Canis lupus
Linnaeus, 1758

cAn-is lu-pes

An adult Gray Wolf

The gray wolf is the largest extant member of the family Canidae except for certain breeds of domestic dogs. It resembles a German shepherd or husky dog in its physical features. The dorsal pelage is long (65-150mm) and variable in color, ranging from white to mottled gray or brown to pure black, usually grizzled gray. The venter is paler, ranging from white to buff or gray. The tail is bushy and pale buff or white, typically with a black tip. The dental formula of the gray wolf is incisors 3/3, canine 1/1, premolars 4/4, molars 2/3.
The only other species in Kansas that might have been confused for a wolf were certain domestic dogs and coyotes. The gray wolf could be distinguished from dogs by cranial features such as the orbital angle and the configuration of the tympanic bullae. The most obvious difference between this wolf species and the coyote is its much larger size.

Fossils resembling Canis latrans have been found in Pleistocene deposits. Differentiation of modern canids occurred primarily in Pleistocene and Recent times.The gray wolf once occurred in terrestrial habitats throughout the Northern Hemisphere, generally north of 20 degrees N latitude. Historical records indicate that it was common throughout Kansas with the possible exception of the southeastern corner of the state. It inhabited both short and tall grass prairie as well as forested regions. Explorers, soldiers, and settlers in Kansas routinely shot them on sight and killed them with poisons. By 1895, the species had been extirpated from all but 10 counties in the state. The last apparent wolves in Kansas were killed during winter of 1938-39. The species persisted in Canada, Mexico, and the Great Lakes region, and in recent years it has become restablished in Montana, Wyoming, and adjacent states as well as in isolated areas of the Southwest bordering Mexico.
A closely related fossil species existed in the Pleistocene.

(, Museum Voucher) (, Observation) (, Literature Record)
Open icons are questionable records; Click on a marker to view details.
  • Occurrence Summary:  
  • 16 Total Records 
  • 16 Museum Vouchers 
  • 0 Other Observations 
Some county occurrences indicated below may be too imprecise to map above.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences):
Ellsworth (1); Gove (3); Johnson (1); Sherman (1); Trego (2);

Natural History:
In late spring, summer, and early autumn, gray wolves tend to be active at dusk and during the night, returning to their dens near sunrise. If pups are present they may be active during daylight hours. In winter, wolves tend to be active throughout the day and night, often traveling during the day. Gray wolves are social animals and travel in packs. Packs typically consist of from 5 to 8 wolves, but packs up to 36 animals have been recorded. These large groups may be temporary associations of several packs. Most packs include a breeding pair and their young plus a few subordinate breeding adults. Dens often are located in gullies or on hillsides or ridges. The den is the center of activity during the breeding season, and a successful den may be used for several years. There may be several dens within a pack's territory so that the pups can be moved from one to another as the pack travels. Hunting territories of wolf packs are elongate and may cover from 10 to 95 square miles. Adjacent territories are mostly exclusive. Packs of gray wolves maintain home ranges which vary in size. In open habitats, such as tundra, they may range over 13,000 square kilometers. In forested areas the home range may be only 130-1300 square kilometers. During a day gray wolves may travel as much as 75 kilometers. Population densities vary from place to place, but a typical density might be one wolf per 60 square kilometers.
Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 1410-1645 mm; length of tail 360-500 mm; length of hind foot 250-300 mm; weight 45 to 175 pounds. Wolves may live 16 years in captivity, but a 10-year-old is an old wolf in the wild.
The gray wolf is a predator on mammals larger than itself. When the Great Plains was first settled, the gray wolf was known as the buffalo wolf because packs followed the herds of buffalo preying on young, old, and infirmed individuals that became separated from the herd. Farther east, in forested regions, the wolf was known as the timber wolf and fed largely on deer, moose, and elk. Gray wolves may hunt singly or in packs. They require 2.5 kg of meat per day, or approximately one deer every 18 days. However, a wolf may consume as much as 9 kg of flesh at one feeding and can fast for 2 weeks between kills.
Wolves are top carnivores, and adult wolves are subject to attack by no other animal except man. Most mortality results from injuries and from persecution by man. 
Courtship may last from a few days to several months. Copulation occurs between pack members, or lone individuals, any time from January to April during an estrous that lasts from 5 to 7 days. Gestation lasts about 63 days, and litters range from 1 to 11 pups (average 6). Pups are born blind and helpless in underground dens. The female remains in the den with the pups for about 2 months, during which time she is fed by her mate and other pack members. In about the eighth week, they are moved to an above-ground nest. The pups are gradually weaned by the fifth week, and are fed on partially digested food which the adults regurgitate. The pups reach half of their adult weight at about 15 weeks and are nearly full grown by thirty weeks. Adult teeth replace the deciduous teeth between 16-26 weeks after birth. The pups do not join hunting adults until they are approximately four months old, when the teeth of the pups are well developed. Males and females reach sexual maturity when about 22 months old but rarely breed until they are 3 years of age.

Occurrence Activity:
The subspecies to which populations of the gray wolf on the Great Plains belonged was Canis lupus nubilus. This subspecies now is extinct, one of few taxa of mammals that deliberately was driven to extinction by humans.

1952 Cockrum, E. L. Mammals of Kansas. Univ. Kansas Publ. Mus. Nat. Hist. 7:1-303. ():
1974 Mech, L. D. Canis lupus Mammalian Species 37():1-6
1987 Choate, J. R. Post-settlement history of mammals in western Kansas Southwestern Naturalist 32(2):157-168
1994 Fitzgerald, J. F., C. A. Meaney, and D. M. Armstrong University Press of Colorado, Niwot, CO. 1-467pp.
2008 Timm, R. M., G. R. Pisani, J. R. Choate, N. A. Slade, G. A. Kaufman, and D. W. Kaufman, . pp.
Account Last Updated:
7/13/2017 10:52:07 AM

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