Nevada Fish & Wildlife Office
Pacific Southwest Region

Gray wolf

(Canis lupus)

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: lupus
Lifespan: 13 years
Feed: carnivores, available prey in their range
Habitat: The gray wolf formerly occurred in most of the conterminous United States and Mexico. Because of widespread habitat destruction and human persecution, the species now occupies only a small part of its original range in these regions. Four subspecies of the gray wolf.

Official Status in Nevada:


Life History:

Second only to humans in adapting to climate extremes, gray wolves once ranged from coast to coast and from Alaska to Mexico in North America. They were absent from the East and the Southeast, which were occupied by red wolves (Canis rufus), and from the large deserts in the southwestern States.

By the early 20th century, government-sponsored predator control programs and declines in prey brought gray wolves to near extinction in the lower 48 States. Wolf groups, or packs, typically include a breeding pair (the alpha pair), their offspring, and other non-breeding adults. Wolves are capable of mating by age two or three and sometimes form a lifelong bond. Wolves can live 13 years and reproduce past 10 years of age. On the average, five pups are born in early spring and are cared for by the entire pack. For the first six weeks, pups are reared in dens. Dens are often used year after year, but wolves may also dig new dens or use some other type of shelter, such as a cave.

Pups depend on their mother's milk for the first month, then are gradually weaned and fed regurgitated meat brought by pack members. By seven to eight months of age, when they are almost fully grown, pups begin traveling with the adults. After they are a year or two, wolves may leave and try to find a mate and form a pack. Lone, dispersing wolves have traveled as far as 600 miles in search of a new home.

Wolves use their distinctive howl to communicate. Biologists have identified a few of the reasons that wolves howl. First, they like to howl. They also howl to reinforce social bonds within the pack, to announce the beginning or end of a hunt, sound an alarm, locate members of the pack, or warn other wolves to stay out of their territory. Wolves howl more frequently in the evening and early morning, especially during winter breeding and pup-rearing.


Distribution and Habitat:


Wolf packs live within territories, which they defend from other wolves. Their territories range in size from 50 square miles to more than 1,000 square miles, depending on the available prey and seasonal prey movements. Wolves travel over large areas to hunt, as far as 30 miles in a day. Although they usually trot along at five miles per hour wolves can run as fast as 40 miles per hour for short distances.

Studies at Yellowstone National Park indicate that wolves support a wide variety of other animals. Ravens, foxes, wolverines, coyotes, bald eagles, and even bears feed on the carcasses of animals killed by wolves. Wolves also help maintain the balance between these ungulates (hoofed animals) and their food supply, making room for other plant-eaters such as beavers and small rodents.




Gray wolf populations fluctuate with food availability, strife within packs, and disease. In some areas wolf populations may change due to accidental or intentional killing by people.

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Last updated: April 16, 2014