The red wolf was believed to be completely wiped off from the world a few decades ago. Know more about this species that is slowly trying to come back into existence and is listed as ‘critically endangered’ in the IUCN red list.
Red wolves are medium-sized species of wolves and belong to the subspecies Canis lupus rufus. Experts believe that the red wolf shares its blood lineage with three other varieties of wolves: the gray wolf, the eastern timber wolf and the prairie wolf. All the four varieties share almost the same features, except the color and size of their fur coat.
Studies on wolves and concentrated research on the red wolf has revealed that this animal evolved into its present form around two million years ago. During this time of evolution and migration, the ancestors of wolves which were large mammals, resembling the present day dogs and wolves, migrated northwards. A large part of the population migrated to northern parts of America, while the remaining population dominated Eurasia. The population that lived in North America, seem to have evolved into red wolves. However, the once dominant predator of the Southeastern America was almost on a brink of extinction in the 1980s.
|Scientific name||Canis Lupus Rufus|
|Top speed||30 mph|
|Color||Red, Brown, Gray and Black|
|Distinctive features||Reddish fur, black-tipped tail|
|Natural habitat||Swamp lands, forests, coastal prairie and agricultural land|
|Litter size||2-6 pups|
|Mating season||Late winter|
|Gestation period||60 to 63 days|
|Life span||5-7 years in the wild and 15 years in captivity|
|Main prey||Deer, rodents, rabbits, raccoons and berries|
|Main predators||Coyotes, wolves and humans|
|Conservation status||Critically endangered|
- Red wolves have a short reddish-brown cast over the gray-black fur coat. Their tail is quite bushy, but unlike other wolves, they have a distinct black-colored tip. These wolves also have relatively longer limbs and ears.
- The average height of an adult red wolf is about 26 to 32 inches. When measured from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail, it is about 4.5 to 5.5 feet.
- The red wolf is larger than a coyote but smaller than its cousin, the gray wolf. The red wolf can weigh anywhere from 40 to 85 pounds. The female generally weighs slightly less than its male counterpart.
- Red wolves are found only in Eastern North Carolina and wildlife sanctuaries like Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
- It is believed that the red wolves were once the top predators of the Southeastern US and roamed in areas, ranging from the Atlantic to the Gulf Coast, through Central Pennsylvania and Texas.
- The red wolf builds its den in the dense forest, in the hollows of huge trees, canals, and in the deep burrows. It prefers marshlands and swampy areas.
- Its diet consists mostly of smaller animals like rabbits, raccoon, rodents, lizards, birds, etc. It, sometimes, eats even berries!
- If the wolves hunt in a pack, they can easily bring down a full-grown deer. Rodents and the white-tailed deer are usually their favorite prey.
Reproduction and Life Span
- They live in small packs of 5 to 8, consisting of an adult pair and their offspring. Red wolves pair for life and give birth to 2 to 6 pups. The pups, however, are quick learners and they start hunting on their own by the age of 2.
- The mating season is between January to March, and both parents take care of the young ones.
- An interesting fact is that the female wolf builds several dens and is often seen shifting the newborns from one den to the other.
- The lifespan of these wolves vary from 5 to 7 years in the wild. They rarely survive longer in the wild. However, in captivity, they can live up to 15 years.
- Red wolves communicate between themselves with the help of scents and sounds, like howling and growling. They communicate with other wolves by reading their expressions.
- They almost never attack humans. However, they might harm the livestock and pets. It is to be noted that they are very shy, but extremely cunning creatures.
- These wolves are crepuscular animals, as they are most active during twilight, that is, during dusk or dawn.
- The fur on the chest of a red wolf, unlike the rest of its coat, displays a cream color and is more thick, as it acts as an insulation to prevent heat from escaping during the harsh winters.
- With a narrow chest and elbows that are turned inwards, a red wolf can run at the speed of 30 miles an hour. It can, sometimes, walk around 20 miles in search of food.
Predators and Conservation
- The main predators of the red wolves are other wolves, coyotes and of course, humans! Loss of habitat and poaching is taking a toll on them.
- About 7-9% of the wild red wolves are killed every year by hunters, mistaking them to be coyotes.
- Red wolves are among the most endangered canids in the world, with only about 100 of them left in the wild and another 300 in captivity.
- After being declared ‘extinct in the wild’ in the 1980s, the US Fish and Wildlife services bred less than 20 pure red wolves in captivity. By the year 2010, there were around 300 red wolves bred in captivity in some 38 captive breeding facilities.
- Since the red wolf has been declared an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, killing one is a federal crime. If convicted, you can face up to a year in prison and a fine of $100,000.
There are several myths and legends surrounding the red wolf. The Native Americans believed them to be magical. Common folklore holds that the Indians and the wolves lived in sheer harmony. Then why is it that, in the last few decades their population was on the verge of extinction? With a few handful of red wolves remaining, each one of these misunderstood predators should be conserved before the whole species vanishes from the face of the Earth.