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.

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.