Yellowstone Wildlife Spotlight: Gray Wolf
Next up in our series of animal spotlights, we have the gray wolf. Like many other Yellowstone animals, gray wolves faced extinction at one point in history. But in recent years their packs have a made a comeback in Alaska, Canada, northern Washington, northern Idaho, northern Montana, northeast Minnesota, and of course, Yellowstone.
The gray wolf is an important predator in its ecosystems. It balances animal populations by hunting moose, caribou, deer, and smaller mammals. As the name implies, these wolves are usually colored gray with some white, black, and brown. They have large bushy tails, long legs, and pointed ears. Larger than your average dog, gray wolves can grow to be over three feet high, six feet long, and 130 pounds.
Not Your House Pet
Genetically, wolves and dogs are almost identical. So why are these canine cousins so different from each other in their relationship with humans? The answer lies in the socialization phase of the puppies.
Wolves and dogs are both born blind and deaf. Their sense of smell initiates at around two weeks, hearing at four, and sight at six. Soon after, dog puppies enter a critical period of socialization where they explore the world with little fear. Experience and fear build until the puppy learns what is familiar or safe and what is strange or dangerous.
Wolf puppies go through their own critical period of socialization, but it happens much sooner than a dog’s. Wolf pups begin exploring their world as early as two weeks old, meaning they are still blind and deaf during much of their socialization phase. With fewer senses comes heightened fear. By the time their ears and eyes are fully functioning, much of the world, including humans, has been ruled strange and dangerous in their minds.
After the critical period of socialization, introducing wolves to completely unfamiliar things (like human companionship) is difficult because of their strong survival instincts. Overall, they prefer the company of their packs and other Yellowstone animals.
Come Visit the Wolves
Gray wolves are large, beautiful creatures that are amazing to watch. Instead of trying to find one in the wild—which we don’t recommend—you can visit Yellowstone Bear World and see for yourself the differences between Fido and a wolf. We harbor our very own pack of gray wolves. With a season pass you’ll be able to see the them and the other animals of Yellowstone as many times as you like. Come by to see the wolves today.