Anatomy38 Comments

Posted by LGK in  (Monday November 6, 2006 at 2140)

Physical description

    The gray wolf being the largest member of the Canid family stands 26 to 38 inches at the shoulder and has a length of 40 to 58 inches from the head to the base of the tail. The tail can be as long as 20 inches but are usually no shorter than 13 inches. The male is generally 15 to 20 percent larger than the female.

    Their weight can vary in the North American wolves ranging from as low as 40 to as great as 175 pounds. The average weight is in the range of 60 to 100 pounds.

    The skull of the wolf is large and long and tapers forward, averaging nine to eleven inches long and five to six inches wide. Massive jaws form the foundation to which the strong masseter, or chewing, muscles attach. Wolves survive by using their legs and their teeth. The wolf is a coursing predator, so its eyes are on the front of its skull. The ears are large to capture sounds and they can be moved to scan and focus on sounds from different directions. The jaws have canines, sharp carnassials for cutting meat, and molars for crushing bone with very strong jaw muscles. All these characteristics are reflected in the skull.

    Wolves tend to increase in size from south to north generally following the Bergmann’s rule of increased body size from south to north. (However, the wolves in the high Arctic are an exception to the rule, and are smaller than those found in Northern Alaska and Canada.)

    Of 169 nuisance wolves (those causing damage to property or livestock) killed in Alberta between 1972 and 1979, the average weight of the wolves was 99 pounds.

    In general, the wolf looks like its distant cousin the dog with the exception of longer legs and larger paws. One major difference anatomically speaking is a pre-caudal gland on the upper surface of the tail, a feature totally absent in all domestic dogs.

    The gray wolf has a broad face, which often has a broader appearance due to the ruff of fur below its ears. Their eyes are usually a golden-yellow color, and shine a greenish-orange at night.

    A wolf’s body is built for travel. It’s chest is narrow to allow it to push off more easily, especially through deep snow.

    The coat of the wolf tends to be very thick and fluffy, especially in the northern regions where it gets colder in the winter, as compared to their southern counterparts which tend to be more sparse. The wolf has a double coat of fur and actually has three capes. Long guard hairs on top, which can be as long as four inches, work like an umbrella to help shed moisture like a raincoat. Their underfur keeps the wolf warm in the cold months and the wolf sheds the undercoat in the summer. This is particularly useful in locations such as the Mexican desert where the wolf can withstand temperatures from -60 degrees to 115 degrees. That’s a difference of 175 degrees! Thick winter coats are grown in the fall, which tend to add 1/3 to their bulk. They slowly shed their thick winter coats slowly in the spring. The females generally lose their coats more slowly than their male counterparts. The wolf’s mask is made to draw attention to the eyes since eye contact is so important with the wolf. The way the fur falls around the eyes accents the eyes, making them look much larger than they are.

Color

    Wolves’ fur is many different colors. In 1944, Stanley Young wrote “The color of the North American wolves… varies greatly, so much so that it is relatively unimportant for the scientific description of the wolves.” Even a wolf that generally appears gray really has a coat of many colors. White, black, gray, and brown hairs are intermingled, with darker fur usually predominating along the center of the back and tail. The wolf’s underside, legs, ears, and muzzle are often tawny. Very old wolves tend to be grayer than younger ones. The colors of a wolf’s fur can make it hard to see in its natural habitat. The colors of the fur may blend in with background colors in the habitat and cause a wolf to “disappear.” Wolves that spend a lot of time in dark forests often have dark fur. In places where the plants are many different colors, the fur of the wolves is often many different colors. The ears are also highlighted to be seen against a dark or light background. The edge of the wolf’s ears are usually highlighted for contrast against dark, and the inside of the wolf’s ears are dark for contrast against light. It is also fairly common to have variations in color in one litter. Colors can range from pure white to all black.

Teeth

    The jaws of a wolf are very powerful. They are twice as strong as a German Shepherds’ jaw, exerting pressure as much as 1,500 lbs per square inch according to Barry Lopez in Of Wolves and Men.

    Out of the wolf’s forty-two teeth, forty help the wolf in securing its prey. The configuration of teeth in a wolfs’ mouth is as follows: The upper jaw has 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 premolars, and 4 molars. While the bottom jaw has 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 premolars, and 6 molars.

    The incisors at the front of the jaw are used to cut the flesh of their prey. The largest teeth are the canines, or fangs, which may reach two and a quarter inches in total length, including the portion imbedded in the jaw, pierce into the flesh to hold their prey. The premolars and molars are used for slicing and grinding the food. The last premolars in the upper jaw and first molars in the lower jaw, also know as the carnassials, are designed especially to slice and shear the flesh. The last molars are used for grinding and pulverizing the food prior to digestion.

Voice

    Wolves make four types of sounds: howl, bark, whimper, and growl. Howling is the most familiar wolf vocalization to everyone. When wolves howl together they harmonize, rather than howl the same note, creating an impression of more animals howling than actually are. Wolves don’t need to stand to howl. They can howl lying down or sitting. Apparently, wolves howl to assemble the pack, especially before and after the hunt; to pass on an alarm, especially at the den site; to locate each other in a storm or in unfamiliar territory; and to communicate across great distances. There is no evidence that wolves howl at the moon, or more frequently during a full moon. Wolves only infrequently bark, and it is a quiet “woof” more often than a dog-type bark. They do not bark continuously like dogs but woof a few times and then retreat, as for example when a stranger approaches the den. Barks reported from the field are associated with a pack’s being surprised at its den and an animal, usually the female, rising to bark a warning. Growling is heard during food challenges and, like the bark, is part of threat behavior or an assertion of rights in some social context. Growling is more common among pups when they’re playing. Pups also growl when they jerk at the ruff of a reclining adult, and comically will even try to growl adults off a piece of food. Another type of growl is a high-pitched one that begins to sound like a whine and often precedes a snapping lunge at another wolf. Perhaps the most interesting sounds are the whines and high-pitched social squeaks associated with greeting, feeding the pups, play, pen pacing and other situations of anxiety, curiosity, and inquiry. They are the sounds of intimacy.

Wolf Senses

    It has been stated that the wolf possesses sharper vision, hearing, and smell than the domestic dog. Most wolf biologists agree that the most acute of the wolf senses is that of smell.

Smell

    The wolf’s sense of smell is about 100 times better than a human’s. It uses its sense of smell more than anything else to find prey, with the ability to smell prey before it can see it, more than a mile away if the wind is right. A wolf’s nose can smell things that your nose can’t. Like your nose, the inside of a wolf’s nose contains moist surfaces that “catch” smells in the air, however the area receptive to smell in a wolf nose is 14 times greater than that of a human. The wolf’s nose has about five times more surface area than yours does, so it can catch more smells from the air than you can. It can even sense the presence of an animal three days after it’s gone! The nose itself is not five times larger than a human nose. For all the extra smelling surface to fit inside, it must be wrapped and folded many times. An experiment was performed at one time with covered trays of food to test the relative senses of smell between wolves and dogs. What required only five minutes for the wolves to determine which tray contained food took domestic dogs over an hour to discover.

Hearing

    The sense of smell is probably the most acute sense the wolf has next to hearing. It is believed that the upper range of a wolfs’ hearing is upwards of 80 kHz. The upper range of humans is only 20 kHz. It is stated that a wolf can hear up to 6 miles away in forest and 10 miles in open areas, including some high-pitched sounds that even a human can’t hear, in the range where bats and porpoises produce sound. Even when it sleeps, a wolf’s ears stand straight up so it can catch sounds made by other animals at all times. This helps the wolf catch prey, and lets it know when danger is near. Their large, pointed ears act like big scoops to catch lots of sound. Unlike humans, wolves can easily tell what direction sound is coming from by turning their ears from side to side. The direction the ears are pointing when the sound is loudest tells the wolf which direction the sound is coming from, which can help them locate rodents under a snow pack.

Sight

    The wolf relies on its sense of hearing as well as smell more so than sight. Their vision is comparable to that of humans. The wolfs eyes lacks a foveal pit. A depression at the back of the eyeball. This is what is used to focus at greater distances. It is believed that they can not distinguish much beyond 100 to 150 feet. This is possibly one reason why the wolf mask accents their facial features and ears so greatly. Their myopia evidently stems from the absence of the fovea centralis, the tiny pit at the back, center of the retina which, in humans, primates and some other animals provides the point of sharpest vision. Just how clearly a wolf sees when looking directly at an object is, of course, impossible to know, but it seems evident that beyond a short distance their vision must be somewhat blurred, rather like that of a photograph taken with a wide-open lens at a slow shutter speed, as opposed to an exposure taken with the smallest lens aperture at a fast speed. Nevertheless, wolves can see shapes and, especially, movement over long distances, and their peripheral vision is extremely accurate. They are able to detect even the slightest movements of very small animals, such as a mosquito, at a distance of more than ten feet and the movement of larger animals at considerable distances. There is some controversy as to whether wolves see in color or black and white. Regardless, it is unlikely that they see the various hues of the spectrum as humans see them, because the physical makeup of the eye is different. Nighttime vision for wolves is many times better than human vision in the day or night. Wolves can actually see much better and even much more clearly at night. The eyes of the wolf are like most predators, with a sight-field of nearly 180 degrees and pointed forward.

Taste

    Although it is very difficult to test for taste due to the fact that smell plays a major role in tasting it is known that canines possess taste receptors for 4 categories: salty, bitter, sweet, and acidic.

Tracks

    Wolf tracks consist of 4 pad prints plus claws, very similar to that of a domestic dog. Their front paws can be up to 5 1/4″ long and 3¾ to 4½ inches in width. There are five toes on a wolf’s front paws and only four on the rear paws. The fifth on the front is called a dew claw. The dew claw is not for hunting or protection however, it does aid the wolf in digging dens as well as going after small prey animals that live in burrows. The back feet are slightly smaller and are usually about 3¾ long and 3¼ in width. Thick, rugged, and blocky when the toes are together, the foot can also sprawl, allowing the toes to grasp rocks, logs, and other uneven or steep surfaces. When walking, the wolf holds its foot in the blocky fashion, reducing area and friction. However, during tricky maneuvering, the toes can spread far apart, much increasing the surface and friction. Tales of wolf prints being the size of pie plates is totally unrealistic. When tracks are left in soft media such as sand or mud they will appear to be larger than usual. When left in snow and the snow melts they appear to be very huge. In order to walk better in the snow, one wolf will make the initial trail and all other wolves will follow by stepping in the original footprints. Wolves run on their toes, this lengthens their legs and makes it possible for them to run faster – up to 40 miles per hour, in fact. The gait of a wolf is between 25 and 38 inches.

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38 comments for Anatomy »

  1. It’s not a comment, but a question that can’t seem to be answered and is really starting to annoy me with the fact that I don’t know. What is a wolf’s heartrate per minute? Or per anything, as long as it’s accurate. If you find out, can you please post it on this site? Thanx a bunch!

    Comment by Miranda — 14 May 2007 @ 2026

  2. Hi I was wondering if I could use some of your facts on wolves… I play a roleplay game called furcadia and I have my own pack and would like to educate thos that don’t know much about the wolf.. thanks in advanced

    Comment by Daesha — 26 Mar 2008 @ 1021

  3. this is really good information

    Comment by darrien — 8 May 2008 @ 1116

  4. A very great description a wolf, thank you for the information

    Comment by Issa — 8 Jun 2008 @ 1455

  5. This is very helpful. Thank you.

    Comment by MoonWeaver — 9 Aug 2008 @ 2127

  6. excellent description of all anatomical and behavioural features of the wolf. thank you.

    Comment by yvonne — 24 Nov 2008 @ 1241

  7. I love wolves

    Comment by Midori-Chan — 10 Jan 2009 @ 2211

  8. This is amzing!!
    I love this!
    All these facts!!
    Awsome, keep it up

    Comment by Joseph — 29 Jan 2009 @ 2045

  9. This is very helpful,a great wolf description! Thank you.

    Comment by Lauren — 5 Feb 2009 @ 1751

  10. only website with the right onfo
    sweet

    Comment by Austin — 9 Mar 2009 @ 2140

  11. Why do wolfs have ear flaps on both ears?

    Comment by Athena — 12 Mar 2009 @ 2219

  12. Do you have any pics.?
    I’m doing a school project, I’v got to billed a lifesize realisteck wolf model and I’m having trubel finding any pics. of their insides.

    Comment by Aliana — 16 Apr 2009 @ 1317

  13. Yeah I need pics too. . . of the skeleton and skull. I am an artist and need as many images of the basic anatomy as I can. Thanks

    Comment by Rachel — 19 Jun 2009 @ 1247

  14. i hate to be the bear of bad news, but i can’t find any pictures of all the muscles in a wolf. Not a dog, but a wolf. Any pictures of all the muscles in a wolf will be much apriciated. Thanks so much.

    Comment by Justin — 1 Jul 2009 @ 1712

  15. great! now if only i coulksd find some accurate pics of muscles and skeleton, it would be perfect. the info here is very useful, but i need visuals. printable visuals. thanx

    Comment by dreamerforever — 10 Aug 2009 @ 1255

  16. I would like to see some mor info on skull plz.i need it for report.
    thanx

    Comment by poseidon — 28 Sep 2009 @ 1735

  17. This is good info to have for when I am drawing my wolves.The description is great!

    Comment by Wolfartist — 12 Oct 2009 @ 1747

  18. what are the wolves habits?

    Comment by laurel regan — 1 Dec 2009 @ 1854

  19. this is a very helpful site. i have a full understanding of wolves now.

    Comment by kala — 14 Dec 2009 @ 1711

  20. Thanks! This is website is very interesting and full of facts for my research. Thanks! ;)

    Comment by Cupcake180 — 10 Feb 2010 @ 2206

  21. I need help i can’t seem find it any where, but what is the wolves nervous system like (central and all that)

    Comment by meman135 — 20 Apr 2010 @ 2109

  22. Nice info. Regarding the question of colour vision, I’ve researched this quite a bit myself. They posess 2 colour sensing cones as opposed to 3 in humans. Some sources will claim that these are red and blue whilst others cite green and blue. In actual fact both are right. The red and green cones in humans actually evolved from a single cone. The wavelengths that they respond to are actually quite close and much of the red / green separation that we perceive is managed by other cells in the retina and the visual cortex. In short, the question of whether Wolves see red or green is irrelevant. They perceive wavelenghts covering both and it would be more accurate to say that they are red / green colour blind. I wrote some software to try and simulate Wolf vision. Here is an image using red as the ‘default’: http://www.stonewolfsoft.co.uk/temp/wolfperspective.png

    Comment by Peter Hanratty — 12 Sep 2011 @ 2121

  23. Well, this helped me a lot. Really. I was wondering what colors do wolves come in. And what kind of eyes they have. But I do have some questions. Here they are:

    1. Can some wolf’s fur have yellowish color, or reddish color?

    2. Can wolves have red, hazel, or blue eyes?

    3. If a male wolf mates with a female dog, what kind of pup will there be? Will it be wolf, a dog, or a mix of dog and wolf. And how might the pup look?

    Thanks :D :) :P :b

    Comment by Anne Short — 7 Nov 2011 @ 1255

  24. Domestic dogs DO have a vestigial precaudle tail gland, which shows as a darker or oily patch a third of the way down the upper surface of the tail.

    Comment by Jan — 19 Dec 2011 @ 0806

  25. Thanks for the info! ;) I am a big fan of wolves and I am writing an essay about them. I used tons of this information (No, I didn’t plagiarize)!
    Again, thanks!

    Comment by Anonymous — 29 Feb 2012 @ 1850

  26. This info is insanely informing and helpful :D thaaanks

    Comment by Savannah — 5 Apr 2012 @ 1104

  27. please post more on wolf biologists, seems like an interesting job, thanks for showing it to me.

    Comment by kayla — 10 Apr 2012 @ 2227

  28. me too, i am doing a science project on them huge fan, read the shiver series by maggie stiefvater

    Comment by kayla — 10 Apr 2012 @ 2228

  29. i would like to know how you can tell how old a wolf is by it’s jaw
    this is for a report ineed in about a day or two thanx o.O

    Comment by ryan — 21 May 2012 @ 1254

  30. WOW! i thought i knew alot about wolvew before this site. Im working on a paper and this site has ANAZING FACTS!!!! THANX!!!

    Comment by Ivy — 13 Sep 2012 @ 2158

  31. I Love This Website(: Here You Can Find Mostly Anything About Wolves(:<3 Yay!

    Comment by - Susie — 2 Oct 2012 @ 2000

  32. Can somebody help me uot with drawing wolves? I still can’t get the head right!

    Comment by Lyra — 9 Nov 2012 @ 0856

  33. Oops. I meant Help me out.

    Comment by Lyra — 9 Nov 2012 @ 0857

  34. I’m looking for the internal anatomy of the wolf but can’t seem to find any information on it. It’s really frustrating how much time I spend online I can’t find any information. Sad I know must keep looking for more information for this school project. :\ If this site would get some more information on the internal anatomy that would be great

    Comment by Austin — 15 Nov 2012 @ 0931

  35. Really enjoyed reading your website.
    We have a wolf (second one) and find your statements accurate.
    Thank you.

    Comment by Lynn Long — 18 Nov 2012 @ 1305

  36. Hi I am researching the grey wolf in depth, i was wondering have you got anything like there reproductive system, respiratory system or any other system

    Comment by poppy — 14 Jan 2013 @ 1524

  37. Just wanted to let you guys know that it is a total myth that dogs don’t have a pre caudel gland. i was at Wolf Haven which is down the street from me, and they were trying to say that only wolves had the black marking, etc. I showed them my friend’s mini dachshund which has a well defined pre caudel gland markind as do most light colored dogs, like German shepherds, etc. As well, the gland is there, and in fact in some dogs produces a loss or hair and rough skin, called “Stud tail” – that’s how common it is. Just wanted to let you know.

    Comment by Diane Jessup — 28 Jan 2013 @ 2245

  38. this is not a comment this is a question
    what is the range hearing of a wolf?
    please i really need that for my science project and thank you for the other answers i really want this thanks

    Comment by fiona villar — 13 Mar 2013 @ 1317

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