Boltz, a member of the ambassador pack at the International Wolf Center, lowers the predatory curve when it comes to wolves

For immediate release – August 17, 2017

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Chad Richardson
Communications director
International Wolf Center
763-560-7374, ext. 225

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As an apex predator, wolf enthusiasts hold wolves in high regard as hunters for their ability to take down prey that is five to six times larger than themselves.

One ambassador wolf at the International Wolf Center, though, proves that the top level predator reputation wolves have in the world isn’t always accurate.

Boltz, a 5-year-old gray wolf in Ely, Minnesota, lowers the predatory curve during hot summer days. Simply put, he’s negatively impacted by bees and other flying insects that are plentiful on a hot summer day.

Nobody at the Center is sure why that’s the case, but there’s no denying it. His head will twist this way and that whenever something starts buzzing around him. He spins. He whirls. Then he’ll retreat to the upper wood line at the Center’s 1.2-acre enclosure and disappear for hours at a time.

“He can often be seen twirling, whirling and darting around looking like he is trying to see or grab at the flying insects near him,” Interpretive Center Manager Krista Harrington said. “He spends some of his time in one of the dens and occasionally peeks out, looks both ways and pulls his head back into the den.”
The behavior presented itself just more than a year ago.

“We started to notice that he had some phobias about bees last summer,” said Wolf Curator Lori Schmidt. “That’s when this obsessive fear avoidance began.”
Luckily for Boltz, the climate in Ely stays relatively cool.

“It’s only problematic on those hot, sunny and humid days when the bees, the deer flies, the horse flies and the bigger insects are out,” Schmidt said. “It’s something specific to their size and the sound they make. In northern Minnesota, it’s a very limited time frame that we have to worry about this phobia.”

Schmidt said there was a ground nesting stump of yellow jackets that were discovered in the enclosure a few summers ago. It’s possible that Boltz was stung by one (or more) of them and that’s how his phobia developed.

“There would likely have been an event that created a negative stimuli,” she said.

Thankfully for Boltz, there are plenty of places to seek shelter from the bees and flies. He retreats to the shade and sometimes goes underground into one of those two dens.
“That’s his solution,” Schmidt said. “Insects are part of life in the natural world. Animals can accommodate that. He does what he needs to do.”

Boltz’s bee phobia also means wildflowers are not planted in the enclosure.

“We have to be cognizant of the vegetation we plant, knowing that he has this phobia,” Schmidt said.

All kidding aside, staff at the interpretive center in Ely takes the situation seriously. They’ve done exposure conditioning with Boltz, where they get them exposed to their fear but then distract them with something positive, like a bone to chew on. In other instances, wolf care teams have blown peanut butter-scented bubbles around the enclosure so that he becomes less concerned about things flying around his head.

Schmidt and the staff also keep an eye on how Boltz’s behavior is affecting the pack. So far, all the whirling and twirling hasn’t been a problem.
“They’ve accepted that’s who he is,” Schmidt said. “His behavior isn’t alienating him from the social group.”

The International Wolf Center, founded in 1985, is known worldwide as the premier source for wolf information and education. The mission of the Center is to advance the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future. The Center educates through its website, its ambassador wolves, museum exhibits, educational outreach programs, International Wolf magazine, and a beautiful interpretive center in Ely, Minnesota.