The Natural Life of the Wolf

The mournful howl of a lone wolf, sitting atop a distant hill,
breaks the silence blanketed by the fresh, new-fallen snow.
The howling echoes far and wide around the still mountainside
and beyond. The wolf is in search of the rest of his pack,
separated by the blizzard, and he knows that howling is the
best way to find them. A wolf’s “howl” will carry for six or
more miles in the still, cold air after a snowstorm, unlike
a mere “bark,” which is not as effective and will not carry
as far.

An ancient misconception of the wolf’s howl is that, although
the howling wolves were far, far away, common folk firmly
believed the wolves were howling at their particular door;
hence the popular phrase, even nowadays, “Let’s keep the wolf
from the door.”

In fairytales, such as Little Red Riding Hood and The Three
Little Pigs, the antagonist is always the misunderstood wolf,
being portrayed as the “baddie” who will “eat you all up.”
These fairytales were borne out of a fear of the unknown —
a fear that was completely unfounded and gave the wolf a bad
reputation that lingered for centuries.

For the wolf (canis lupus) is a social creature, and his family,
his pack, means as much to him as our family does to us. The
pack is headed by an alpha male and female; a dominant pair who
are at the top of the wolf pack’s hierarchy. Members of the pack
know exactly where their place is, and are kept in line by the
two alpha wolves.

This alpha pair is usually the sole breeding pair within the
pack, and it is they that have the pups. Litters number but one
per year and can range anywhere in size between five and twelve
pups, but the average litter size is five or six. The pups are
born in a den, which is excavated out of the earth beforehand,
and they are raised there in safety.

The new mother does not venture out of the den for three weeks
while she is nursing her pups. Her mate and other pack members
bring food to her, to sustain her through lactation. When the
pups are around five weeks of age, they are weaned and fed by
the rest of the pack. To accomplish this, food is hunted, chewed
and swallowed, then regurgitated by members of the pack for the
puppies to digest easily. The pups are then raised and watched
over by the entire pack, right down to the omega member, who is
right at the bottom of the pack’s hierarchy. All food is shared,
so that no member of the pack goes hungry.

Wolves are necessary predators for the maintenance of healthy
herds of their natural prey. Wolves hunt only sickly, weak,
diseased, injured or young animals, which in turn promotes
healthy and vigorous lines of prey. Elk, deer, bison and other
large game are hunted for food by the pack, as are rodents and

The natural habitat of the wolf is in forested terrain and
rugged, remote wilderness areas. Once upon a time, the wolf was
hunted, trapped, and poisoned to the point where their numbers
plummeted, but the wolf is now making his comeback with the
reintroduction of the Mexican Gray Wolf into the Southwestern
United States and other parts of the country. To some, the
wolf is a welcome sight, but to others, such as farmers and
ranchers, the wolf is just another pest who will kill their
livestock. But, for the knowledgeable, which are aware of the
excellent work that wolves do to maintain the balance of nature
in the wildernesses of the world, wolves will remain a welcome
and much needed resource.

Resource Box:
Ron Coulter owns Specializing in
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