Gray Wolf

Gray Wolf moved lightly across the snow. Yet, with each step he took, his thoughts weighed him down. The six North American gray wolves pattering along behind him were his pack, his team—his family. They were loyal to him, to the end. And their very lives were in his hands.

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1. Gray Wolf

Copyright Shana Gorian 2016. All rights reserved.


Gray Wolf moved lightly across the snow. Yet, with each step he took, his thoughts weighed him down. The six North American gray wolves pattering along behind him were his pack, his team—his family. They were loyal to him, to the end. And their very lives were in his hands.

            Another storm was fast approaching—Gray Wolf could feel it. The late afternoon air grew colder, and the sky turned a paler white. Gray Wolf knew his weary pack didn’t have long before blinding snow would erase any clear path ahead. And even with their thick coats of fur, freezing to death was always a possibility in winter.

            One hundred and twenty miles from their usual stomping grounds, the pack had hunted for a week without making a substantial kill. They had caught a few rabbits and squirrels, but it wasn’t enough to feed the whole pack. Hunger had begun to set in. The pack needed to find large prey, and the sooner the better.

            Suddenly, a noise in the distance caught Gray Wolf’s attention. He stopped to listen. The pack slowed, glancing about. Gray Wolf sniffed at the air. Something was most certainly out there.

            Silent snowflakes fell. The wind whistled as it picked up strength. But all else was quiet. Shivering, Gray Wolf scanned the hills ahead.

            Then, there it was again—the soft thud of hooves shuffling through the snow. Gray Wolf quickened his pace and the pack fell in close behind. Whatever was making that noise couldn’t be too far away. But the pack would have to reach higher ground if they were to see it, especially with the snow falling so heavily now.

            Over the next ridge, the wolves slowed to peer into the distance at an enormous herd of elk. At least five hundred magnificent beasts crossed the open valley. It was the elks’ yearly winter migration to the lower elevations where food was still accessible.

            One of these large elk would feed the entire pack for weeks. But was the pack ready for the challenge? Were they still strong enough, despite their weakened state? Gray Wolf glanced at his team, contemplating.

            The hunt could take hours. They all knew the drill well. But could they last that long, even as snow fell, as hungry and worn as they were?

            Surely they could. They’d been through worse.

            But it was dangerous work, too. A powerful kick from an elk could break the jaw of even the most capable wolf. And sometimes, countless miles spent trailing a herd resulted in nothing to eat. Sometimes, the herds just got lucky.

            Still gazing at the elk in the open valley below, the wolves waited patiently for a signal from their leader. Some pawed at the snow, some panted. But all looked eager to begin.

            Yes, this was it, Gray Wolf thought. They could do it. They were ready.

            Gray Wolf turned and nodded to his pack. It was time to go. Never mind the cold—this was their chance.

            The hunt was on.

Now, learn about wolves with these amazing facts:

Structure of the Pack

*An average North American Gray wolf pack ranges from four to nine members, but can often have as many as fifteen wolves. The size of the pack depends on factors such as the availability of food and the size of its territory.

*Wolves are highly social animals. Members of the pack rely on each other for food, protection, and comfort. To maintain order, wolves abide by a social structure called a hierarchy. In this ranking system, each wolf knows its place, respecting and following the top dog. This creates harmony within the group and allows the group to focus on survival—catching prey—rather than fighting one another for dominance.

*The top dog is called the alpha male, or alpha dog. He is the strongest, most dominant animal in the pack. Ranking second highest is the alpha female, the alpha dog’s mate. Below her, the stronger, more aggressive wolves rank next, and below them rank the youngest pups and the least aggressive wolves.

 

Family Group

*All of the wolves in one pack are related! The alpha male and female are actually the parents of the rest of the pack. They are the only two members that mate and bear pups. The others range in age by several years and are brothers and sisters from many different litters of wolf pups. Eventually, some of the male wolves will leave to search for mates and form their own packs.

 

The Hunt

*The pack uses various hunting techniques to catch its prey. Often light, quick female wolves will jump in front of elk, dashing out of the way just in time to avoid being trampled. This creates panic and confusion in the elk, usually causing an older, sick, or injured elk to stumble and lose step with the herd. Larger male wolves will then swoop in, focus on the separated elk, and use their greater weight and strength to follow, surround, and take it down. The youngest wolves will run along behind, watching and learning but staying out of danger. The whole group stays relatively close, always working as a team.

*The alpha dog is the leader, but he does not give orders during a hunt. He may choose which particular elk the pack will chase, or when to call off the hunt. But each member of the pack knows its role and automatically performs its job without being given specific commands.

*Hunting large prey such as elk, moose, and bison is only possible for wolves because they work together as a group. One wolf alone would not be able to take down such enormous animals, having only their teeth for weapons.

 

Amazing Stamina

*The wolf is known as an endurance predator. It doesn’t hide and use the element of surprise to ambush its prey, like a mountain lion does. Instead, it pursues its prey for long distances, out in the open, patiently waiting until the animal stumbles or breaks from the group. It can trail a herd for hours, or even days, before it strikes.

*Wolves typically move about 5 mph and can keep up that pace for miles. But when chasing their targeted prey, they usually reach speeds of 35 mph. That’s as fast as a car!

*Wolves often roam 60 miles in one day looking for food.

 

Enormous Intelligence

*The wolf is highly intelligent. It knows that factors like weather and terrain will affect a hunt, so a pack is constantly calculating its odds of success. For instance, an elk’s heavy hooves will sink down into freshly falling snow, slowing it down. But a wolf has wide, padded feet that work like snowshoes, allowing it to easily chase elk during a snowstorm. However, if snow is hard-packed, the elk’s hooves will glide freely across the top of it, increasing the elk’s speed. In this case, a wolf pack might decide not to waste precious energy on the chase, because the elk is likely to escape. An experienced pack leader will continually assess conditions like these and use his best judgment to lead the pack to success.

 

Survival Techniques

*During the winter, wolves dig out shallow holes in the snow in which to sleep at night. The snow insulates them in the same way that an igloo protects its occupants from the cold. Wolves also have two layers of fur, which gives them added warmth in winter. The top layer is resistant to dirt, and the inner layer is water-resistant. However, freezing to death is still possible for underfed, weaker wolves, or especially, the youngest pups.

*Wolves are not strictly carnivorous. Besides meat, wolves will also eat berries, insects, certain plants, and fish when meat is hard to obtain.

 

Evolutionary Success

*Top predators like wolves help to maintain the delicate balance of nature. By eliminating the oldest, youngest, slowest, and weakest members of a herd of elk, for instance, the wolf pack ensures that only the healthiest members of a herd will be left to use the available natural resources, such as food and water. Thus, resources aren’t wasted on sickly members of a herd that weren’t likely to survive in the first place. The elk can also migrate more quickly when their slowest members are gone. When the strongest members of a herd survive, the species as a whole is more likely to succeed.

 

A Balanced Ecosystem

*Wolves play an integral role in the ecosystem, keeping in check not only the species they hunt, but also the plants and animals affected by those species. From the birds and beaver to the trees and flowers in the wolf’s environment, every member of the ecosystem is able to thrive when the Gray wolf thrives.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography for Gray Wolf

 

Digital Media

National Wildlife Federation, Gray Wolf. Merrifield, VA ©2016. Accessed March 2016.
https://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Library/Mammals/Gray-Wolf.aspx

 

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services-Midwest Region, Questions & Answers About Gray Wolf Biology. ©2011. Accessed March 2016.

http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/aboutwolves/wolfbiology.htm

 

Discovery News, How Wolf Packs Organize to Kill. ©2014. Accessed March 2016.

http://news.discovery.com/animals/endangered-species/how-wolf-packs-organize-to-kill-140401.htm

 

Living With Wolves-Nonprofit Organization, Quick Facts & Myth Busting. Sun Valley, ID, ©2016. Accessed March 2016.
https://livingwithwolves.org/quicks-facts-myths-busted/

https://livingwithwolves.org/how-wolves-hunt/

 

Wolf Education & Research Center nonprofit organization, Learn. Winchester, ID. Accessed April 2016.

http://wolfcenter.org/site/learn.html

http://wolfcenter.org/media/documents/learn-pdfs/benerfits-wolves.pdf

 

National Geographic , Elk, ©2016. Accessed March 2016.

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/elk/

 

World Animal Foundation, Elk Fact Sheet, ©2015. Accessed March 2016

http://www.worldanimalfoundation.net/f/elk.pdf

 

 

Print Media

 

Kalman, Bobby. Endangered Wolves. New York, NY: Crabtree Publishing Co., 2005.

 

Preszler, June. Wolves. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2006.

 

Stoops, Eric D. and Fertl, Dagmr. Animal Questions and Answers: Wolves & Their Relatives. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2005.

 

George, Jean Craighead. The Wolves Are Back. New York, NY: Dutton Children’s Books, A Division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2008.

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