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  • Photo by Holger Uwe Schmitt

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  • Photo by Holger Uwe Schmitt

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Timber wolf. Western wolf. Gray wolf. All of these terms refer to the same animal: Canis lupus, the ancestor from which all domestic dogs descend. This creature has long been considered a symbol of power, strength in numbers and wits. Gray wolves are the largest members of the dog family, weighing 40-175 pounds and measuring 49-83 inches from nose to tail. While often grizzled gray in color (hence their common name), they can also occur with all-black or all-white fur, as well as anywhere between. They typically live 7-8 years in the wild, but can live beyond 12 years of age in protected areas, like Yellowstone National Park.

The gray wolf wasn’t the only species of wolf to roam the North American continent. Thousands of years ago, during the Ice Age when glaciers thousands of feet thick covered two-thirds of the continent, Canis dirus, the dire wolf, coexisted with the gray wolf.

Dire wolves were very similar to grays, the main differences being that the average dire wolf was a pinch larger than the average gray wolf, and they had larger skulls with a stronger bite. Some scientists believe that dire wolves could even crack open bones like hyenas do on the African plains. Wolves weren’t alone either, as they shared the Ice Age plains and forests with a host of other apex predators — saber-toothed cats, American lions, short-faced bears, and even American jaguars — all competing with each other for food sources and territories. Once the Ice Age ended and the glaciers receded, two-thirds of North America’s mammals weighing over a hundred pounds died out, including the dire wolf. But dire wolves are so similar to gray wolves, so why did the latter survive?

Scientists think that it may have had something to do with the gray wolf’s more opportunistic nature and slightly smaller size. Dire wolves specialized in hunting large Ice Age herbivores which, of course, went extinct toward the Ice Age’s end. When their prey disappeared, dire wolves soon followed.

Gray wolves are less-specialized; not only do they hunt deer and elk (their favorite prey), but also bison, moose, rabbits, rodents and other smaller mammals, birds, fish, lizards and snakes. They even eat fruit and other vegetation on occasion. They were perfectly adapted to thrive in a post-Ice Age world with the cards they had been dealt.

Wolves faced another near-extinction in more recent times, this time at the hand of man. Farmers and other keepers of livestock have considered wolves a pest for thousands of years because they would sometimes eat the animals they were trying to raise. Great efforts were put forth to get rid of the wolves. They were soon driven to extinction in the lower 48 states by overhunting, often out of a farmer’s revenge.

Thankfully, conservation groups realized that they needed to save the gray wolves before it was too late. They started educating people about how wolves were necessary to keep populations of prey animals in check and re-released them back into their historic ranges. They even set up reserves where hunting is prohibited and the wolves can live without fear of man.

Nowadays, wolves roam the forest and mountainous terrain across Alaska, Canada, the Great Lakes region, the northern Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. There is even a subspecies, the Mexican wolf, that makes its home in the deserts of the southwestern United States.

It may be too late to save the dire wolf, but the case of the gray wolf proves that with teamwork, we can keep Ice Age survivors roaming their natural habitat of the world, just like they’re supposed to be.


Christian Ryan can be reached at animaladventures1314@gmail.com




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Here are some suggestions for you to include in your lapbook. All of the answers to these suggestions are not necessarily in this article. You will have to do a little research.

• Wolf communication, what is the difference between Alpha, Beta and Omega?

• What does it mean when the gray wolf wags its tail certain ways?

• Does the gray wolf have great hearing?

• What is size of a gray wolf?

• What is the gray wolf’s sense of smell like?

• Why does the gray wolf have such big teeth?

• Why do gray wolves run on the tips of their paws?

• What are some of the subspecies of the gray wolf?

• What are the eating habits of the gray wolf?

• Travel...

How fast can they run when they are chasing prey?

How many miles per day will they travel in search of food?

How fast do they travel in long distances?

How far will the travel in search for a mate?

• How does the gray wolf shed?

• What are the causes of wolf mortality?

• Select a book about wolves and write a mini book report and include it in your lapbook.

If you have been finding these projects helpful please let us know. We would love your feedback.

Project provided by Angel Dominiq


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