The Hunter trilogy is about wolves, and thus it is a good idea to understand wolves a little. The following descriptions of wolves come from the notes I took over the last few years. When some notes contradicted each other, I used the notes I thought were most accurate. Any factual errors are mine and mine alone.
The gray wolf (or grey wolf or timber wolf), Canis lupus, is a species of wolf, and not simply named for its color. Besides gray, these wolves can also be brown, black or white. The arctic wolf is usually always white. The red wolf is, of course, red. An exception to this is the South American Maned Wolf, a smaller version of the species that looks more like a coyote.
Wolves are part of the branch of animals that include coyotes and dingoes, called the “wild dogs.” They are the ancestors of all breeds of dogs. The ancestor of the wolf might be Canis lepophagus, a small, narrow-skulled doglike mammal of North America. A larger mammal related to the gray wolf is the dire wolf, Canis dirius, which may have become extinct about 10,000 years ago.
Wolves are roughly 3 to 6 feet long from nose to tail, with a tail one to two feet long. Females usually weigh 60-100 pounds, and males 70-150 pounds. In the wild, wolves live 8-12 years, but have been known to live 15 years or more in captivity. Wolves have an “undercoat” and a “topcoat,” two layers of fur (or pelage). Because of this, they can live in temperatures as low as -20 to -40 degrees Celsius. In summer they can lose some fur, otherwise the fur flattens out to reduce heat.
Wolves were once found to be living in more places than any other mammal except humans. They once inhabited all regions of the northern hemisphere of the planet except rain forests.
It is estimated that the population of wolves is about 9,000 to 11,000 in Alaska. In the lower 48 states, it is estimated the wolf population might be around 5,000. In Canada the population is considered to be around 50,000-60,000. Worldwide, the wolf population is about 200,000, but centuries ago were estimated to be 2 to 3 million.
A wolf pack can be as small as two wolves or as large as 25 wolves, but generally pack size is six to twelve members. Habitat, food supply, weather and territory size dictate the number of wolves in a pack. Generally, the one pair of breeding wolves are the Alpha Male and Alpha Female. Sometimes a pack has a second breeding pair.
Mating season is generally January or February, and gestation is about two months. A litter is usually about four to six cubs, but can be as few as one or as many as twelve. The number of cubs born, like the size of the pack, is determined by food supply, habitat and other factors. Cubs are born blind and deaf, covered in short brown-gray fur, and do not see for a week or more. Cubs are born in the den for safety, but usually leave the den, and begin eating solid food, around three weeks. Once they are visible to the others, every member of the pack will take care of them, thus increasing the family/pack bond.
When the hunting is good, a wolf may eat up to one fifth its body weight at one time to make up for days when there is no food. Wolves are carnivores and generally hunt ungulates, or large hoofed animals, including elk, deer, moose and caribou. Because they hunt animals larger than themselves, they have to have a strong social structure in the pack. They also hunt beaver, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, mice and other small animals, which a wolf can hunt on his own.
Wolves can roam up to twelve miles a day and reach speeds running up to 40 miles an hour when chasing prey. When prey is finally brought down and killed, the Alpha pair feeds first. The pack has a strict hierarchy, with the Omega Wolf at the bottom, a member of the pack with the lowest status.
Territory is very important, not just for the social structure of the pack but also for their survival. A territory needs to be big enough to travel and to provide enough game to feed the pack year round. Territories have been known to be as small as 25 square miles to a thousand square miles. Arctic wolves require the largest territories because game is so scarce. Wolves mark their territory with scent markers, trees or roots or rocks or tufts of grass they urinate on or leave scat on to leave the scent of their pack. Members of another pack would usually honor the boundaries made up of these scent markers. They keep packs from meeting each other, which could result in fighting and deaths, and establish a separate territory for each pack.
Wolf communication is complicated and essential to wolf society. Howling is used to communicate long distances, indicate the presence of game, and warn other wolves away from territory. It can be used to call wolves together or to give a location. Howls can be heard up to ten miles away.
Wolves also growl, bark or whine (or whimper, or pule). Growling signifies aggression. Barking is a warning to other pack members. Whining is often attended to show submission by a subordinate to a superior higher up the social ladder.
Wolves also communicate through posturing. Alphas carry their tails high to signify dominance. They might growl, show the whites of their eyes, snap their teeth, and keep their ears flat against their heads, letting the others know they are willing to fight any subordinate who gets out of line.
Submission is shown by whining, crouching down, keeping the tail low or between the legs, licking lips loudly (imitating a cub), pawing at the dominant wolf (as though begging for attention), and in extreme cases, rolling on the back, exposing belly and throat to the teeth of the superior, essentially begging for mercy.
Though wolves are considered by some as a nuisance, a threat, or downright evil, they are a highly evolved species with a complicated social system based on strong emotional bonds. In the last five centuries, their numbers have been drastically reduced, but over the last few decades, they have been coming back with the help of people and laws meant to protect them.