How to identify Gray Wolf tracks and signs.
About Gray Wolves
The gray wolf (aka timber wolf or western wolf) is native to the wilderness areas of North America, Eurasia, and many parts of Africa. The male wolf weighs just under 100 lbs. while the female wolf weighs between 79 and 85 lbs. Its winter fur is long and bushy, a mottled gray in color (although nearly white, red, brown, or black fur can also occur).
Gray Wolf Characteristics
The Gray Wolf is a social animal travelling in packs that average 5-11 animals per pack (1-2 adults, 3-6 juveniles, and 1-3 yearlings). It is not unusual for two or three packs to travel together. Wolves are highly territorial and will defend their territory through a combination of scent marking (urination, defecation, and ground scratching), direct attacks, and howling. Scent marks are typically placed near rocks, boulders, trees, or the skeletons of other animals.
The Gray Wolf’s sense of smell is weaker compared to dogs but they are still able to smell upwind up to 1 ½ miles. Its hearing however, is stellar (a wolf can hear the sound of a leaf falling).
The gray wolf can be found in deserts, grasslands, forests, and even the arctic tundra. Habitat is limited only to the amount of prey it can find. Although largely predators, they will supplement their diet with fruit and vegetable matter.
Gray Wolf tracking and signs
Wolf tracks are large and relatively symmetrical – they will show much larger than a domestic dog track (nearly twice as big). Although a wolf has five toes on their front feet and four toes on the rear feet, they generally only show four toes in either print (the fifth toe is small and higher up on the foot and usually does not register). Claw marks will generally register in the track and will be rounded off more than a sharp-pointed domestic dog claw. The ridges between the toes and heel pad typically form a distinct “X” in the track. In general, the rear prints are narrower and more oval-shaped than the front prints.
Wolves most often travel in a trot, either a side trot or a direct register trot but they may also walk, lope, and gallop (you can find general animal tracking details here). A direct register trot for a wolf is typically 22”-34” apart and 26”-39” for a side trot.
Cougar tracks are sometimes confused with wolf tracks. A cougar track will be rounder and because they have retractable claws, will typically not register claw marks in the track (unless they are travelling fast or climbing a slippery surface). If a cougar does register claw marks, they will be joined directly to the toe whereas a wolf track exhibits a ¼ inch separation between the claw and toe.
Wolf scat is typically large (6”-17” long by ½” to 1 7/8” wide), ropey, and tapered on one or both ends. Wolf scat is typically composed of fur, bones, and undigested meat. It is long and tubular (and often strong in smell) which differs from a coyote’s twisted and irregular-shaped scat.
Trail or no trail, wolves travel in very efficient, fairly straight paths through the landscape.
Beds and lays
Gray wolf typically prefer to rest under some sort of cover but wolves in dry areas will readily rest in the open. Dens for pups are usually constructed during the summer and will make use of natural shelters such as fissures in rocks, cliff overhangs, and ground holes covered with thick vegetation. Dens are usually built no more than a few hundred yards from water sources and typically face southward to allow sunlight in.
Wolves will leave remains at kill sites. Their bite is so strong, they may bite through even large bones of elk and moose to get to the marrow. It is common to find bone fragments at a wolf kill site.
Groups and species
Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus)
Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus)
Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus)
Tundra wolf (Canis lupus albus)
Hudson bay wolf (Canis lupus hundsonicus)
Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos)
Alaskan tundra wolf (Canis lupus tundrarum)
Alexander Archipelago wolf (Canis lupus ligoni)
Eastern wolf (Canis lupus lycaon) Note: Some scientists maintain this wolf is a separate species (Canis lycaon).
Northern Rocky mountain wolf (Canis lupus irremotus)
Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)
Mackenzie river wolf (Canis lupus mackenzii)
Mackenzie valley wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis)
Baffin Island wolf (Canis lupus manningi)
Labrador wolf (Canis lupus labradorius)
Greenland wolf (Canis lupus orion)
Steppe wolf (Canis lupus campestris)
Caspian Sea wolf (Canis lupus cubanensis)
Tibetan wolf/Himalayan wolf (Canis lupus chanco) Note: some recognize the Himalayan wolf as it’s own species (canis himalayensis).
Buffalo wolf (Canis lupus nubilus)
African wolf (Canis lupus lupaster) Note: Earlier considered a subspecies of the Golden Jackal, but recent research proves it is a wolf.
Yukon wolf (Canis lupus pambasileus)
Vancouver Island wolf (Canis lupus crassodon)
Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs)
Indian wolf/Iranian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) Note: Recent genetic research suggests that the Indian Wolf, originally considered only as a subpopulation of the Iranian Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes), may represent a distinct species Indian wolf (Canis indica).
Kenai peninsula wolf (Canis lupus alces)
Newfoundland wolf (Canis lupus beothucus)
Bernard’s wolf (Canis lupus bernardi)
British Columbia wolf (Canis lupus comlumbianus)
Florida black wolf (Canis lupus floridanus)
Southern Rocky Mountains wolf (Canis lupus youngi)
Cascade mountain wolf (Canis lupus fuscus)
Manitoba wolf (Canis lupus griseoalbus)
Hokkaidō wolf (Canis lupus hattai)
Honshū wolf (Canis lupus hodophilax)
Mogollon Mountain wolf (Canis lupus mogollensis)
Texas wolf (Canis lupus monstrabilis)