The Arctic Wolves

Updated on March 23, 2020
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

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

The Arctic Wolf -Canus Lupus Arctos


Arctic Wolves—Living in the Most Extreme Climates on Earth

Living in only the most bitter cold environments on planet Earth one may find the arctic wolf, a probable subspecies of the infamous and very wide-spread gray wolf. Unless you are some sort of researcher or photographer braving the terrible elements in the extreme north, you are unlikely to ever cross the path of the arctic wolf. People from tribes long accustomed to such conditions may see them from time to time, but the arctic wolves only live in the most northern parts of the north. Sometimes a few folk refer to this creature as the Melville Island wolf.

The arctic wolves are changing. Over the years the size of the arctic wolves very heads has shrunken. This is supposed to be as a result of interbreeding with dogs. The arctic wolves are smaller than northern grey wolves, and interbreeding with dogs is likely to produce an animal that is smaller still. Perhaps some of this breeding with dogs partially explains why these wolves of the arctic are often unafraid of people. Then again, there are no cattle ranchers or angry deer hunters in the very extreme north to have given the wolves there cause to fear humanity. It would be better were the wolves afraid, as all wolves need protection from the two-legged predators who will kill the wolves out of unabashed fear.

One upshot in recent years for the arctic wolves comes from popular culture. The Game of Thrones fantasy saga features some wolves here and there. There's not many characters as popular as the series' Jon Snow, and of course, Jon Snow has his amazing dire wolf, Ghost.

The Dire Wolf 'Ghost' in 'Game Of Thrones' - this is certainly an arctic wolf/dog hybrid


Are arctic wolves a sub-species of grey wolf?

I'm not stating here that arctic wolves are friendly creatures who want to be your friend. Arctic wolves probably attack humans more often than do other species of wolves per the number of actual encounters they have with humans. They also just happen to sometimes approach humans in a more seemingly friendly manner. You simply have to understand these wolves of the arctic encounter humanity far less than others, and so they are unaware of the dangers humans pose to them relative to what other wolf populations know instinctively.

It should also be mentioned here that the very notion of arctic wolves being a sub-species of grey wolves is not exactly something settled upon at all. Studies of the arctic wolves' mitochondrial DNA suggest these wolves are not a subspecies of grey wolf as they've no unique haplotypes. Regardless, we know these are distinct in their own way from grey wolves due to fur coloring, size, and chosen habitat. There's little to prevent the wolves of the arctic from migrating south, except that not all arctic wolves even have that option. There is a declining population of arctic wolves in Greenland, and there is no way off of that island for the wolves.

Like all wolves, living in packs of wolves is the preferred manner of going about wolf business. Wolf packs are not any sort of rule. There are wolves of the arctic that go about in pairs, and then there are lone wolves. These situations make it more difficult to track the wolves, and to have an accurate count of them wherever in the far north they are living.

Three Arctic Wolves

Human threats to arctic wolves

Why do people kill arctic wolves or arctic foxes? Sadly, the Danes and the Norwegians have been killing arctic wolves because the wolves sometimes kill arctic foxes. Arctic foxes are thought to be the more valuable animal because people harvest their fur for fashionable clothing.

Wolves have forever killed coyotes when times were hard and food was scarce - and this goes on any and everywhere a wolf and a coyote population overlap, and they nearly always do. Wolves will also kill foxes for the same reasons, and coyotes will kill foxes for the same reasons as well. Arctic wolves are forever vulnerable because they reproduce fewer offspring, and because of human interference in the natural order of things for the use of the arctic fox's fur.

The arctic wolf is the least understood of wolves. The extreme climate prevents studies, as does the darkness stretching through all twenty four hours in a day during parts of the year.

Arctic Wolves and Muskoxen, their favorite meal

Arctic wolf mother with pups


Arctic wolf diet and threats

A muskoxen may be the preferred meal of arctic wolves, but it is also surely the toughest one they can get. Surely many a wolf is lost to injuries sustained in the fight to get at a young, old, or infirm muskoxen. Truth of the matter is the arctic wolf, like most predators, will eat anything made out of meat it can overpower.

The far north is so very bitter that the arctic wolves don't just kill arctic foxes because the foxes hunt some of the same prey - they kill the arctic foxes and eat them. It isn't so common that a predator kills another smaller relative in order to eat it, but it happens in the far north. Arctic hares, of course, are the favorite prey for arctic Canidae. Also on the menu are lemmings, birds, and even beetles.

Like other predators in a bind, the arctic wolves will gladly scavenge what they can get, and if they can get at the remains of things left by far northern indigenous tribes - then that is so so welcome to. Having a go at the leftovers of the hunter gatherer humans is what domesticated wolves into pets so very long ago, no reason for such to stop now.

That the muskoxen and not the hare is the favorite meal for a wolf in the arctic is no longer a thing open for debate. It is now known, due to the studies which have been made, that arctic wolf reproduction increases with the availability of the muskoxen. Location, of course, has everything to do with a particular sect of arctic wolf's diet.

As climate changes, and climate never stops changing, with or without humanity, the wolves of the arctic could face future threats simply for their homelands becoming more intruded upon by humanity. Though humans hunting for arctic foxes and their furs are a serious threat in places, the biggest threat, always, to the wolves of the arctic are anything that depopulates the meals the wolves need to survive. Thanks for reading.

Arctic wolves

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • What are the techniques used to manage the population of Arctic wolves?

    I could be misunderstanding the nature of your question. When population management is discussed, what is usually going on is people are wanting to keep a population in check. It's why we have so much deer hunting in the United States.

    Were it not for the hunting and the hunters, the deer would decimate the flora of just about every ecosystem in which they are hunted.

    So population management with Arctic wolves, that's something which could only be done in the opposite direction. There are NOT many Arctic wolves at all. The population is about as tiny as an animal's population can get.

    So here's the numbers I'm getting from Google. There are only TWO HUNDRED Arctic wolves in the wild. There are around 50 in captivity.

    Now, despite this TINY number of animals, the Arctic wolf is still not considered to be especially threatened, but why? They live so far north there's hardly any humans there to threaten them.

  • How many pups can a mother wolf have?

    Four to six pups is the average for wolves. So far as I've been able to find out, the record is fourteen pups in a liter.

© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw


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    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      14 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Well thank you very much, yomama.

    • profile image


      14 months ago

      Love this!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      14 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Well thanks, OOOOOOF, I sure do love myself some Canids. If I lived in some remote place, I'd probably have myself a wolf pack.

    • profile image


      14 months ago


    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      Another extremely interesting hub. Wolves are such fascinating creatures and have a mysticism about them. They also seem to have a close pack behaviour. These arctic ones are handsome indeed!

      More great photos too!


    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Hey thanks a lot, Mel! If I've got a 'spirit animal,' then it is definitely a wolf! :)

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      4 years ago from San Diego California

      Beautiful, noble animals that deserve our protection. Great hub, written in a very engaging manner.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Discordzrocks - Thanks! Oh the arctic wolves are just fortunate to live so far North there's no livestock for them to kill.

      In the USA there has only ever been one proven fatal wolf attack on a human, that I know of - that didn't involve rabies.

      I think wolf hysteria is always something either brought on by ranchers who're more afraid of losing cash - or possibly something just ingrained in the human mind from thousands of years ago.

    • Discordzrocks profile image


      4 years ago from Aw Man

      nice hub, very descriptive and you dont seem to think arctic wolves are deadly killing machines like many I know.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks Sir! This one wasn't up to my length standards - but there isn't a whole lot to say about the arctic wolves that isn't the same for grey wolves.

      So in other words....I'm wanting to do a thing on grey wolves, but there is so much info on the subject to give, I don't know how long to make it.

      Make one too thorough, and nobody will read it - but if you don't make one thorough enough, then someone else's will outrank yours. Sometimes it is truly hard to know how to go about putting something together for a site like this.

      Of course one can always expand a thing.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Interesting article. I've seen a lot about arctic foxes on nature programs, but don't recall seeing anything about the arctic wolf. I would have thought that arctic conditions during winter are too tough to support a pack of wolves. Anyway, thanks for putting the arctic wolf on my radar.


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