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The Wolverine

by Murray Lundberg

(Click on each of the graphics to greatly enlarge them)

Wolverine raiding a trapline     The wolverine's nicknames include "Devil bear" and "Wood devil". It's scientific name, Gulo gulo, means "glutton". Most drawings and taxidermy mounts of wolverines show it in a menacing pose. What is it about this beautiful animal that causes this type of reaction from humans?

    Humans often fear that which they don't understand and can't control, and wolverines fit into both those categories. Their strength, endurance and bravery are legendary, and yet wolverines are seldom seen even in the wilderness. In all my travels in the bush, I've only seen one, and that was only for a second - the thrilling image of that second, though, is still fresh, over 20 years after it occurred on a remote mountainside.

Wolverine tracks     The wolverine is the largest terrestrial member of the family Mustelidae, which includes river otters, sea otters, marten, weasel and mink. Their size varies quite dramatically, with males running from 9-20 kg (20-45 lbs) and females 7-14 kg (15-30 lbs). Baby wolverines, called kits, are born between January and April in snow caves high in the mountains. They only weigh only 0.4 kg (1 lb), but grow rapidly.

    Although one of the legends about wolverines is that they will attack virtually anything, they are primarily scavengers. They have long curved claws which don't retract, and large teeth set in very powerful jaws. These combine to allow wolverines to tear apart and consume dead, often-frozen animals, and also enable them to raid traplines and cabins, 2 of their most notorious (and most exaggerated) interactions with humans.

    Wolverines are found throughout northern Canada, and in many First Nations cultures, the wolverine was considered to be a very powerful spirit. They have enormous ranges, with males covering an area of up to 800 square kilometers (300 square miles).

    Their two main predators are humans and wolves, in that order. Their long dense fur is highly prized by trappers, who sell it for everything from display rugs to parka trim. Although lifespans of 13 years are possible, few survive longer than about 7 years in the wild.

Wolverine tracks     Although several hunting guides in northern Canada now advertise wolverine hunts, the eastern population is on the current list of endangered species in Canada. Management of wolverine populations is made extremely difficult by the animals' reclusive nature, since very little population data is available.

    There have been discussions about transplanting wolverines from the Yukon to eastern Canada, but wolverines are almost impossible to get into a live-trap, so that is unlikely to occur. As man continues to move into the wolverine's territory in search of both riches and recreation, perhaps it's better that we don't see them, and just content ourselves with knowing that they are part of our wilderness.

Wolverine trashing a cabin

Wolverine Links

The Wolverine Foundation
This site provides wolverine life history professional through elementary student levels, as well as links to current research, a comprehensive bibliography and much more.

An excellent look at the wolverine in Alaska, from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

On the Track of the Wolverine
From Ned Rozell of the Alaska Science Forum, a winter encounter with a wolverine.

Brief information with a range map and several excellent photos from National Geographic.

Brief information and several images from the Canadian Museum of Nature's Natural History Notebooks.

Reading List

Arctic & Northern Animals

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