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The Arctic Wolf
(Canis lupus arctos)

by Murray Lundberg

        The wolf may be the most misunderstood animal in the world, and the Arctic wolf the least-known of all wolves.

        Arctic wolves live on the islands of the Canadian Arctic, and the north coast of Greenland, roughly north of 70° North latitude. Their world is extremely harsh as well as remote, and few scientists venture into that world during the long, dark winter - even the vast majority of Inuit live further south than the Arctic wolf. As a result, the details of their lives through much of the year are virtually unknown.

        Summer research has proven to be very productive due to the fact that scientists can watch the wolves' behaviour from distances far beyond what is possible in hilly and/or treed terrain. This is only possible, however, due to a wolf pack's greatly reduced mobility when pups are young. Researchers have found that during the summer, much of their behaviour is identical to their southern cousins, although pack solidarity seems to be more solid, as an individual would be unlikely to survive.

        Arctic wolves have special adaptations that make them distinct from other members of the broader Canis lupus family (gray wolves). Their coat is nearly pure white and somewhat thicker than a gray wolf, and to minimize exposure to the cold, their ears are smaller and more rounded, muzzles are slightly shorter, and their legs are noticeably shorter. They are somewhat bulkier in build as well, and often weigh over 100 pounds (45 kg).

        Their hunting ranges are extensive, often 800-1,000 square miles, and they will kill and eat virtually any animal they can catch, from voles and lemmings to muskox and caribou. Birds are also occasionally part of the diet.

        The Arctic wolf is the only subspecies of wolf which is not threatened - their remote home means that they are relatively safe from man's activities, both in terms of hunting and habitat destruction.

Arctic Wolf Links

The Arctic Wolf
An excellent presentation by Cora, from the Bank Street School For Children in New York.

International Wolf Center
Lots of information - North America is the primary focus, but there is some information from around the world.

North American Wolf Association
A non-profit organization dedicated to wolf recovery, rescue, reintroduction and protection.

Power vs Dignity: The Wolf in the North
The history of wolf kill programs in the Yukon and Alaska.

Gray Wolf
This great photo was on a phone calling card used in the Yukon.

References & Further Reading:

  • Jim Brandenburg - To The Top of The World - Adventures with Arctic Wolves (New York: Walker, 1993)
  • Jim Brandenburg - White Wolf - Living with an Arctic Legend (Creative Press, 1991)
  • Nancy Gibson - Wolves (Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 1996)
  • L. David Mech - The Arctic Wolf (Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 1997)
  • L. David Mech - Wolves of the High Arctic (Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 1992)


    More Arctic & Northern Animals Links