Wolf
Gray Wolf
FWS Focus

Overview

The gray wolf, being a keystone predator, is an integral component of the ecosystems to which it typically belongs. The wide range of habitats in which wolves can thrive reflects their adaptability as a species, and includes temperate forests, mountains, tundra, taiga, and grasslands. Gray wolves were originally listed as subspecies or as regional populations of subspecies in the contiguous United States and Mexico. In 1978, we reclassifed the gray wolf as an endangered population at the species level (C. lupus) throughout the contiguous United States and Mexico, except for the Minnesota gray wolf population, which was classified as threatened. Gray wolf populations in Idaho and Montana were delisted due to recovery in 2011.

Scientific Name

Canis lupus
Common Name
Wolf
Gray Wolf
FWS Category
Mammals
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

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Identification Numbers

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Characteristics

Characteristic category

Overview

Characteristics

Overview

Gray wolves (Canis lupus) are the largest wild members of Canidae, or dog family, with adults ranging in weight from 18 to 80 kilograms (40 to 175 pounds), depending on sex and geographic locale. Gray wolves have a circumpolar range including North America, Europe, and Asia. The wide range of habitats in which wolves can thrive reflects their adaptability as a species and includes temperate forests, mountains, tundra, taiga, grasslands, and deserts. In North America, wolves are primarily predators of medium and large hooved mammals, such as moose, elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, caribou, muskox, and bison. Gray wolves have long legs that are well adapted to running, allowing them to move fast and travel far in search of food, and large skulls and jaws that are well suited to catching and feeding on large mammals. Wolves also have keen senses of smell, hearing, and vision, which they use to detect prey and one another. Pelt color varies in wolves more than in almost any other species, from white to grizzled gray to brown to coal black.

During the early 1900s, predator-control programs resulted in the elimination of wolves throughout most of the conterminous United States, with the exception of northeast Minnesota. Gray wolves were originally listed as subspecies or as regional populations of subspecies in the contiguous United States and Mexico. In 1978, we reclassified the gray wolf as endangered at the species level (C. lupus) throughout the contiguous United States and Mexico, except for gray wolves in Minnesota which were classified as threatened. The Northern Rocky Mountains population was delisted due to recovery in 2011, except for Wyoming which was delisted in 2017. Remaining wolf populations in the contiguous United States were delisted due to recovery in 2021.

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