Rieka was brought into the Exhibit Pack space on August 9th, 2021.  She weighed approximately 23 pounds and was 79 days old.  The introduction started in the Pack Holding Area with Axel and Grayson coming into the smaller space to meet Rieka.  The initial greetings went well despite Axel and Grayson being nervous in the smaller space.  As the wolves were moved back into the larger exhibit space,  Rieka was intimidated by the excitement and activity of the adults which resulted in her seeking comfort in the medical pen, a space that she utilized as a young pup.  Within a few hours, Rieka found some food scraps and bones to occupy her time and sought comfort with the wolf care staff when needed.  She has a bold personality, exploring and approaching the adults, especially when staff are providing food resources.  The Center had two behavioral teams monitoring Rieka’s progress over the days following the introduction. The first team was on-site, rotating 6-hour shifts to provide coverage 24 hours a day for the first week of the introduction.  The second team was a virtual team that observed the two Explore.org cameras and the Center’s Exhibit Pac.  Both teams entered data on the Center’s Ethogram platform and captured images and video to document the behaviors.  We currently processing the excel spreadsheet with over 1500 observations.   Over 30%of the observations listed Rieka as the “Instigator” of behaviors that included climbing, exploring, approaching and nose to nose greetings, primarily with Grayson.  She is more intimidated by Axel, so wolf care staff are spending time in the enclosure each night from 5 pm to 9 pm to encourage her to interact with Axel and Grayson and to ensure that she eats after the temperatures cool off for the night.

With white coats, the arctic wolves may not absorb as much heat, but they still have the behavioral pattern of seeking shade and becoming more nocturnal in activity.   In this photo, Axel finds a cool spot on the main greeting rock that is well protected by the adjacent tree cover.

So sorry for the extended delay in posting;  Since our last post, we have transitioned out of winter and right past spring into some hot, humid weather.  By the seasonal calendar, May is still considered spring, but with temperatures in the 80 degree range, the wolves can have challenges keeping cool.  We are fortunate to have a pond and a pump system that circulates water through a UV filter system to help keep the pond relatively algae free during the heat.  In this week’s image, Axel and Grayson investigate the flow of the upper pond.  This photo clearly shows the oversized foot per leg ratio that is classic wolf.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

We are still experiencing some warmer than average January Weather. Not only has it been stimulating wolves in an interesting way, but it has also been beautiful to photograph.  You may have noticed some recent facebook posts by staff showing the “Hoarfrost” back drop of the trees in our Exhibit Pack.

According to the definition on Britannica.com

Hoarfrost, deposit of ice crystals on objects exposed to the free air, such as grass blades, tree branches, or leaves. It is formed by direct condensation of water vapour to ice at temperatures below freezing and occurs when air is brought to its frost point by cooling.

With these background images, the wolves have been providing many behaviors to interpret. Normally January is filled with dominance, but this warmer weather is bring out a more social, bonding behavior.  There are many bouts of chase, resting in close proximity, nose to nose moments that are not part of our usual winter dynamics.  Will this behavior continue?  We will wait and see as a cold front is approaching and returning our winter norm temperatures back to zero and below.  To find out how the winter dynamics will change, log in to our website and join us for the “Winter Dynamics” webinar on February 4th at 4 pm Central time or sign up for the entire Webinar Series of 14 webinars, with many including the dynamics of our 2021 pup adoption.

Photo by Tanya Roerick

While we had snow in early October, the post-holiday winter has been a pattern of limited snow and warmer than average conditions.  Even though we still think it’s winter, the thick coat of these arctic wolves may make some of these mild days a bit too warm for much activity.  We have been observing  a lot of rest periods during the day when the wolves would normally be active, but like clockwork, they always seem to get up at 4 pm.  Visitors to the Center’s webcam or Explore.org’s two Exhibit cams will catch the action of the day.  Here are some examples  from recent Explore.org gallery posts.