sized dogs, but those of the far north (Alaska, Canada, and Russia) can be in excess of 120lbs. The largest wolf ever killed in North America was taken in Alaska in 1939 and tipped the scales at 175lbs. In the former Ukraine SSR, a still more massive wolf was killed that weighed 190lbs. There are unsubstantiated reports of 200lb+ specimens, presumably alpha males in areas that boast a steady food supply.
1. Rabid Wolves
Fact: Rabid wolves are extremely dangerous.
Although wolves are not a major vector of rabies, they can catch it from other species such as raccoons and fox. Unlike some animals, which display lethargy and disorientation, wolves fly almost immediately into a rage when they contract the disease. A significant number of attacks on humans are tied directly to rabies. Such incidents have dropped off precipitously over the years, but a few still occur every year. Although there are obviously treatments available for people bitten by rabid animals, the wolf’s propensity is to bite near the head and neck, and oftentimes the virus reaches the brain before medical help can be sought.
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