The gray wolf (Canis lupus, excluding the domestic dog and the dingo), also known as the wolf, is the largest extant wild member of the Canidae family. Though once abundant over much of Eurasia, North Africa and North America, the gray wolf inhabits a reduced portion of its former range due to widespread destruction of its territory, human encroachment, and the resulting human-wolf encounters that sparked broad extirpation. Even so, the gray wolf is regarded as being of least concern for extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, when the entire gray wolf population is considered as a whole. Today, wolves are protected in some areas, hunted for sport in others, or may be subject to population control or extermination as threats to livestock, people, and pets.
Gray wolves are social predators that live in nuclear families consisting of a mated pair, their offspring and, occasionally, adopted immature wolves. They primarily feed on ungulates, which they hunt by wearing them down in short chases. Gray wolves are typically apex predators throughout their range, with only humans and tigers posing significant threats to them.
Genetic studies reaffirm that the gray wolf is the ancestor of the domestic dog. A number of other Canis lupus subspecies have been identified, though the actual number of subspecies is still open to discussion.
In areas where human cultures and wolves both occur, wolves frequently feature in the folklore and mythology of those cultures, both positively and negatively.
In popular literature, wolf packs are often portrayed as strictly hierarchical social structures with a breeding "alpha" pair which climbs the social ladder through fighting, followed by subordinate "beta" wolves and a low ranking "omega" which bears the brunt of the pack's aggression. This terminology is based heavily on the behaviour of captive wolf packs composed of unrelated animals, which will fight and compete against each other for status. Also, as dispersal is impossible in captive situations, fights become more frequent than in natural settings. In the wild, wolf packs are little more than nuclear families whose basic social unit consists of a mated pair, followed by its offspring. Northern wolf packs tend not to be as compact or unified as those of African wild dogs and spotted hyenas, though they are not as unstable as those of coyotes. Southern wolves are more similar in social behaviour to coyotes and dingoes, living largely alone or in pairs.The average pack consists of 5–11 animals; 1–2 adults, 3–6 juveniles and 1–3 yearlings, though exceptionally large packs consisting of 42
Although wolf packs do cooperate strategically in bringing down prey, they do not do so as frequently or as effectively as lionesses do; unlike lions, wolves rarely remain with their pack for more than two years, thus they have less time to learn how to hunt cooperatively. Contrary to lion prides, food acquisition per wolf decreases with pack size. Overall, single wolves or mated pairs typically have higher success rates in hunting than do large packs. Single wolves have occasionally been observed to kill large prey such as moose, bison and muskoxen unaided. When hunting, wolves will attempt to conceal themselves as they approach their prey. With ungulate herds, they then either attempt to break up the herd, or isolate one or two animals from it. If the targeted animal stands its ground, the wolves either ignore it, or try to intimidate it into running. When chasing small prey, wolves will attempt to catch up with their prey as soon as possible. With larger animals, the chase is prolonged, in order to wear the selected prey out. Wolves usually give up chases after 1–2 km (0.62-1.3 mi), though one wolf was recorded to chase a deer for 21 km (13 mi). Sometimes, a single wolf will distract the herd with its presence, acting as a decoy, while its pack mates attack from behind. Wolf packs may also set up ambush trails; Indian wolves have been observed to chase gazelle herds through ravines where other wolves lie in wait within holes dug prior to the hunt, while Russian wolves will set up ambushes near water holes, sometimes using the same site repeatedly.Both Russian and North American wolves have been observed to drive prey onto crusted ice, precipices, ravines, slopes and steep banks to slow them down.
Mature wolves usually avoid attacking large prey frontally, instead focusing on the rear and sides of the animal. They kill large prey by biting large chunks of flesh from the soft perineum area, causing massive blood loss. Such bites can cause wounds 10–15 cm in length, with three such bites to the perineum usually being sufficient to bring down a large deer in optimum health. When attacking moose, they occasionally bleed it to death by biting its soft nose. With medium-sized prey such as roe deer or sheep, northern wolves kill by biting the throat, severing nerve tracks and the carotid artery, thus causing the animal to die within a few seconds to a minutes while the smaller southern wolves may grab the animal by the neck and stun it by jerking its head downward, hitting its nose on the ground. When prey is vulnerable and abundant, wolves may occasionally surplus kill. Such instances are common in domestic animals, but rare in the wild. In the wild, surplus killing primarily occurs during late winter or spring, when snow is unusually deep (thus impeding the movements of prey) or during the denning period, when wolves require a ready supply of meat when denbound. Medium-sized prey are especially vulnerable to surplus killing, as the swift throat-biting method by which they are killed allows wolves to quickly kill one animal and move on to another. Surplus killing may also occur when adult wolves are teaching their young to hunt.
The breeding pair typically monopolizes food in order to continue producing pups. When food is scarce, this is done at the expense of other family members, especially non-pups. This is in marked contrast to the feeding behaviours of dholes and African wild dogs, who give priority to their pups when feeding. The breeding pair typically eats first, though as it is they who usually work the hardest in killing prey, they may rest after a long hunt and allow the rest of the family to eat unmolested. Once the breeding pair has finished eating, the rest of the family will tear off pieces of the carcass and transport them to secluded areas where they can eat in peace. Wolves typically commence feeding by consuming the larger internal organs of their prey, such as the heart, liver, lungs and stomach lining. The kidneys and spleen are eaten once they are exposed, followed by the muscles.
Battle agianst the Spotted HyenaEdit
Four gray wolves that are escapees from an exotic wildlife park in Africa have brought down a zebra and are tearing into the wild horse's body, before any other predators appear to take thier prey. Right on que the local spotted hyenas show up and run, cackling, at the wolves. The wolves turn to face thier opponents and growls aggressively. One of them, a youngster, lunges forward and grabs one of the hyenas throats and drags it across the ground. The hyena in pain and one of its fellow pack members grabs the young wolf by the neck and shakes it around untill it goes limp. (4-3)
The wolves immediatly jump on the hyena that killed the other wolf and tear him to pieces. (3-3)
The other two hyenas go to assist thier pack member and charge into the wolves, knocking one of them over. The lead hyena clamps her jaw around the wolf's neck and crushes its windpipe with its powerful jaws. (2-3)
The two remaining wolves turn on the lead hyena and but are blocked off by the two males. The lunge for each other and get into a vicious fight. The wolves press thier size advantage and manage to cause enough injury to one of the hyenas to leave it dying on the floor. (2-2)
The other males is attacked by the alpha male while the alpha female goes for the head hyena. The female wolf dodges an attack from the female and sinks her teeth into her thigh, causing massive internal bleeding and badly crippling the wolf. She then snaps the wolf's neck with her powerful jaws. (2-1)
Meanwhile the male hyena is struggling with the alpha wolf. Despite his powerful jaws the wolf's size and speed are too much for the hyena to handle and he is soon pinned down by the wolf. Just as it is about to take a bite out of the hyena's neck the female hyena grabs it by the scruff of the neck and throws it off the male hyena, sending it sprawling in the dust. The wolf tucks its tail in between her legs in submission and runs away. The hyenas cackle in victory and begin feasting on the carcass.
The hyenas won because they worked better in a pack which was vital in this matchup.