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Ask A Scientist

How many different types of wolves are there?

Asked by: How many different types of wo
School: Maine Endwell Middle School
Grade: 6
Teacher: Mr. Kevin Wagstaff
Hobbies/Interests: I like to swim in the summer and roller blade anytime
Career Interest: Vet that takes care of sick animals

Answer from George Catalano

Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Director of t

Ph.D. School:
University of Virginia, Aerospace Engineering, 1977

Research area:
Turbulence, Fluid Mechanics, Aerodynamics, Environmental Ethics, and Modeling Ecosystems

Interests/hobbies:
All things Italian, Creative Arts, Model trains & cars.

Family:
Wife, Karen, is a registered yoga teacher at Inner Space Yoga Studio; lives with 3 Alaskan Malamutes, two more in our hearts

According to most scientists today, there are three main species of wolves: the gray wolf, Canis lupus, lives in the northern latitudes around the world; the red wolf, Canis rufus, lives only in North America; and the Abyssinian or Ethiopian wolf, Canis simensis, which some scientists believe is really a jackal, lives on the highlands of Ethiopia. Native peoples called him 'brother'. Great warriors, medicine men and chiefs took their name and wolf-tales were recounted around fires until the ashes grew cold. So powerful was the medicine of the Wolf, elite warrior societies believed that by donning their pelts and making themselves to resemble wolves before riding into the camps of their enemies, they would be unseen and virtually invincible. Wolves were once the most widely distributed mammal in the world, occupying almost every habitat except tropical jungles. In North America, the wolf has been exterminated from about 95 percent of its historic range in the United States, about 15 percent of its range in Canada, and all of its range in Mexico. Today the wolf is gone from about 25 percent of its original habitat in Europe and Asia. Human persecution and loss of habitat have restricted wolf populations to the more remote and wild lands of the Earth. Perhaps no animal has been more vilified than has the wolf. For many of us our first introduction to wolves occurred in children's fables such as Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs in which that dastardly wolf ate grandmothers, cute little girls and an adorable talking pig family. The wolf even made a cameo appearance in the 2004 Presidential election when a pack of wolves was likened to a cell of Al Qaeda terrorists. Yet the truth about wolves is very different. They are highly complex creatures with family lives very much like our own. There are parents, the alpha male and female, children, the pups, as well as an assortment of aunts and uncles who serve as babysitters and role models for newborn pups. With the exception of a very recent episode in Canada, which still has not been fully investigated, there are no known attacks by healthy wolves on grandmothers, children or any other human being. Wolves fill an important role in the dynamics of the natural world. This has been shown quite dramatically by the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. Since their reintroduction, quite to the surprise of all, the vegetation throughout the park has quickly recovered from overgrazing by herds of various ungulates in addition to other significant changes such as reductions in the numbers of coyotes. Have you ever heard a wolf howl? They're not howling at the moon; they are communicating. They call any time of the day, but they are most easily heard in the evening when the wind dies down and wolves are most active. Wolves' vocalizations can be separated into four categories: barking, whimpering, growling, and howling. Sounds created by the wolf may actually be a combination of sounds such as a bark-howl or growl-bark. Barking is used as a warning. A mother may bark to her pups because she senses danger, or a bark or bark-howl may be used to show aggression in defense of the pack or territory. Whimpering may be used by a mother to indicate her willingness to nurse her young. It is also used to indicate, "I give up" if they are in a submissive position and another wolf is dominating them. Growling is used as a warning. A wolf may growl at intruding wolves or predators, or to indicate dominance. Howling is the one form of communication used by wolves that is intended for long distance. A defensive howl is used to keep the pack together and strangers away, to stand their ground and protect young pups who cannot yet travel from danger, and protect kill sites. A social howl is used to locate one another, rally together and possibly just for fun.

Last Updated: 9/18/13