Against popular belief there are only two types of wolves in the world, the Red Wolf and the Grey Wolf or Gray Wolf. The Red Wolf is currently listed as critically endangered and are known to live around Texas and Florida. All other wolves are subspecies of the Grey Wolf.
Wolves lead a complex social life. They form groups called “packs,” which are typically composed of a dominant monogamous mated pair, the breeding “alpha pair” climbs the social ladder through fighting, followed by subordinate “beta” wolves and a low ranking “omega” which bears the brunt of the pack’s aggression.
Wolf packs in the Rocky Mountains have large territories and generally establish territories far larger than they require to survive in order to assure a steady supply of prey. Territory size depends largely on the amount of prey available. Wolf packs travel constantly in search of prey, covering roughly 9% of their territory per day an average of 25 km per day.
Although wolf packs do cooperate strategically in bringing down prey, they do not do so as frequently or as effectively as lionesses do; unlike lions, wolves rarely remain with their pack for more than two years and therefore have less time to learn how to hunt cooperatively.
Aggressive or self assertive wolves are characterised by their slow and deliberate movements, high body posture and raised hackles, while submissive ones carry their bodies low, sleeken their fur and lower their ears and tail.
When howling together, wolves harmonize rather than chorus on the same note, thus creating the illusion of there being more wolves than there actually are. Lone wolves typically avoid howling in areas where other packs are present. Wolves do not respond to howls in rainy weather and when stuffed with food.
Wolves will supplement their diet with fruit and vegetable matter. They willingly eat the berries of mountain ash, lily of the valley, bilberries, blueberries and cowberry. Other fruits include nightshade, apples and pears. Wolves can survive without food for long periods; two weeks without food will not weaken a wolf’s muscle activity. A wolf has a sense of smell that is 100 times better than that of the average human.
Wolves encounter cougars along portions of the Rocky Mountains and will typically avoid encountering each other by hunting on different elevations. In winter however, when snow accumulation forces their prey into valleys, interactions between the two species become more likely. Although they rarely interact, wolves and cougars will kill each other, with packs of the former sometimes commandeering the latter’s kills.
Grizzy bears are encountered by wolves and generally, the outcome of such encounters depends on context. Grizzly bears typically prevail against wolf packs in disputes over carcasses, while wolf packs mostly prevail against bears when defending their den sites. While a grizzly bear is much larger and more powerful than a single wolf, wolves can match them via their strength in numbers. Both species will kill each other’s young. Wolves will eat the bears they kill, while grizzly bears seem to only eat young wolves.
The entire pack of wolves is responsible for the care of the young. They are born in dens to their mothers and will stay there for the first four weeks of life. The pups only weigh about one pound each at birth.
Banff National Park is home to 45 wolves comprising five different packs. After eradication from the park in the 1950s, wolves returned for good in 1982 and have been thriving in remote parts of the park ever since. Three of the five packs are rarely seen, but numerous sightings are made each year of the Cascade pack in the Lake Minnewanka area in winter, and of the Bow Valley pack between Banff and Lake Louise year-round.