We survived the Polar Vortex, most importantly, Grizzer at the age of nearly 17, survived the Polar Vortex with rural Ely breaking a record of -50.2 below zero. We were a bit warmer up on the hill at the Center with -37 being our coldest. The use of the Wolf Care Center, a 70 degree building for morning feedings and extra food resources made the days more tolerable. Now that the weather is moderating, we are able to feed more carcasses that will stay thawed for more than an hour when sitting in the snowbanks of the enclosure. Grizzer can easily defend his food from Denali, but if not, staff have back up dinners prepared.
Each week, I try to pick one of the many photos on the Explore.org Gallery pages. This week I have selected an image from Tina Warne. The photo shows Axel on the right with a slight food defensive face towards Grayson on the left. While it often appears that Grayson has to wait for dinner, we do monitor scats and see that he gets his fair share of food (even if it has to be a post feeding chicken breakfast). On Thursday night, staff fed 2 beaver to the Exhibit Pack. The Vermilion Community College Wolf Ethology class was on site learning the data collection techniques and software to begin their spring assessment of the dynamics between Axel and Grayson. This is a trial period for a new data collection app that we hope to adopt for the pup introduction. We will post data results from the students research during their final exam period in May.
While Grizzer and Denali are different subspecies, their full winter pelage can make it hard to tell them apart.
Denali has more fire-brown tones on the back, Grizzer is more grey and has a well marked black stripe in the middle of the back between the light of the neckline and the grey of the lower back.
For each log, I try to select a photo from the Explore.org Gallery that represents the weekly behavior of the Exhibit Pack. Thanks to “jdy4wildlife” for posting this image of Grayson resting near his deer carcass. Notice the outstretched paw that signals to the scavengers that he still has possession even though he is trying to nap. This past week has been our first real blast of winter weather, with a polar vortex delivering some 25-30 below zero air temperatures. Wolf Specialist Abby Keller provided some good details on wolf adaptations to cold climates.
Our wolves are all subspecies that are equipped to handle subzero temps in the wild! Gray wolves have an insulating undercoat with guard hairs to keep them warm in extreme temps. In the winter, they also develop a thick layer of body fat to keep them insulated. The paws of gray wolves are covered with fur that insulates their paw pads and increases traction on slippery surfaces. Their paws are also a kept at a lower temperature than their core body heat, minimizing the amount of heat loss in extremities. Blood that flows into the paws naturally heats up the blood returning to the heart; this phenomenon is referred to as countercurrent heat exchange. This saves metabolic energy and prevents the core from cooling down due to heat loss at the extremities. This mechanism is also found in penguins!
That being said, we do our best to offer as much comfort to them as possible. All of our wolves have 24/7 access to enclosed areas that block the wind and keep out snow. They also have several dens that the can use to rest in if they so choose. We provide multiple beds of hay for them to rest on off of the cold ground, as well as increased meals to keep their metabolism up, thus increasing their core body temp.
Denali and Grizzer are having a great winter, not just the weather (which has been warmer than average), but they spend a lot of time in playbows, tail wags and traveling throughout the three retirement enclosures. Grizzer’s hearing is nearly gone and his cataracts definitely make it a challenge for him to see anything dropped on the ground, but his sense of smell is as strong as ever. This weekend a “Polar Vortex” is expected to drop temperatures to near 40 below zero. We increased the amount of hay in both enclosures and the Retired Wolves have many warm resting spots as well as the option to come inside the Wolf Care Center if needed.
This photo was captured from the Center’s Back Habitat webcam den and was posted on the Explore.org site by Elena-Italia
With the Center being closed throughout the early winter due to COVID restrictions, Axel and Grayson seemed very interested in the return of visitors to the Center by late January. They positioned themselves at the windows, watching the activity as visitors made some face-to-face connections, especially those exuberant younger visitors. As the Center went back to the “What’s for Dinner” program, we switched from smaller, more frequent feedings to the larger deer torso feedings. This created some interesting rank-order behaviors between Axel and Grayson who have been posturing for some rank since Denali retired. Grayson seems to be increasing his confidence without Denali’s intimidating presence. With Grayson’s tendency for bonding, we are very interested to see how he interacts with the pups next summer.
With temperatures reaching an overnight low of -27 degrees, we added a few extra food resources in addition to the Retired Wolves morning breakfast of 3-4 pounds of meat. In this image, Grizzer manages to keep a deer leg from Denali and proudly carries it through the pack holding area. While we have plenty of thick straw beds and covered spaces for the wolves to curl up on a cold winter night, there is an advantage to keeping them active with good circulation to their extremities. The extra food resources encourage activity, competition and extra calories as well as keeping Grizzer’s mind alert.
This week’s Explore.org Gallery image is a photo of Axel and Grayson in a duel scent roll. Apparently, they killed a small mammal in the enclosure and spent a significant amount of time tossing it and scent rolling. We recently reviewed a publication entitled: Grey wolf may show signs of self-awareness with the sniff
test of self-recognition co-authored by Karen Davis from Wolf Park (originator of the Wolf Ethogram that we frequently use). We are definitely interested in learning the motivations of wolf behaviors.
In this preliminary study, wolves showed some signs of the ability to recognize themselves
through the “olfactory mirror” and exhibited some clues of mark-directed responses,
particularly scent-rolling, which may shed more light on this still unclear behavior
and represent a sort of olfactory equivalent to passing the original mirror test.
We don’t have an explore.org camera in retirement, but staff photograph on a weekly basis to capture the moments we cherish on a daily basis. I like to call this one, “Two Ships Passing”. Definitely Retirement is about co-existing and understanding each other’s idiosyncrasies.
Since we established the partnership with Explore.org in 2020, we have definitely been enjoying the many images submitted by the viewers in their Gallery. I search the gallery to get an indication of the behaviors, feeding patterns, and overall dynamics of the Exhibit. This week’s photo shows the “Interspecific (between species)” interaction between a raven and Axel. I would like to thank Explore.org camera viewer “mashaka2020” for sharing this mirror moment between two social species.
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.