I came face to face with a wolverine in a zoo recently. The exhibit was icy, and I wondered how these animals survived these temperatures.
Wolverines have a hydrophobic coat that repels rain and snow and large paws that enable them to walk on top of deep snow. Wolverines stay out of the cold wind and dig tunnels in the snow to keep them warm.
Wolverines have adapted remarkably well to extreme temperatures. I have found some great information from my time at the zoo by talking to the zookeepers, and I present this information to you here.
How Do the Wolverines Survive?
Their habitat exposes wolverines to harsh weather conditions when winter arrives. The wolverine, although small, is very vicious and has immense strength in contrast to its size.
Wolverines are powerfully built and have short legs with wide feet for traveling across the snow.
They have large snowshoe-like paws that keep them on top of the snow, no matter how deep or soft. Wolverines have sharp claws that help them climb hills and steep slopes without difficulty.
A wolverine’s fur is coated in a special oil, which is hydrophobic. This gives the wolverine extra protection against the cold. The oil prevents snow, frost, and water from sticking to their fur. The water cannot hold onto its skin, so it cannot freeze.
Wolverines have a relatively low surface area-to-volume ratio. Like other animals in cold climates, the wolverine has short legs, a neck, and smaller ears. With less surface area, there is less area to lose heat, making it easier for the wolverine to stay warm in the cold.
The females understand that their young cannot survive in these frigid conditions. The female will dig a den into a snowbank. They will give birth in the hole and use the tunnels to protect the young from the cold. Without the shelter, the young wolverines would not survive the cold weather.
What Do Wolverines Need to Survive?
Wolverines are well suited to the environments that they live in and thrive in these cold conditions.
Wolverines will dig tunnels into the snow. Wolverines have a keen sense of smell and can smell dead animals buried under the snow by avalanches.
With their keen sense of smell, wolverines can find food buried under several feet of snow, giving them more food than most animals that live outside in winter.
The Wolverine has unique teeth, which they use to break bones and rip frozen meat from carrion. By using their teeth and their excellent sense of smell, wolverines find food quickly.
The Wolverine is fearless concerning other animals and is a ferocious animal. They have remarkable toughness and will attack larger animals when defending against food they have killed or found.
Wolverines need to secure their habitats to survive. The most significant threat to wolverines is temperature change. Climate change could make a massive difference in their habitats, forcing them to adapt to survive.
Wolves are the natural wolverine predator. Wolverines will fight with enemies who invade their territory, but primarily wolverines lose against more than one wolf.
Bears will also attack wolverines only on rare occasions. Brown bears that attack wolverines will usually kill and eat the wolverine.
Hunters hunt wolverines for their thick, dark fur. Laws are in place to curb wolverine hunting, but further acts need to be put in place for wolverine hunting to stop.
What Do the Wolverines Eat?
Wolverines are scavengers. Wolverines get most of their food source from dead carcasses known as carrion. Wolverines locate the corpse using their keen sense of smell.
Wolverines feed on the carrion after the predator has finished or sometimes take it by force. Wolverines follow wolf and lynx trails to eat the remains after kills, which also puts them at risk of wolf attacks.
Wolverines are omnivores. They will eat meat and plants due to scarcity, especially in winter.
Typically wolverines eat large game such as caribou, moose, and mountain goats. They will also eat smaller animals, such as ground squirrels and rodents. They will also feed on birds’ eggs.
Wolverines prefer to eat meat, but they have adapted to vegetables due to winter scarcity.
Wolverines are excellent hunters, and they are well-adapted in hunting. They use their sharp, strong claws with their powerful jaws.
Wolverines can hunt whatever animals they come across but prefer animals of their size. The exception to this is if a large animal is stuck in the snow or sick.
Do Wolverines Hibernate?
Wolverines do not hibernate during the winter. Wolverines have adapted for life in extreme conditions and use these so that they do not need to hibernate.
Wolverines will find shelter from the cold and wind in late winter and early spring. Wolverines have thick, dark, oily, highly hydrophobic fur, making them resistant to frost and water.
Wolverines can walk on top of the snow, which is another reason they do not hibernate.
They have feet that are short, with large, five-toed paws with claws. Wolverines have a plantigrade posture, which they use to walk on their soles. This enables them to climb up and over cliffs, trees, and snow-covered peaks with relative ease.
How Do the Wolverines Make A Den?
Wolverines prefer living in colder areas because they can use the snow to make their dens to sleep.
Wolverines live in the Arctic and subarctic grasslands, alpine forests, and taiga. Wolverines can also be found in boreal forests and tundra of North America.
In North America, wolverines are found primarily in significant numbers in Northern Canada and Alaska.
Wolverines use their claws to dig a den or tunnel where they will sleep at night. They also use these tunnels to cache food, saving it for later.
Wolverines can also be found sleeping in rocks and boulders. Female wolverines know that the young will not survive in the snow and dig dens into the snowbank. They use these to give birth and to protect the young from predators.
Which Animals Do Wolverines Eat?
Wolverines will go after small prey, generally up to their size. However, most wolverines like to eat what has already been hunted. Their love of carrion is why they are known as scavengers.
Wolverines will rarely hunt large animals or humans. They prefer to feast on carrion, the carcasses of dead animals left by larger animals such as bears and wolves.
The male wolverine can travel up to 1000 km/2 while searching for food. The females have a much lower range, generally limited to 100 km/2.
Wolverines have been called cruel as they do not always kill their prey. With reindeer, they may paralyze it by biting it on the spine.
The wolverine is a powerful and versatile animal. Their prey includes small to medium size animals, but they have also been recorded as killing adult deer.
Wolverines target animals that are relatively easy to hunt. These include animals caught in traps, newborn mammals, and deer weakened by winter or immobilized by heavy snow.
Are Wolverines Classed As Threatened?
The plight of wolverines has led to the U.S fish and wildlife service coming up with a proposal to protect wolverines using the Endangered Species Act.
The proposal is due to the loss of the wolverine’s habitat in the northern Rocky Mountains. The damage to the environment has been linked to climate change.
According to the statement released, extensive climate modeling indicates that the wolverine’s snowpack habitat will be significantly reduced and fragmented in the coming years due to climate warming.
This is an early indication that the existence of the wolverine is threatened.
The wolverine’s survival is at risk if hunting activities do not stop. Aggressive trapping and poisoning of wolverines put them at risk of survival.
We should acknowledge the laws in place by the U.S. authorities to conserve wolverines. However, there is a need to do more to safeguard the future of this fantastic animal.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.