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Of the canid family, the gray wolf is the largest member. Adult males stand twenty-six to thirty-eight inches high at the shoulder and are forty to forty-eight inches from head to hind. The tail is thirteen to twenty inches long. Females are fifteen to twenty percent smaller than males. North American wolves have a weight that is between about forty to 175 pounds. Wolves in the northern parts of their range are usually larger than the wolves in the southern parts.

Despite legends of trappers catching 200 pound wolves, the heaviest wolf found and on record in the United States weighed 175 pounds. The heaviest wolf in Canada weighed 172 pounds. The heaviest recent wolf which was captured for radio-collaring is a 122-pound male.

One anatomical difference between wolves and dogs is a precaudal gland on the upper surface of the wolves' tail. The gray wolves have a broad face and usually golden- yellow colored eyes. Which shines greenish-orange at night. Their ears are about two inches long, and their nose can be 1.5 inches wide.

To hunt, a wolves body is built for travel with long legs and big feet. Their chests are narrow to allow them to push through deep snow. The coat is thick and fluffy, which is thicker in the northern regions. It has long guard hairs that repel moisture and a woolly under coat. Winter coats are grown in the fall and then slowly shed in the spring.


Gray wolves' colors range from shades of gray, tan, and brown to all white or all black. The red wolf and the Abyssinian wolf have reddish coats. Some wolves have a saddle-like patch of color on their back and others have splotches of dark markings on their faces. The tip of a wolf's tail is usually colored black. It isn't unusual to have a variation of colors within a litter. Many wolves in the high Arctic are a creamy-white color. The white hair shafts have more air pockets then colored hairs, which provides better insulation.


The wolf's jaws are extremely strong and have a crushing power of 1500lbs/square inch. The upper jaw has six incisors, two canine teeth, eight premolars, and four molars. The lower jaw has six incisors, two canine teeth, eight premolars, and six molars. The incisors at the front of the jaw cut flesh from pray and the canines hold the pray. The Premolars and molars slice and grind the food.

Wolf Senses

The wolf possesses sharper vision, hearing, and smell than the domestic dog. The most acute of these senses is the smell.


The surface area receptive to smell in the wolf nose is fourteen times more than a human nose. Zoologist Bernhard Grzimek once performed an experiment with covered trays of food to test the sense of smell of the wolf and domestic dog. His experiment concluded that the wolves required five minutes to determine which tray contained food and the dogs took an hour.


The wolf's sense of hearing is the most acute of the wolf senses nest to the smell. A wolf's hearing ranges far beyond that of human ears. Some researchers believe the maximum frequency is perhaps 80 kHz when the human's is only 20 kHz. L. David Mech stated that "wolves can hear as far as six miles away in the forest and ten miles away on the open tundra".


The sight in wolves is relatively poor compared to the smell and hearing. Both aerial and ground observations of wolves have shown that their sight is at least as acute as humans. The eyes of wolves lack a foveal pit, a depression at the back of the eyeball that allows for sharp focusing at great distances. Naturalist R. D. Lawrence believes that wolves are unable to distinguish packmates by sight beyond about 100 to 150 feet. A wolves peripheral vision and ability to detect moving objects is excellent. A wolf's night vision is far more superior to a man's. Cheryl Asa found that when giving a color test to wolves that they most frequently detected the red and yellow stains on snow out of red, green, blue, and yellow. This is because of the markings of blood (red) and urine (yellow) marks.


Investigations of taste are made difficult by that the smell plays a role in the way a food tastes. Canines possess taste receptors for salty, bitter, sweet, and acidic. The sweetness receptivity would be of adaptive use to wolves by sweet berries and other fruits they sometimes eat.

Copyright 1999-2001, by Alix.