Skip to main content

Canis Lupus—The Grey Wolves of Then and Now

Wesman Todd Shaw absolutely loves dogs, wolves, coyotes, and foxes. He saw a wild wolf once, and it was a magical experience for him.


Humans Have Extreme Reactions to Wolves—From Adoration to Outright Hatred

The grey wolf is at once one of the most hated and most loved animals the world of humanity has ever known. Highly advanced in the animal kingdom, highly intelligent, and very expressive; the gray wolves fascinate or horrify, or both even. When you recognize the truth of the matter, that these grey wolves so many people loathe are more closely related to the same people's dogs than they are to the coyote - one can be bewildered by how the state of things are where they are.

Human kind's relationship with wolves is as ancient as its fears of the same. Our human intersection with them is akin to a Cain and Abel tale. Cain, the wolf - displeased its human gods, the brother was the one that pleased. The brother, of course, didn't ever die, but became the domestic dog. Pleasing to the human god is the domestic dog. The wolf Cain was forever cursed. We can only hope he's cursed to forever walk this Earth. The wolf is just too beautiful for us to allow it to perish.

A Wolf and the Founding of Rome

A Wolf and the Founding of Rome

Grey Wolves Are Found Throughout the Mythologies and Literature of Humanity

There is more in the realm of mythology about wolves and humans than could ever make for a decent web page. It would take a book, or several books to discuss all of that. Wolves are associated in various cultures with the founding of humanity itself, the founding of cities such as Rome, which went on to become a great empire, and then so very many other things it could never be listed here.

Wolves are recorded in the pages of times as being our ancestors, as being gods, as being devils. What is always so clear is what a big deal wolves are in the human mind. In more modern times wolves are forever involved with fantasy books and films, horror books and films. Then, of course, there are loads of tales of people turning into wolf-like creatures.

The Evolution of Wolves

The Evolution of Wolves

Grey Wolves Rarely Attack Humans

But Some of the Grey Wolf Ancestors Likely Ate Humans or Earlier Forms of Human

The earliest remains of a Canis lupus we've found as of yet are eight hundred thousand years old. Remains such as these have been found in Siberia and Alaska, places the modern wolves are still common. Modern grey wolves evolved from a couple of groups of earlier ancestors known as Canis mosbachensis, and the much larger Canis (Xenocyon) lycaonoides, an animal which likely preyed on early humans.

There were other species of wolf that once lived and have since died out. Most notable of these is the large and famous dire wolf. Another of these was the Megafaunal wolves, so named as they had the bite force allowing them to kill things as large as a mammoth. the megafaunal wolf is also known as the Taimyr wolf. Then there was also a beast known as a cave wolf, a large but little understood early wolf.

In the modern age, how many subspecies of grey wolves are there? Oh, only thirty-seven. The grey wolf is one of the more successful predators around. One of the more interesting theories of how wolves became dogs involves the notion that megafaunal wolf pups were taken and domesticated, then they bred among themselves creating an isolated gene pool.

Dire Wolf to Grey Wolf Comparison: Fair comparison, but grey wolves can get bigger than the weight listed.

Dire Wolf to Grey Wolf Comparison: Fair comparison, but grey wolves can get bigger than the weight listed.

Most Attacks on Humans by Grey Wolves Involved Individual Wolves Infected with Rabies

The grey wolf is one of the most studied animals in the world. There are libraries of books about grey wolves. Both loved and hated, the grey wolf always fascinates. All those tales you hear of wolf attacks on humans? Most of those are false. The largest part of the rest of the wolf attack tales involve wolves with rabies. Even in an area heavily populated by wolves a person is more likely to win the lotto or be struck by lightning than to be attacked by a wolf, rabid, or otherwise.

Because modern wolves do not see humans as prey a non-rabid wolf generally only ever will bite a human on a lower extremity as a message to cease and desist whatever activity said human is about in wolf country. Should wild wolves become so accustomed to seeing humans about that they lose their fear of humans, well, then the door is opened for the wolf to begin to see a human as prey. Such things as these simply never happen in North America but have been recorded as happening in remote areas of Europe and Asia.

Rabies is a valid concern and something to fear even when the rabid animal is something small as a skunk. Though wolves infected with rabies are extremely rare in North America, there is valid concern there as the wolf with rabies is one of the most dangerous animals there could be to encounter under the influence of that disease.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

A very threatening look from a grey wolf.

A very threatening look from a grey wolf.

What Do Grey Wolves Eat?

The list of animals the grey wolves prey upon is a very very long list. For the most part, and insofar as grey wolf preferences go, they eat the weakest individuals of any sorts of ungulates. What is that? What does it mean? Generally speaking, we're talking about any animal with hoofed feet. That means every sort of deer or deer like creature you can think of, and also includes larger animals such as cattle, horses, so forth and so on. Pigs and other pig-like animals? Oh yeah, wolves will be ever so proud to eat those, and there are lots of species of pigs in the large areas of Earth where the thirty-seven species of grey wolves live. Sheep? Goats? it's a go, and you betcha. Anything with a hoof on its feet, and if grey wolves lived in places where giraffes, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses lived? Yeah, they'd go at those creatures too.

Of course, hoofed creatures are not all the grey coat wolves eat. The grey wolves are apex predatorsno doubt about it. Any sort of rabbit, mouse, beaver, fox, squirrel, waterfowl, or eggs they can get? It's what is for grey wolf dinner. Insects? Yes, the grey wolves eat insects. Grey wolves in Alaska have been seen eating salmon, so surely other fishes are on the menu too. In very hard times the grey wolves will even resort to cannibalism, this is rare, but it happens. Grey wolves live in many remote and far flung places, and their diets will always reflect what is to be had in those places. Still, their preferred feasts are always hoofed creatures.

Grey wolves feeding.

Grey wolves feeding.

How the Wolf Became a Dog

A coyote roams through Discovery Park during a cold morning in 2008. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

A coyote roams through Discovery Park during a cold morning in 2008. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

A wolf/dog hybrid.

A wolf/dog hybrid.

Of Dogs and Wolves

The grey wolf is more closely related to your pet dog than it is related to even a coyote. Visually, this seems to be false. Regardless of what your eyes tell you, the fact is the dog is more genetically close to the wolf than is the coyote. Now, do not think wolves and coyotes don't interbreed, because they most certainly do. In fact, most coyotes and most wolves in the United States, were their genetics tested and mapped out, would show to be some degree of hybrid or another. There are not so many pure wolves or pure coyotes in North America. Grey wolves in Europe are more pure, with less interbreeding with dogs. Your dog is definitely full of wolf genes. How can this be so? Dogs absolutely descended from wolves, whether this was more due to forced selection or not is a matter of some debate.

The risk of your dog mating with a wolf is small. That the dog will have living wolf/dog hybrid pups is lesser still. Then again, should you own a Husky or a German shepherd, or one of the other breeds of dogs more closely resembling a wolf, then the chances of offspring increase—the hybrid wolf/dog animal will most likely be viable and fertile. There are plenty of them around, and I've personally seen many individuals myself.

In other parts of the world, there are other animals capable of breeding and producing viable, fertile offspring with wolves. Simien jackals can breed with wolves, and so can African wild dogs. In Australia, there are the dingos, and a dingo is just another wolf/dog variety; so it can certainly reproduce with any wolf or any dog. A coyote is 4% different from the grey wolves genetically. They can definitely reproduce, and there are loads of theories that the red wolf is nothing other than a long line of wolf/coyote hybrids.

Grey wolf distribution map. The red areas are where wolves used to live, green is where they live at present.

Grey wolf distribution map. The red areas are where wolves used to live, green is where they live at present.

Grey Wolves and Competition

Of course, the grey wolf is an apex predator dominating all other canid species in its domain. They kill the smaller coyotes regularly, and the foxes too. This mostly happens in Winters when the food sources are more scarce. While wolves may sometimes eat foxes, there's no records of wolves eating coyotes, they just kill them. Grey wolves killing an entire coyote litter have been observed. These things only happen in times of scarcity. In times of plenty, there have been observations of wolves, coyotes, and foxes all drinking from the same water source at the same time.

Brown bears such as grizzly bears and polar bears can dominate the much smaller wolves. Then again, if the wolf pack is large enough the wolves may have the upper hand. Disputes with the bigger and more powerful bears typically occur in regards to kills and carcasses. Should a wolf pack kill a big brown bear, then the bear will most certainly be eaten. Brown bears, however, are only ever interested in eating wolf pups.

What about black bears? Black bears come into contact with grey wolves a lot less frequently than do brown bears. This is due to the habitats of the black bears. The black bear, being smaller, is far less likely to withstand an attack by a wolf pack.

Then there is the striped hyenas, an animal wolves my interact with in places such as Israel. The hyena can dominate a lone wolf, but a wolf pack can always drive off the solitary hyena. Cougars or mountain lions? One on one a wolf is no match for the cougar. A pack of wolves, of course, can easily drive the large cat away.

Tigers are simply too large and too powerful for wolves to deal with, and outside of human kind, the tiger is the biggest killer of the grey wolves. Tigers kill wolves for the same reason wolves kill coyotes. It is about competition and not predation.

A dumb human and a very large dead wolf

A dumb human and a very large dead wolf

How Big Are Grey Wolves?

The megafaunal wolf was larger than a dire wolf, but the megafaunal creature was so significantly different from what we know as a wolf that it isn't truly considered to be one, and of course the creature went extinct a very very long time ago. The dire wolf was also significantly different from grey wolves, but one can still see that a dire wolf was a wolf indeed. Dire wolves lived alongside grey wolves in North America during the ice age, so a dire wolf is not an ancestor to the wolves of today at all. What is the largest sub-species of grey wolf? The Kenai Peninsula wolf (Canis lupus alces) wolf was larger than the wolves of today. These wolves of Alaska were killed off by humans hunting and poisoning them, as they completely got in the way of the great gold rush which had started in the 1890s. These Kenai Peninsula wolves were the largest grey wolves the world had ever seen. They were even bigger than dire wolves, and some weighed as much as two hundred and fifty pounds and were seven feet in length. What a glorious and beautiful animal the stupid greed for gold caused to become extinct.

The near 40 subspecies of grey wolf and the huge range of territories they inhabit make for an animal whose size ranges widely due to location and available prey. Wolves have very long legs compared to other canids, this allows them to move swiftly, and eases passage in snow. Wolves have far more powerful bites than almost any breed of dog—and of course, this is for the purpose of taking down the large hoofed prey the wolf prefers, and to crush the bones of said prey. Fifteen hundred pounds per square inch is the pressure a wolf's jaws can exert, that's twice that of a German shepherd. You don't want to get bit by either.

Insofar as weight and size are concerned, Bergmann's Rule does rule with the wolves. The further North a wolf lives, the more it weighs. Alaskan and Siberian grey wolves can weigh three to six times as much as an Arabian wolf. The largest individual grey wolf of a still living subspecies weighed in at 190 pounds. The individual was a male, as the females of any given subspecies of grey wolf typically weigh in at five to ten pounds less. Please be advised the furthest Northern wolves, the arctic wolves, are smaller than the grey wolves.

A Mexican grey wolf mother and pup.

A Mexican grey wolf mother and pup.

An Outstanding Hour Long Documentary on Grey Wolves

A woman made ugly for wearing a wolf coat jacket.

A woman made ugly for wearing a wolf coat jacket.

Why Do People Kill Grey Wolves? Will a Grey Wolf Make for a Good Pet?

Grey wolves are often killed due to 'small penis and grossly over-sized ego' syndrome. Typically, they are killed by white males who haven't been able to overcome their inbred desire to kill something, and often. It is absolutely wrong to refer to the activity of killing grey wolves as hunting, as hunting is something one does to put food in the fridge. The distinction is very important, and anyone who refers to killing as hunting should be addressed on the issue straight away.

Wolves also have the natural born desire to forever be killing something, regardless of whether or not they have the need to do so. If you, for instance, raise chickens or goats or any sort of livestock, then a wolf will not make a good pet for you. Wolves can be had as pets, and especially should one acquire the wolf pup as soon as its eyes open. The wolf, however, is nearly always a one person pet. They don't do so wonderfully with families, but if a whole family cares for the pet wolf, the wolf will certainly recognize the family as its family. Wolves are very very nervous around humans the animal does not know. Though their bite may be very dangerous—the wolf does not wish to be anyone's guard dog, and its instincts are to remove itself from the presence of strange humans, not frighten or attack them.

In what we think of as Western cultures men wish to kill wolves for fear they won't have enough moose, elk, or deer to hunt. The facts are the wolves benefit the herds of moose, elk, and deer by culling the weak, sick, and old so as to keep the herd's genetic makeup at its best. Hunters do not do this, they typically just wish to shoot something, possibly eating the kill, possibly just using it as a trophy. Then there are those who simply want to eradicate the wolves to protect their cattle or sheep. While this is understandable - it also leads to big problems in the future. From Texas to Florida where there are no longer wolves to kill the boar, we have a feral hog overpopulation—and the hogs damage the property of the very same ranchers who want the wolves dead.

Wolf coats are used to make wolf jackets for humans. You may say such a thing has always been so, and that is true. That doesn't mean that it is feasible today as the wolf populations in lots of areas are in decline, and the decline has a negative effect on the ecosystems. The far Northern grey wolf coats are most sought after because they are larger in size, and the coats are much thicker and more attractive. Whatever tactics needed to prevent harvesting of wolves should be used as humans aren't very reliable when it comes to maintaining a wolf population or any ecosystem's health.

Wherever humans encroach upon wolf territory, wolves are in danger. I hope something in this article will serve to inspire anyone who reads it to keep the grey wolves in mind and take any action necessary to ensure their continued existence on our shared planet. Thanks for reading.

A European grey wolf in Bavaria.

A European grey wolf in Bavaria.

© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on May 13, 2020:

@John Smith - while I definitely have sympathy for the ranchers who lose livestock to wolves...I like the wolves so much I'm opposed to them being killed outside of ranchers catching them prowling their livestock.

I am all for hunting, of course, but when someone is killing things like wolves, or mountain lions - that's absolutely NOT what I consider hunting.

Hunting is killing something for food, in my view. It's just killing something for fun, if you're not going to eat it, and I don't think people should ever honor killing things for fun.

john smith on May 13, 2020:

that human aint dumb! hes a killer! way to go bro!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 07, 2020:

I sure bet they are beautiful, Bert!

Bert Oulicky on January 06, 2020:

Thank you for this positive article about wolf's i have two wolf Malamute dogs as service dogs one is a very high percentage wolf and the other is medium percentage wolf we all could learn how to be a community from a pack

Suzie from Carson City on February 28, 2019:

Wes.....I'm feeling a bit like the wolf at the top of your article. Check your email, Quick! We have a job to do! (I suspected you could use a laugh today)

lach5ter on June 13, 2018:

where did you get the pic from it is BOSS

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 18, 2016:

Then I'm jealous of you, Pax Pacis; the only wolves I've ever seen were in cages. But the coyotes here are becoming much larger animals than coyotes used to be.

Pax Pacis from North Carolina on November 18, 2016:

Very nice article. I love wolves and am excited that they have done so well after being reintroduced to Wyoming. We saw a pack up there this summer, stunning animals.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on February 08, 2016:

You have echoed my views on hunting, Wesman.

There is a distinction between hunting and trophy hunting. I wish unethical hunters knew that.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 07, 2016:

Thanks a bunch, Suhail!

I repeat that over and over and over again at people because I absolutely want other people to use the distinction too. I abhor 'trophy hunting,' or 'hobby killing.'

It's disgusting, it's wasteful, and there has to be something not right in the heads of people who kill things for the 'glory' of it.

Hunting is different. Hunting is respectable, and it is respectful too. Trophy killing just isn't hunting.

Now I got my first gun at 12 years old, and I worked hard to pay for it - and I was allowed to hunt with another guy my age for dove and day there were no game birds where we were, and I got frustrated and fired into a big flock of blackbirds. I watched NINE blackbirds fall dead from one shot from my shotgun. I got incredibly sad afterwards. I had just up and killed nine birds out of nothing but frustration. If my dad had been there he'd have made me eat them, and he'd have been right to do so.

Suzie from Carson City on February 05, 2016:

By the looks of Mr. Canis Lupus up won't really need a whole PACK. Looks like he could do a fine job all by himself! Please, please DO overcome! Somebody needs to!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 05, 2016:

Thanks Paula!

When the zombies come and zombie stuff - if I'm still here I'm going to have my own pack of wolves. We shall overcome!

Suzie from Carson City on February 05, 2016:

Oh my....Nice, nice.........puppy. They're gorgeous, but sure enough to frighten the daylights outta me! I am amazed at HOW BIG they get!!

Great work as always, Wes. Shared & tweeted.

Ann Carr from SW England on February 05, 2016:

It would be interesting to read whatever you come up with; as you say, plenty more to write about.

I'm catching up with many hubs at the moment, so lots of reading!


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 05, 2016:

Hey Thanks! I will return that one!

The Logician from then to now on on February 05, 2016:

I liked it on Stumble Upon, check your stats after a while and let me know if it helps.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 05, 2016:

Thanks tsadjatko!!!!

I think one thing that should work with doing these things - is to make the page visually if someone isn't so into reading stuff.....there should at least be some pretty pictures ! Ha!

We'll see if this does anything at all. There are ten bazillian pages about grey wolves on the internet.

The Logician from then to now on on February 05, 2016:

What did one wolf say to another?

Howl's it goin'!

Once again you've outdone yourself, Wesman!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 05, 2016:

Thanks so much, annart! Wolves are certainly much more alert than are dogs. Being in the presence of one is a real unique experience. I've only ever got to be up close to a few.

I wanted to make a much larger article....but the page was starting to take too long to load, so I guess the thing to do would be to make another with a different title and focus. It's hard to feel like I've done a good job on anything about wolves because you invariably have to leave so much out! Thanks again!

Ann Carr from SW England on February 05, 2016:

This is a fascinating article and so educational. Your title drew me in and lived up to expectations!

I love wolves; they're so dignified, handsome and seem to have a superior intelligence (as dogs, I suppose). Instinct and survival contribute to that I suppose.

There is no way I would wear any item of clothing of animal fur, let alone a wolf's, and the so-called hunting just for sport is indefensible in my book.

Thanks for a great read and an intelligent article.


Related Articles