Gray Wolf Canis lupus nubilus Say

Description:   The gray wolf, the largest wild member of the family Canidae, is now extinct in Kansas. It was distinguished from other Kansas mammals by: 1) head and body configuration, resembling a large husky dog, 2) large size (larger than a coyote, which it superficially resembled), 3) broad snout, 4) relatively short ears, 5) long fur (65-150 mm) which varied in color for white through gray, brown, and black (light grizzled gray is the normal color), 6) belly, cheeks, legs, and throat white or buff and shading into gray along the sides and flanks, 7) black or brown hair becoming more common towards the rear and midline, producing a dark mid-dorsal stripe and flanks, 8) having a conspicuous black patch near the base of the tail, and 9) tail well-furred, lightly colored buff, and frequently tipped with black. Adult males tend to be larger than adult females.

Size:   Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 1410-1645 mm; tail 305-406 mm; hind foot 254-260 mm; weight 34-46 kilograms.

Range and Habitat:   The gray wolf probably ranged throughout Kansas with the possible exception of the southeastern corner of the state. It appears to have been common throughout the state, inhabiting both short and tall grass prairie as well as forested regions.

Reproduction:   Following a courtship period ranging from several days to months, copulation occurs between pack members, or lone individuals, any time from January to April. Individuals in packs show definite preferences for certain mates. Gestation lasts about 63 days (62-66) and litters range from one to eleven with six to seven being the average. The young are born blind and deaf in an underground den, and by the eighth week they are moved to a nest above ground. The pups are gradually weaned by the fifth week, and are fed on partially digested food which the adults regurgitate. The pups reach half of their adult weight at about fifteen weeks, and are nearly full grown by thirty weeks. Adult teeth replace the deciduous teeth between 16-26 weeks after birth. The pups do not seem to join hunting adults until they are approximately four months old, when the teeth of the pups are well developed Males and females reach sexual maturity by the second year (22 months old, but rarely breed until they are three years old.

Habits:   During late spring, summer, and early autumn, gray wolves tend to be active at dusk and during the night, returning to their dens near sunrise. If pups are present they may be active during daylight hours. During colder months wolves tend to be active throughout the day and night. Gray wolves are usually highly social animals, and travel in packs. The packs usually number five to eight members, but packs up to 36 animals are recorded. These large groups are probably temporary associations of several packs. Most packs include a breeding pair and their offspring, as well as a variable number of other subordinate breeding adults. Dens are usually dug in sandy soil in elevated areas, such as hillsides or ridges, near water. The den is typically 1.5-4 meters long, ends in an enlarged chamber, and may have several entrances. Gray wolves may dig their own dens or enlarge ones made by foxes, coyotes, or badgers. Frequently, several dens are prepared throughout the pack's territory and the pups are moved from one to another as they develop.

  Packs of gray wolves maintain home ranges which vary in size. In open habitats, such as tundra, they may range over 13,000 square kilometers. In forested areas the home range may be only 130-1300 square kilometers. During a day gray wolves may travel as much as 75 kilometers. Population densities vary from place to place, but a typical density might be one wolf per 60 square kilometers.

Food:   The gray wolf feeds primarily on mammals larger than itself, including deer, moose, wapiti, and bison. Beavers are also consistently part of their diet. Gray wolves may hunt singly or in packs. Gray wolves require 2.5 kilograms of meat per day, or approximately one deer every eighteen days. However, a wolf may consume almost 10 kg of flesh at one feeding, and can fast for two weeks between kills.

Remarks:   The subspecies of gray wolf once present in Kansas (Canis lupus nubilis Say) is now extinct throughout its range; the last specimen was reported in 1905. Early reports indicated that the gray wolf in Kansas preyed almost entirely upon bison. Gray wolves tend to feed on young, old, sick, or dead animals, and seldom are able to attack healthy mature ones. Thus, they serve to maintain healthy prey populations. These carnivores may live up to sixteen years in captivity, but rarely more than ten years in the wild.


Return to the Mammals of Kansas index page.