Have you ever stopped to consider whether or not wolves need water to drink? Or how wolves (and dogs) drink water? If so, this is the post for you!
While filming video at our interpretive center in Ely, Minnesota, one of our arctic wolves, Axel, stopped at the pond to get a drink of water. We turned our camera to slow motion mode and hit record.
What we saw was news to us. Well, actually, it was news to all of us on staff who are not wolf biologists! We were surprised to learn that wolves do not curl their tongues up to drink water. Rather, they curl their tongue under itself to direct water into their mouths.
That got us thinking about wolves and water. If we were surprised by how they drank, what else about wolves and water might surprise us? So, we did what we always do here at the International Wolf Center: We called Dave.
(Back in 1985, we were founded by Dr. L. David Mech. At that time, Dave had already been studying wolves for 27 years).
Dave responded quickly and said: It’s in my book. Because of course it is. Everything is in Dave’s book. So, what can be said about wolves and water? Here are some key passages from his book, Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, which he wrote with Dr. Luigi Boitani.
First, wolves do not require open water to survive in the winter.
“In midwinter months at northern latitudes, wolves drink little or no water, yet the fat-free mass of most mature wolves is about 73 percent water (Kreeger et al. 1997).”
So where do they get their water from?
“Except for thermoregulation, wolves can obtain their maintenance water requirements from their prey, both from water in prey tissues and from water produced by the chemical oxidation of food. The primary ingredient of tissues eaten by wolves is water, which constitutes 55-75% of fresh meat (Blaza 1982).”
Need some stats on that? Well, picture renowned wolf biologist Rolf Peterson at an oven for this next paragraph.
“By oven-drying several tissues from a freshly killed moose, R.O. Peterson (unpublished data) found that the water content of various organs was as follows: liver 72%, heart 80%, kidney 81%, lung 77%, muscle 78%.”
Of course this data is helpful when considering the fact that most wolves live in climates where water sources freeze in the winter.
“Free water intake is helpful, but not required, to process food with a low water content (bones and hide) or when a wolf is heat-stressed, as after a vigorous chase. Liquid water is not commonly available to wolves in winter in boreal or arctic regions. Even when water is obtainable, it is infrequently drunk in winter.”
Need some field data to convince you?
“In a 50-day field study on Isle Royale in January and February, in which wolves or wolf packs were observed 160 times, wolves were seen drinking water only twice, both times after the heavy exertion of a moose chase (R.O. Peterson, unpublished data).”
And how about some more data?
“R.O. Peterson and L. D. Mech (unpublished data) observed a lactating female with two pups at a den in Ellesmere Island in late June 1996; during this time, the pups were usually in the den. The water source for the female was outside the den, and she drank water for 413 seconds during 77 hours of observation.”
The data for this article comes from the book Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation by Dr. L. David Mech and Dr. Luigi Boitani. The book can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Behavior-Conservation-David-Mech/dp/0226516970
The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.