The wolf

Wolf (Canis lupus)

The wolf (Canis lupus Linnaeus) is a mammal belonging to the order Carnivora, family Canidae. The wolf is a highly adaptable, fast, and resilient animal that can cover over 50 km in a single night. For some years now, the wolf has returned to the Dolomites and is one of the major European predators, alongside the bear. Having survived extinction in the southern and central Apennines, since the 1980s, this animal has made a comeback in Tuscany and Emilia, then in Piedmont and the French Alps. From there, it has continued its journey eastward.

The current challenge for the wolf is to peacefully coexist with humans. To overcome this challenge, practical interventions and the promotion of a culture based on respect and protection are necessary.


Regarding the arrival of the wolf in the Dolomites, zoologist Enrico Ferraro, who monitors the species in Trentino and Veneto, expresses the following:

“The first wolves arrived in 2006 in the Venetian Pre-Alps, and a few years later in the Dolomiti Bellunesi Park. The first pack was formed in 2012 in Lessinia. By 2017, there were already seven packs, and by 2019, around twenty. In total, that year counted approximately 100-120 adult wolves, plus a similar number of pups.

Some wolf packs are present in the Dolomite area, particularly in the regions of Arabba-Livinallongo, Pelmo-Cibiana, Agordino, and in the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park. There is no data for 2019 on packs in the central Cadore area, but there are definite signs of the species’ presence, which could lead to the formation of new packs in 2020.”


Wolf in Italy: subspecies Canis lupus italicus

In Italy (on the Apennines and the Western Alps), in France, Switzerland, and the Pyrenees, a subspecies is present, the Apennine wolf (Canis lupus italicus). This subspecie is roughly the size of a German Shepherd, with an average body length of 109–148 cm and a shoulder height ranging from 49–73 cm. The average adult weight is 25-35 kilograms, although there are reports of male specimens weighing 40-45 kilograms.

The coat is generally grayish-fawn, turning redder in the summer. The abdomen and cheeks are lighter, with dark patches on the back, the tip of the tail, and occasionally on the front limbs. It typically lives in packs consisting of 4-7 individuals.

Wolf in Dolomites

The typical subspecies (Canis lupus lupus) is present in the Eastern Alps and Dolomites. Wolves in Cortina d’Ampezzo have also been spotted in the town. In Sicily there was the Sicilian wolf (Canis lupus cristaldii), which became extinct in the 20th century.
The extermination of wolves in Northern Europe became well organized starting from the Middle Ages and lasted until the 19th century, but today the predator is protected and present in numerous European countries.

Behavior

The wolf tends to favor wooded mountainous areas, far from human interference. Most populations exhibit crepuscular and nocturnal behaviors, likely to move during times when human presence is minimal.

Wolf packs in Italy tend to be smaller than those reported in North America. The size of the pack depends on the size of their typical prey, so packs are larger in areas rich in deer and smaller in areas where roe deer is the primary prey.

The wolf is a predator of large herbivores, but it displays highly flexible feeding habits depending on the abundance, accessibility, and availability of different species.

It primarily feeds on large-sized ungulates such as roe deer and wild boars in the Apennines, with the addition of deer and chamois in the Alps. Cases of predation on ibex are rare. Domestic ungulates make up only a modest component of the wolf’s diet, with the majority of incidents occurring in areas where livestock defense is lacking.

In Italy, wolf packs typically consist of 4-7 individuals on average. The pack is a family unit that hunts, raises offspring, and defends territory. Within the pack, there is a well-defined social hierarchy, with a dominant male and female (alpha individuals) at the top, being the only ones to reproduce, while the other members actively contribute to the care of the pups and hunting.

Wolf

Scientific Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Classe: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Caniformia
Family: Canidae
Subfamily: Caninae
Genus: Canis
Specie: C. lupus


Is the wolf dangerous to humans?

As with all wild animals, it is a good rule to keep a distance. That being said, wolves do not attack humans, as they do not recognize them as potential prey but rather as a threat from which they prefer to quickly retreat. Wolves are shy and elusive, and in most encounters with humans, they tend to disappear without displaying any aggressive behavior. This applies to both solitary wolves and those that are part of a family/group.

There are, however, two situations that make wolves a potential threat:

  1. Rabies: Like domestic animals, a wolf infected with rabies becomes highly aggressive and dangerous. In such cases, the animal is in a constant state of “rage” and repeatedly attacks its victim. The bite of a rabid wolf is 15 times more deadly than that of an infected dog.
  2. Presence of a dog: If you are walking with your dog, the presence of the dog can make the wolf nervous, as it sees the dog as an intrusion into its territory.

Morphological and physiological characteristics of the wolf

Reproduction

Only the “alpha” pair reproduces, once a year in spring, with litters of 3-6 pups. At the end of winter, most young wolves separate from the pack and set out to find a mate and territory, ranging from a hundred to a thousand square kilometers.

Dispersion

Wolves, by their second year, can leave their natal pack and embark on a more or less extended journey, seeking another free territory and a partner with whom to create a new pack.

Footprints

Their tracks resemble those of a large-sized dog, but distinguishing them is not easy. Often, the two central pads on the front paws are fused, but this is very difficult to detect in a footprint. The temperature of the foot pads is regulated independently of the rest of the body to keep them above freezing when in contact with snow and ice.

Skull

The wolf’s skull is wide and elongated. The powerful jaw muscles exert a force sufficient to restrain even large prey. This ability is further enhanced by its dentition: with 42 teeth and a scissor-like chewing style enabled by the carnassial teeth, the wolf tears through large pieces of meat and tendons.

Eyesight

Wolves do not have great eyesight, especially beyond a short distance. Despite this limitation, they can distinguish shapes and movements even at great distances, facilitated by their precise peripheral vision (visual angle 250° – human 180°). Night vision is significantly better and more precise than daytime vision due to a retina rich in rods, making it better suited for twilight and night, the times when these predators hunt. An interesting fact is that wolf pups are born with blue eyes, but after eight weeks, they change color to yellow, gold, or orange

Howling of the wolf

Howling. Wolves emit their howls as a means of communication with each other, to protect their territory from outsiders, to strengthen bonds with other members of their community, and to call their pups.

Smart hunter: the wolf is an excellent hunter.

Its diet is based on ungulates such as deer, roe deer, and chamois, but also includes sheep, pigs, goats, donkeys, and horses. If food is scarce, it can also eat birds and rodents or the carcasses of dead animals.

When they move in packs, wolves are simply lethal. They surround their prey and attack repeatedly, leaving no escape for the unfortunate animals they target. Here lies their intelligence: they attack only when they are confident of success.

When they howl, it’s because they are calling the pack to occupy one area rather than another, in a highly strategic function.

The strengths of the wolf

Smell

Undoubtedly, the wolf’s sense of smell is its most important and acute. This sense is used for hunting, marking and detecting the pack’s territory, managing social relationships within the pack, and more. The wolf’s sense of smell is extraordinary: under favorable weather conditions and with the wind in its favor, a wolf can scent its prey from nearly 3 km away.

Hearing

The wolf possesses exceptional hearing. Its ears, moving like a radar, can locate the source of sound up to a distance of 10 km. The ability to detect high-pitched sounds might aid in the localization of small prey under the snow.

Adaptability

The wolf is capable of adapting to various different environments, altitudes, climates, and the diverse trophic resources typical of the territories it inhabits worldwide.

Speed of the wolf

The wolf is capable of covering considerable distances, up to 60 km in one night, and moving at high speeds (up to 50 km/h).

Sociality

Wolves are not solitary animals but live in family units called packs

Territoriality

Each wolf pack defends a specific territory where they live from the entry of conspecifics.

Energy optimization

Wolves seek to optimize energy in everything they do (their way of moving, avoiding physical conflicts or serious risks, social cooperation within the pack, knowledge of resources in their territory, etc.) because energy conservation can be of vital importance for a specialized super-predator that, at the end of a meal, doesn’t know when the next successful hunt will occur.

The wolf is an excellent swimmer