Facts vs Fiction
Over the years, the International Wolf Center has worked hard to compile a growing number of articles to dispel myths, explain wolf behavior and give context to long-standing debates. This page puts all of those articles together on one page.
Caption attached to photo of wolves traveling through snow as a pack is false
This photo was taken in 2011 at Wood Buffalo National Park by Chadden Hunter for a BBC series called Frozen Planet. The caption, which is not an accurate interpretation of the behavior in the picture, was added at a later date by an unknown source.
No, this photo doesn‘t show one wolf protecting another’s throat in a gesture of heroism
Yet another misleading photo interpreting wolf behavior is circulating on the internet. In this instance, a female wolf is said to be protecting her male counterpart from an attack by shielding his throat. The caption reads: “The female wolf appears to hide under the male. She’s actually covering his throat from their assailant, whilst pretending to be scared.”
What is surplus killing, and why do wolves do it?
This article on surplus killing aims to set the record straight on this often misunderstood phenomenon.
We thank all of the biologists whose work has shed important light on this behavior.
Alpha wolf: What does it mean, and should it still be used?
When visitors come to the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, and observe our pack of ambassador wolves, many of them ask: “Which one is the alpha?” So begins a long conversation about the term and what it means.
It’s a term that started in the field of ethology, or animal behavior, and is now widely used in popular culture. While it is popular, it’s also misleading when applied to wolves. In fact, the International Wolf Center has stopped using the term altogether.
Are wolves dangerous to humans?
Are wolves dangerous to humans? According to the latest research, which studied worldwide data from 2002 to 2020, the risks associated with a wolf attack are “above zero, but far too low to calculate.”
Do wolves need water?
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!
What went into the decision to delist gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act?
Gray wolves have had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Endangered Species Act since they were first listed as endangered by the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967 and legally protected in 1974 by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. There’s no question the Act helped wolf populations in the lower 48 states. Populations rebounded naturally in some places and with reintroduction efforts in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho.
The Endangered Species Act and wolves: An update for 2022
In January 2021, wolves were removed from Endangered Species List protections, and wolf- population management returned to individual states. Since then, some of those states have attracted international attention for their management plans. Other states have taken more conservative measures.
With such different approaches, it can be hard to keep straight what has changed and what hasn’t. This post aims to provide an update on where states are and what’s next for wolves in 2022.
Learn about black wolves
One of the most popular ambassador wolves we’ve ever had at the International Wolf Center was named Luna. She came to the Center in 2012 and stood out from the rest of the wolves due in large part to her unique color.
She had a black coat. Visitors to the Center often asked how common her coat color was and what caused the variation.
This post aims to answer those basic questions and dig a little deeper into the science behind this color variation.
Is the book Never Cry Wolf a work of non-fiction?
Farley Mowat’s popular book and the subsequent Disney movie, Never Cry Wolf, should be considered entertaining works of fiction. They are not true accounts as suggested by the author.
What is apparent competition?
What is apparent competition? The concept deals with predator-prey relations in multi-prey ecosystems. For example: How do wolves impact an elk population when there are also moose on the landscape? And how does this impact change when the elk population goes up or down? That concept is analyzed in this article.
The importance of wildlands
The importance of preserving wild-lands to provide healthy, spacious habitat for large carnivores and their prey has long been realized by environmentalists. The International Wolf Center mission, in support of that idea, is to advance the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.
One prominent cause of wild eco-system destruction is the grazing of domestic livestock such as sheep and cattle. Millions of acres of public land, managed by branches of the federal government such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), are divided into allotments and pastures for management purposes. There, the practice of domestic livestock grazing coexists with the wildlife native to the region.
How wolves use hearing to engage with their world
Wolves, like their dog relatives, use their sense of hearing, often coordinated with smell and sight and sometimes touch to monitor their environment for what both friend and foe are up to.
Scientists discover high-altitude adaptations in Himalayan wolves
The Himalayan wolf is an evolutionarily distinct wolf lineage. The Himalayan wolf has unique high-altitude adaptations that help it thrive.
New research shows wolves balance the costs and benefits of their territories
Like many ecological questions, this one seems deceptively simple: how do wolf packs figure out how big their territory should be? Reaching an answer is anything but simple. However, by combining fieldwork, advanced GPS-tracking technology, large datasets, and some snazzy statistics, recent research published in 2021 provides one of the best answers to this question so far.
Biologists have known for decades that wolf pack territories vary considerably in size depending on the ecosystem. For example, wolves in southern boreal forest ecosystems can have territories as small as 7.5 mi2 whereas wolves in northern Arctic ecosystems can have territories that surpass 1,000 mi2 (1,2).
Arctic wolves have unique adaptation to prevent cold injury to their paws
It’s a fair question: How do arctic wolves not get cold-related injuries to their paws as they endure harsh winters on Ellesmere Island or in northern Canada?
The simple answer, according to biologists, is that instead of blood flow being reduced to their feet in the cold temperatures, the opposite occurs. Blood flow in fact increases to their feet.
This is one key adaptation that allows arctic wolves to thrive in their frigid environment.
What’s a lone wolf? And why do wolves disperse?
The term “lone wolf” is often used in popular culture today. But where did the term lone wolf come from? And what does it mean?
Put simply, the term “lone wolf” describes a pack wolf that happens to temporarily be traveling alone, which is often the case during summer, or one that has dispersed from its natal pack. The latter wolves set off by themselves.
How did wolves become dogs?
Dog lovers, whether they own a chihuahua or a Labrador retriever, all eventually ask one question: How is it that this domesticated dog came from wolves?
That’s not an easy question to answer, but there are two main hypotheses surrounding the topic and both were discussed in a 2021 paper written by David Mech and Luc A. A. Janssens.
Into a wolf den: In northern Minnesota, scientists track the next generation of wolves
First stop on a scientific research expedition that starts before dawn: the White Earth National Forest west of Bemidji, Minnesota. On this chilly, early May morning, patches of snow still dot the woods.
As part of a pilot project to monitor wolf pup survival in northern Minnesota, state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologists Carolin Humpal and Barry Sampson, along Shannon McNamara, wolf biologist, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, set out in four-wheel-drive trucks to find a wolf den hidden in a dense forest of red pine and white spruce.
Do Wolves Control Their Own Numbers?
In January 2021, gray wolves were removed from the federal Endangered Species List (delisted) except for the Mexican gray wolf. Management of the gray wolf then reverted to individual states. In Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah, wolves were delisted several years earlier, and some of these states soon opened regulated hunting and trapping seasons on the wolves. Managing wolves by opening a season on them, in the same way states manage deer, elk, bears and other wildlife, made many members of the public question why states felt they had to begin controlling wolves.
“Don’t wolves control their own numbers?” these folks asked. Scientists had long pondered that question, and much research has been devoted to the subject. After all, wolf packs are territorial, and the most common natural cause of death is wolves fighting and killing each other while defending those territories. But the question of whether wolves control their own numbers is a trick question, and trying to answer it is not easy.
Working as a wolf biologist
What does it take to become a wolf biologist?
Wolf biologists are the individuals who discover and uncover the truth about wolves, and in turn, use what they know to better understand, conserve, and manage wolves. But how does one become a wolf biologist? What path does a young person take to end up flying over the Northwoods counting the number of wolves in a pack or putting a GPS collar on a wild wolf?
Are biologists putting wolves in the cross-hairs?
Is it dangerous for wolves when biologists share photos of wolf pups in a den, GPS locations of where wolves have traveled, or trail camera footage of wolves in an area? We at the Voyageurs Wolf Project have had many people tell us that it is and that we are putting wolves at risk.
For example, we have had many express sentiments similar to: “Please don’t share photos of the pups in the den because the evil hunters will find and kill the pups.” But do wolf biologists like ourselves really endanger wolves and make them more susceptible to hunters or poachers when we share such information with the public?
Meet a wolf biologist - Sarah Hoy
Few places in the world are more fascinating for wolf biologists than Isle Royale, an island about 20 miles off the shores of northern Minnesota on Lake Superior.
For more than 60 years, biologists have closely studied the predator/prey relationship between wolves and moose on the island.
Meet a wolf biologist - Jeremy SunderRaj
The scene that played out before Jeremy SunderRaj would have likely scared most 11-year-old boys. The fact that it didn’t makes it clear that he was destined to be a wolf biologist.
About 13 years ago, SunderRaj and his family took a trip to Yellowstone National Park from his home in Denver, Colorado. He desperately wanted to see wolves and, much to his delight, he and his family got more than he bargained for. Not far off the road, a pack of Yellowstone’s wolves had found and killed two black bear cubs. SunderRaj was fascinated.
Meet a wolf biologist - Austin Homkes
Most graduate students hope to finish their degree and then get their dream job.
Austin Homkes doesn’t fit into that group, thanks to the Voyageurs Wolf Project.
Homkes instead has a full-time job as a biologist with the project while also finishing his Master’s degree at Northern Michigan University, studying the summer ecology of wolves.
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.