Types of Wolves
Biology & Behavior
Wolves & Humans
by Elizabeth Harper
The arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos), a subspecies of the
gray wolf (Canis lupus), is very similar to other wolves.
It lives and hunts in packs, has a social hierarchy, and holds territories.
It differs from other wolves in its habitat, appearance, and prey
Arctic wolves live primarily in the Arctic, the region located
above 67° north latitude. The land is covered with snow and
ice for most of the year, except for a brief period during the summer.
Arctic wolves have adapted well to this icy environment. They have
white fur, which allows them to blend into their snowy surroundings.
To help reduce heat loss, they have more-rounded ears, a shorter
muzzle and shorter legs than other gray wolf subspecies. They also
have hair between the pads of their feet and long, thick fur to
keep them warm in temperatures that can drop to minus 70° Fahrenheit.
A low density of prey in the Arctic requires these wolves to have
territories of well over 1,000 square miles, much larger than their
southern relatives. The main prey of the arctic wolf are musk oxen,
and arctic hare, but they will also eat Peary caribou, ptarmigan,
lemmings, seals, and nesting birds.
Permafrost in the Arctic makes it difficult for the wolves to
dig dens. Instead, their dens are often found in rock outcroppings,
caves or shallow depressions in the tundra soil. The mother will
give birth to 2-3 pups in late May to early June, about a month
later than the southern subspecies. On average, the number of pups
raised in the Arctic is lower than the average 5-6 pups born to
wolves further south. This lower number may be due to scarcity of
prey in the Arctic.
Mech, L. D. The Arctic Wolf: Ten years with the pack.
Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press; 1997.
Mech, L. David. Wolves of the High Arctic. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur
Press, Inc.; 1992.
For further information visit: www.arctic.noaa.gov/essay_mech.html