In the Field

Wolves of Alaska

Wolves of Alaska

In this blog article, we’re heading back into the north country to take a look at the wolves of Alaska. The Great Land of Alaska is currently home to an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 wolves and unlike in other areas of the United States, wolves in Alaska have never been threatened or endangered. However, the wolf is still a rather polarizing animal. Some have tremendous respect and admiration for these savvy predators, while others have great disdain for them due to the impact they can have on reducing the population of other species of wildlife, especially in areas where their numbers are very high.

In Alaska, there are currently two subspecies of wolves which differ slightly from each other in size and color. Many Alaskan wolves are either black or gray, but they can range in color from almost pure white, to pitch black, as well as shades of tan, with a wide variety of variations mixed in.

wolves of Alaska, Black wolf
Wolves with dark-colored fur, such as this one, are very common in Alaska.

 

Female wolves generally have around seven puppies to a litter. Wolves grow up fast, and they can reach their maximum size in just a year or two. Most adult male wolves in the interior regions of Alaska weigh from 85 to 115 pounds, but they can tip the scales at 150 pounds or even much heavier. Females, on the other hand, are quite a bit lighter and generally don’t exceed 110 pounds. The wolves of the southeastern part of the state tend to be smaller and darker in coloration as compared to the wolves of the northern, interior portions of Alaska.

Just like our beloved pet dogs, wolves are very much social animals and typically live in packs that include the parents and puppies from the current year. The average pack size is six or seven wolves, and often include a variety of yearlings as well as mature adults. Packs as large as twenty to thirty wolves sometimes occur, and these larger packs may include two or three litters of puppies from several different females.

wolf puppies
A mother wolf with her puppies.

 

There is a social order and hierarchy among the females and males of a wolf pack which is based on dominance. Wolves are also territorial and typically remain in the same general area where their pack is established, however, they sometimes share areas of their territory that overlap with neighboring packs.

Wolves have both a high birth rate and mortality rate. In many parts of Alaska, wolves succumb to predation by other wolves during territorial disputes, as well as disease and malnutrition in areas where food can be scarce.

 

Wolf Diet

Wolves are carnivores, and in most of the mainland area of Alaska moose and caribou are their primary food sources. Along with moose and caribou, wolves also prey heavily on Dall sheep, as well as smaller animals such as squirrels, snowshoe hares, beaver, and occasionally birds and fish.

In the Southeastern portion of the state, which has the highest population of wolves, black-tailed deer and mountain goats are among the wolf’s large prey items, along with many of the same smaller animals that the wolves of the north pursue, such as beaver. In coastal areas, wolves feed heavily upon the seasonal salmon and they also act as scavengers and will eat whatever tasty treats wash up on the beach.

wolf hunting
A wolf on the hunt.

Like most predatory animals, wolves are very opportunistic. Wolves can kill large prey items such as caribou and deer every few days in areas and times of the year where those animals are abundant and will especially target the very young, old, or injured of those species, as they are easy much easier to catch and kill.

So there you have it, that’s a quick look at the wolves of Alaska. Check out the video below to see more…

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(Article Sources: Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game)