Daily Lives of Wolves
Wolves are a marvel in simplicity, using a fairly conventional mammalian anatomy to its fullest extent, demonstrating teamwork and leadership, and maximizing their unique attributes to dominate their environment. They actually possess a weaker than usual sense of smell for a wild canine, but have preternaturally sharp hearing. They may be one of the least exceptional apex predators in terms of sheer strength or physical gifts, but they make up for it with their pack dynamic and sheer ferocity.
Their pack dynamic is one of the most iconic attributes of gray wolves, solidifying a decisive place in our hearts and minds for the species. An average pack consists of 5-12 wolves, usually headed by just one mated pair, although occasionally more. The other full-sized wolves of a pack are generally teenage offspring that are not yet mature enough to venture out to find a suitable mate. They usually range about a territory proportional to the number of full-grown wolves in the pack, usually around 15 square miles, which they cover almost 10% of in a day’s hunting. (Fuller)
Wolves mate for life, and produce a litter of 5 or more pups almost every year. The pups are ready to leave a den at about 3 weeks, are full-grown in about 4 months, and reach sexual maturity at about 2-3 years of age. Once a wolf is ready to break off from the pack, usually at around 2-4 years old (near the onset of sexual maturity, usually), it ventures in search of a suitable mating partner and enough hunting territory to sustain itself and a new pack. (Fuller)
Wolves are highly territorial, delineating their territories by scent marking and howling over the course of a day’s ranging. The most common scent marker is urination, but may also include defecation and ground scratching (Fuller). Clashes with other wolf packs are often violent, and in fact a large number of wolf deaths are caused by territorial disputes or co-predation (Mech & Boitani 76). Changing climate, terrain, and prey populations can cause seismic shifts in wolf population as strange packs are pushed together, redefining the packs and causing extensive conflict.
Hunting comes very naturally to wolves, as they use their numbers and unique evolutionary edges to bring down prey ranging from small rodents and rabbits all the way up to caribou and elk 6 times their size. Their pack dynamic allows them to encircle and confuse lone prey, while their burst speed and snow-cutting shape lets them engage in short-burst rundowns. (Fuller)
As grey wolves are an apex predator, there are no animals that actively predate on them, but birds, fish, and, of course, bears have little to fear from them except in times of great stress or desperation. Wolves will actually often supplement their nutrition with plant matter, eating berries and certain edible plants. They can function normally without food for 2 weeks, and digests matter very quickly, allowing it to consume enormous quantities of food when it is available. These represent critical adaptations to their harsh northern climate. (Anatomy)