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.

Thanks for all of your support this past year.  We are grateful for the support of the Explore.org folks and their many, many images in the gallery of Axel and Grayson.  As arctic subspecies, they definitely thrive in winter conditions.

Photo by Sherry Jokinen. Trouble Identifying Axel? Look for the longer, straighter muzzle

Winter is officially here on December 21st, although snow and cold arrived in October.  Wolves tend to increase dominance during this seasonal change and in the months to come, we expect more dynamic interactions.  This is typically a time of posturing tails, barring teeth and loud vocalizations that is part of wolf communication.  In this week’s image, there’s several things to notice.  Grayson (on the right) has his lip curled over his canine, his ears pricked forward, but slightly turned to the side in intimidation and his hackles are raised.  This is a pretty direct threat display that catches Axel off guard a bit as indicated his his ears turned in a more sideways position.  While this may look like they are fighting, this method of expressing dominance makes it clear which wolf is higher ranking and actually avoids more scuffles for rank.   With this small social group of two brothers, Axel is the more dominant wolf, but as we make plans to adopt pups and add to the pack in 2021, there may be opportunities for rank to change.  Time will tell, but for now, staff record data and photograph and track the communication.

This week’s image was captured by Michelle Wagner from the Center’s Exhibit Webcam.  While we had snow early in the season, the recent dry spell has left ground frozen with no insulating value in the snow.  To make our wolves comfortable, we provide a layer of straw that insulates from the cold and the darker color absorbs the winter sun.  Axel is on the right and Grayson is on the left in this photo.  Recently, we fed a deer hide as an enrichment for the wolves and Grayson spend a fair amount of time plucking the hair from the hide and layered his straw bed with deer hair.  It certainly added an additional layer of comfort to the bed.

In conjunction with our webcam partners – Explore.org, I have started a new focus for our wolf logs.  Each week, I will be selecting an image from the Explore.org gallery that provides a glimpse into the lives of the Axel and Grayson in the Exhibit Pack.   This week’s photo caught my attention with Grayson on the left displaying a “T-1 Tail” indicating some heighted arousal while Axel displays a “Play-Bow”, going down on his front legs to spring up to engage or run the other way stimulating a behavior we call “Invite Chase”.  I also see that Axel’s tail is over his back as well indicating that he’s feeling pretty confident as well.  We certainly have witnessed Grayson gaining a bit more confidence since Denali was retired.  Anyone who watched the webcams or visited the Center during the “What’s for Dinner” program witnessed Denali charging Grayson off the carcass, giving Axel preferential treatment.  Without much effort, Axel was dominant over Grayson.  Now that it’s just the two of them, Axel is working on asserting himself with more frequency and more effort.   Behaviors such as this week’s photo are to be expected as each wolf tries to find their place without the influence of other pack members.  Other behaviors may include a Chin Rest – T- Block, Following, Chasing, Ride-Up and Avert Gaze.  All of these behaviors can be found in our Ethogram list of behaviors.  As the winter advances, we expect activity to increase and with the anticipated addition of pups next summer, we expect the posturing for leadership will settle into a more defined structure.

With Axel and Grayson being the only members of the Exhibit, we find Grayson’s dominance increasing.  For most of Grayson’s life, he has been lower ranking than his brother Axel, mainly due to Denali’s influence of controlling food resources.  Denali would allow Axel to feed without any issues, but would guard and drive Grayson away from food.  With Denali’s retirement, Axel and Grayson are exhibiting a lot of testing behaviors. According to the Center’s educators who get a front window view of the brothers on a daily basis, they recently observed two behaviors that demonstrate this testing process:
“Grayson went in for the world record of longest chin rests on Axel. Of course Axel responded to this with a drawn out ride up on Grayson. “
The peak activity seems to be during the morning wolf care sessions from approximately 8 am – 10 am and again during the last few hours of daylight from approximately 3 pm to 5 pm.  Viewers of our webcam may hear Grayson as he tends to display lone howls that switch between a low throated howl to communicate and a bark howl to identify a potential threat to the Exhibit.

Written by Wolf Care Assistant – Leanne Martin

With the arrival of 3 plus inches of new snow this week, activity in the Exhibit Pack has increased. Axel was recently observed rolling over in front of Grayson, then springing up and inviting Grayson to chase him. Grayson accepted Axel’s invitation, and chased him around the enclosure with a T-1 tail. According to the IWC’s ethogram, a T-1 tail is one where the tail is sticking up in the air, indicating confidence.
Axel and Grayson are active 4-year olds, and have plenty of energy to burn. Since the wolves are more active during winter than they are in the hot summer months, they typically consume more food to account for the extra expended energy. Since Denali’s retirement, staff have noticed an increase in Grayson’s confidence during feedings. Staff typically feed deer on Saturday nights, and beaver carcasses on Wednesday afternoons. Grayson has been confident enough to claim food, and successfully defend it from Axel. 

After Denali’s retirement on October 16th, Axel and Grayson needed some time to adjust to the change.   I made the decision to retire Denali based on his advanced age needing some time to recuperate from a paw wound.  On a younger animal, this would have been something that we would have treated within the pack, but an injury at this age increased his vulnerability.  Since Denali’s retirement was not a situation where the arctics forced him out of the pack, we saw more stress howling, especially from Grayson.  After about a week, the howling seemed to subside and Grayson has increased his displays of dominance, especially on the weekly deer carcass.  Based on our experience with Shadow and Malik, the last pair of arctic wolves we managed, we know the winter will certainly be active for these two.

With the Retirement of Denali on Friday, Grayson has increased his howling, intensified to more bark howling when there is any activity in the wolf yard and even got his brother Axel to bark howl with him today.  Wolves are neophobic (hesitant about new things) and they don’t like change, especially Grayson.  But, change will happen.  Cold weather arrived on Saturday putting a layer of ice on the pond and reminding us that winter is upon us and we can expect wolf behavior to increase.  Another change is that without Denali to possess food, Grayson is free to take the lead on the carcass.  The following was a daily report from the Center educators that monitor the pack dynamics on a daily basis:

” Axel and Grayson played a lot of “hide and go seek” on the big den along with some play chase. They continued to rest on the pumphouse when they were done. They were continuing to mill around up front before What’s For Dinner, and showed some more playful behavior with one another. During What’s For Dinner, Axel and Grayson both moved in to eat at the fawn. Grayson defended from Axel, and Axel soon backed off while Grayson ate. Grayson ate for about 15 minutes (did not check time, so this is an educated guess). After Grayson moved off, Axel came in to eat and dragged the carcass partway across the viewing area, then fed until about 8:15 pm”

The tension of the last 24 hours seems to have resulted in some dominance from Grayson towards Denali that made Denali less mobile and more vulnerable to the heightened activity of the younger pack mates, especially with the first ground covering snowfall of the season.  We made the decision to retire Denali this morning.  He will be in the East Side Retired Area, Boltz will be in the Pack Holding Area and Grizzer will be in the transition area and back habitat.  We will use this weekend to get everyone situated in the new arrangement and will keep the cameras off.  At this time, we do not know compatibility for the wolves to join each other, we definitely need answers on Boltz before we add any activity to his life.  I can tell you that all 3 have good cover and will have the full focus of the wolf care on duty.  Boltz is recovering extremely well, actually better than we expected.  When he was released back into the Pack Holding Area from the Wolf Care Center, the first thing he did was find Denali’s cached beaver tail and take it to the stump (he has become a stump eater lately, he doesn’t like dirt on his food). Grizzer has his favorite Back Habitat Den and the entire transition area.