Everyday people ask our biologist Jeremy questions about wolves and their environment along with many other varied questions. We will be adding his answers to your questions here in our Ask the Biologist section. Stay tuned and check back often as we post more answered questions here.
How Do Wolf Packs Avoid Inbreeding?
Gray wolf packs primarily live in family groups, where most individual are related. this situation could complicate the mating process in wolf society, as it is understood that incestuous relations are deleterious to offspring. Wolves overcome this predicament through several physiological and behavioral adaptations. First, only the alpha pair typically moves through courtship behavior, which minimizes the chances of siblings producing offspring. The alpha-male intensely patrols the breeding rituals within the pack, and aggressively prohibits others from mating. Secondly, if a sub-adult wolf is determined to find a mate, but prohibited by the alpha-male, the eager wolf has the option of leaving the pack to seek out a disperser from another pack and begin their own, new pack together. We find this usually occurs with younger (about two years old) wolves, both male and female, who then are lone wolves until they find a suitable mate. However, once a mate is found and they produce puppies the offspring now carry genetics fro two lineages, thus improving the genetic stability of the population.
Unfortunately, a circumstance may arise where either an alpha-male or alpha-female unexpectedly dies, leaving a related wolf next in line to breed with the established alpha that survives (typically a mother or father). To the best of our knowledge, mating between relative wolves may occur under these circumstances. Although not optimum, survival of the pack is paramount compared to the best selection of mates. The genetic codes of wolves is very resilient, and can endure inbreeding for long durations. Examples of isolated populations, such as Isle Royale, have shown this. The wolf population on the island of Isle Royale has been intensively studied since 1958, and only recently have researchers begun to observe potential negative impacts of the inbreeding that has been occurring for generations.
Where Do Wolves Get Their Water In Winter?
Do We Trim The Claws Of Our Captive Wolves?
How Strong Is A Wolf Bite?
What is the difference between predator species eyes and prey species eyes?
How do wolves avoid becoming wet while traveling through rain, snow, or water?
Wolves have several physical traits and behavior to help them maintain dry skin and limit the effects of cooling due to wet conditions. First of all, they are wearing a raincoat at all times. Wolves maintain a double-layer fur coat, comprised of the outer guard hairs and the dense undercoat underneath. The guard hairs are hollow to aid in insulation and provide the visual coloration of the individual. More importantly, the follicles of the guard hairs secrete oil that makes this outer layer of fur virtually impervious to water. It is common to see snow or water lying on the backs of wolves during heavy precipitation, as the oil prevents the water from seeping down to the skin. Wolves, just like dogs, shake off the wetness periodically, keeping their skin dry. The dense, compact undercoat’s main function is insulation; however it is tightly woven against the skin, so it catches any water that may penetrate the guard hair layer before it reaches the skin. As long as the skin remains dry, the insulation of the wolf is not compromised.
Wolves are good swimmers and often do not hesitate to travel through bodies of water. Doing so would obviously saturate their fur with water beyond the repellency of their guard hairs. However, it is important to realize that if the stream, river, or lake is not frozen, then the ambient temperature is likely not cold enough to cause hypothermia. During winter, all bodies of water in Northern territories are frozen solid, making travel across the landscape much easier for wolves.
Why doesn't the Owyhee Pack have puppies?
Are domestic dogs related to wolves?
What is "biotic potential"?
How can I help my dog or wolf/hybrid gain weight?
First, provide a dry dog food that is high in fat and protein, and make it available up to three times a day. Wet food can be added to the dry food to increase the palatability and consumption at each feeding. Since canines can eat a large amount of food in one setting, they can basically be fed as much as they will eat without vomiting. Chicken or beef broth can be added to dry food to increase calories and taste. Raw or cooked red meat can also be supplemented to the diet about once a week but watch for vomiting or diarrhea. If either occurs, then cut back on quantities or stop the red meat altogether. Hard-boiled eggs are a great source of fat and protein for canines, and have been used to recover protein-deficient wolves among the Sawtooth Pack in the past. In my experience, wolves love the taste of eggs and are eager to gobble them up quickly, shell and all. You may peel off the shell if you prefer, but the calcium of the shell is also beneficial to the nutrient requirements of canines. Another important aspect of large canine health is exercise. By walking or running frequently, their metabolism increases, which make them hungry, Finally, if necessary, dry puppy food can replace the adult dry food to increase the fat content of the diet. However, once your canine reaches optimum weight, the canine should return to adult food to maintain proper weight. If no underlying medical conditions exist, a large canine should quickly add weight to their bodies by increasing and adjusting their diet and exercise.
Does other wildlife interact with our captive wolves?
Both the Sawtooth and Owyhee Packs have been in constant contact with birds such as Ravens, Magpies, Gray and Stellar Jays, Turkey, Grouse, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-tailed Hawks, and Great Gray Owls, among others, since their arrival at Wolf Camp. Although most of these species steal food from the wolves, they are rarely chased by the pack. However, Ravens sometimes lose in a close encounter with a wolf and the Sawtooth Pack was notorious for hunting grouse that flew into their enclosure. The Owyhee Pack caught their first turkey last winter.
During the summer, insects and arachnids abound within and around the enclosure. Most of the time, the insects are a nuisance to the wolves, but sometimes the tables turn. I have witnessed wolves chasing and leaping after grasshoppers across an entire meadow…and eventually winning a tiny snack after the chase.
Coyotes inhabit this forest, and outnumber wolves and humans combined. Evidence that wild coyotes are regularly moving very close to the enclosures is prolific. We know coyotes “mark” (urinate on) the outside fence, while both packs have always marked the inside fence. Most often, when a coyote pack approaches, the wolves simply engage them with a vocalization battle. However, if coyotes approach very closely (within 300 feet), the pack becomes very quite and seemingly stalks the coyotes.
Likewise, White-tailed Deer are daily visitors to both enclosures, often approaching to very close proximity. Most of the time, the wolves ignore the deer. However, if deer are grazing nearby, then suddenly become startled and run, the pack will occasionally give predatory chase from within their enclosure…until they run out of space and the deer continue running away. For squirrels, chipmunks, voles and other small mammals who actually share the enclosure with the pack, the fence does not provide any safety. Occasionally these animals becomes snacks for the ever-opportunistic wolves. The capture of small prey is about as wild as captive wolves can be, so it is clear that our captive wolves certainly do interact with the surrounding forest and all the accompanying wildlife.