Portrait of the European Wolf

Foto Sebastian Koerner

The wolf is the largest species from the family of the doglike (Canidae). Within the species Canis lupus,  body size and  weight can vary considerably. The largest wolves live in the north of America. They can weigh up to 80 kg, while their small relatives on the Arabian Peninsula only reach 15 kg. In Germany, the  data of dead or live captured  wolves collected so far at the LUPUS Institute and the IZW showed average values: adult males (older than 2 years) weighed between 25 and 35 kg, adult males 33 to 43 kg. The range for yearlings (wolves in the second year of life) was even wider: yearling females weighed between 22 and 36 kg, yearling males between 25 and 47 kg (as of  April 2017).

Compared to a German Shepherd of about the same weight, wolves are clearly more high-legged and have a straight back line. The ears appear relatively small and triangular, especially in winter coat, and are also densely coated on the inside. The bushy tail is usually carried hanging straight. In the summer coat wolves appear much slimmer and even more leggy. European wolves have a grey ground colour, which can vary from yellowish grey to greyish brown to dark grey. The underside of the muzzle and the throat are light, the backs of the ears are reddish. Behind the shoulder blades the dorsal coat often shows a light saddle patch, which is limited to the back by a dark saddle line. The tip of the tail is usually black. Many, but not all wolves have black markings on the front sides of the forelegs.

The body type of the wolf shows him as a persistent runner, who can easily cover many kilometers in an even trot. The typical gait of the wolf is the so-called laced trot, where the hind paws are placed exactly in the imprint of the respective front paw. Like all canines, wolves have 5 toes on the front paws and 4 on the hind paws. But only 4 toes and the pad are pressed off.

The wolf's skull is long and broad, the brain volume clearly larger than that of house dogs of the same size. The wolf's teeth have 42 teeth in the permanent dentition (I:3/3, C:1/1, P:4/4, M:2/3). The teeth are changed between the 5th and 7th month of life.

In captivity, wolves can live to be 16 years and older. In the field, most animals die much younger. In Saxony a female wolf became 13 years old. However, this is a rare exception.

Social organization

Foto Heiko Anders

Wolves live in families (herds), which  mostly  consists of the two parent animals and their offspring of the last two to three years. The young wolves leave  usually the parental territory at the age of 10-22 months to look for an own  territory and a mating partner. In most wolf packs therefore the both parents are the only wolves permanently present in the territory.

However, some young wolves stay longer in the territory of their parents, in rare cases 4-5 years. As in wolves the  sexual maturity usually starts at the  age of 22 months, there may be other sexually mature animals in such packs besides the parents. This sometimes leads to the fact that one of their daughters gets puppies besides the fawn. A fought hierarchy as one knows it from the attitude of wolves in captivity, does not exist with free living wolves. Contrary to house bitches, the wolf's fleece is in heat only once a year, in winter. After sometimes several weeks of priority, the mating usually takes place at the end of February/beginning of March. After a gestation period of  about  63 days, 4 to 6 puppies are usually born at the end of April/beginning of May. With 6 to 7 months these are already almost as big as the parents and yearlings (young wolves in the second year of life) and run with the other pack members.

Each parent pair claims its own territory, which it defends against foreign sexually mature wolves. Because of their distinct territoriality comparatively few wolves are distributed over a large area. The size of the territories depends mainly on the available food. A wolf's territory must be large enough for the parent animals  to produce enough prey each year to raise their offspring. The fewer prey animals there are in a region, the larger the wolf territories must be. In Central Europe, the territory sizes determined in studies often lie between 100-350 km². Wolves are therefore spatially organised in such a way that they use their food resources sustainably. The first results of wolves equipped with transmission collars also showed that retreat areas in the cultural landscape intensively used by humans are also important for the location and size of the territories.

Food

Basically it is valid that the wolf stands at the top of the food pyramid of his habitat. Its number in an area is determined by the food supply and possibly also by diseases, but not by a predator. Similarly, wolves naturally influence the number of wild ungulates they are opposed to. Wolves are specialized in the hunting of cloven-hoofed game (even-toed ungulates). In Central Europe they feed mainly on roe deer, red deer and wild boar, locally also on fallow deer and mouflon. In Scandinavia, moose or reindeer are often their main food. In southern Europe, where wild ungulates are lacking, farm animals and garbage can make up a substantial part of the diet.