Which Species Of Wolves Live In North America?


There are approximately seventy-eight thousand wolves throughout North America. I wanted to find out how many species and subspecies of wolf there are, so I decided to do some research.

There is only one true species of wolf in North America, the gray wolf. There are five subspecies of the gray wolf in North America. There were originally thought to be 24 subspecies of the wolf, but in 1985, the mammalogist, Robert M. Nowak proposed there are only five.

  • Eastern wolf
  • Great Plains wolf
  • Mexican wolf
  • Northwestern wolf
  • Arctic wolf

I wanted to find out where these subspecies of wolves can be found in North America and the differences between them. The results were quite surprising.

Eastern Wolf

There are approximately two thousand eastern wolves in Canada. Of these, one thousand are breeding adults in approximately five hundred packs.

The eastern wolf is a subspecies of the gray wolf. In 2016, two studies determined that the DNA sequence of the eastern wolf was the result of a mix of coyote and gray wolf. There are two forms of the eastern wolf, the larger Great Plains eastern wolf and the smaller, slender, Algonquin wolf.

What do Eastern Wolves Look Like?

The eastern wolf can have several different fur colors. Some have a coat that is grayish-brown whilst others may have more of a red tint to their coat. There are usually dark hairs starting at the shoulders leading down to the tail. The chest of the eastern wolf is reddish-brown or blonde. The snout and legs are generally reddish-brown.

The eastern wolf is smaller in size than the gray wolf but larger than a coyote. Due to its diet of fast-moving animals such as white-tailed deer, the eastern wolf is much more slender than other wolves.

They have been described as greyhound-like due to their speed and appearance. Eastern wolves can run up to 56 km/h (35 mph) in short bursts to catch their prey. Eastern wolves can be seen alone or can hunt in packs, which helps them to catch larger animals such as deer and moose.

The male eastern wolf, like a large number of mammals, is larger than the female. Males can weigh up to 30 kg (66 lbs) whereas females are lighter at 24 kg (53 lb). The male can measure up to 68 cm at the shoulder and a length up between 90 and 160 cm. The female is slightly smaller than the male.

Where do Eastern Wolves Live?

In Canada, some can be seen in Southwestern Quebec, Southeastern Ontario and in the St. Lawrence forest region of the Great Lakes. They can also be seen around the Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands.

However, the greatest concentration of eastern wolves are in Ontario and can be found in Algonquin Provincial Park. The park is the largest protected area for eastern wolves and has been the wolf research center since 1959.

There are approximately 35 packs of wolves in Algonquin Provincial Park, making the total of wolves in the park to be about 175.

The Algonquin wolf is the smaller of the two forms of the eastern wolf; the other being the Great Lakes wolf.

They can be found in the boreal forests, and in deciduous-coniferous forests. Eastern foxes will look for somewhere with shelter, protection and water. These forests provide these needs for the eastern wolf.

Eastern wolves do not stay in one location but migrate to find food and will travel far to get it. Eastern wolves can migrate up to 500 km squared.

There are also two packs of eastern wolves in La Mauricie National Park, each with five to ten animals.

Eastern wolves also live in the United States in Minnesota and Manitoba.

In Manitoba, wolves can be found in the boreal and deciduous forests of Riding Mountain National Park and Whiteshell Provincial Park. These wolves are classed as the larger Great Lakes Wolf.

They are reclusive animals, and this nature makes a sighting unlikely, although not impossible.

Listed as threatened in Minnesota, the North Star State is the only state to have always had wolves. Historically nearly extirpated, by the late 1990s Minnesota had nearly doubled the number of wolves it had decided for its population goal.

What do Eastern Wolves Eat?

The eastern wolf is a carnivore, and they eat mainly large hoofed mammals. The main diet of the eastern wolf is the white-tailed deer. However, they will also prey on beaver and moose.

Packs of eastern wolves will hunt together to take down the larger animals. The size of their prey will be decided on by the body mass. If the body mass is similar to that of the mass of the wolf pack, then they may decide to take down that prey.

Wolves will generally look to prey on the most vulnerable creatures, whether alone or in a herd.
Although the larger prey is more attractive to the wolves, they will sometimes prey on smaller mammals such as mice, foxes, hares and other rodents.

There is an abundance of white-tailed deer, and with approximately 3500 moose living in Algonquin Provincial Park, the eastern wolves of Quebec rarely prey on smaller mammals.

Although carnivores, wolves will also eat fruits such as apples, pears and melon to supplement their diet.

Great Plains Wolf

The Great Plains wolf was thought to be extinct when the last one was shot in 1922. However, wolves later found were determined to be descendants of the previously thought extinct animal.

What do Great Plains Wolves Look Like?

The fur of the Great Plain Wolf can range from a grayish-white through brown, to dark black. Some may have a reddish tint to them. The chest is generally lighter than the rest of the body, as are their snouts.

The Great Plains wolf can grow exceptionally large, with some individuals weighing up to 68 kg (150 lbs). However, most weigh around 45 kg (100 lb). This makes them larger than the eastern wolf.

The Great Plains wolf can grow up to 6 1/2 feet long, including the tail. This is longer than most humans are tall.

The male of the species grows heavier and longer than the females. Females generally weigh approximately 36 kg (80 lb) and grow to 5.2 feet.

Where do Great Plains Wolves Live?

Since 1922, the wolf was thought to be extinct. Later in the century, a group of wolves was found in the states of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin died, but the wolves in Minnesota lived on.

Since the rediscovery of the descendants of the wolves in Minnesota, in 1974, the Great Plains Wolf was recognized and protected as being endangered.

The Great Plains wolf is now one of the most widely spread gray wolves in North America. In 2006 there were estimated to be over 3,900 wolves in the United States and Canada.

Until their near extinction in the 1920s, the gray wolf had one of, if not the largest range of any wolf in North America. Their territories were as vast as Alaska, Central and Northeastern Canada and through most of the Western states of America.

What do Great Plains Wolves Eat?

With an average of five to six wolves in a pack, Great Plains wolves are adept at hunting down prey larger than them.

Their prey typically comprises large ungulates such as white-tailed deer and moose, rodents, snowshoe hare, and beaver.

Known also as the buffalo wolf, a pack of Great Plains wolves would have no problem taking down one of the largest mammals in North America.

They will also incorporate fruit and vegetables for their dietary requirements.

Mexican Wolf

The Mexican wolf is the most endangered wolf not only in North America but the World. There were once thousands of Mexican wolves, but by the 1970s there were only a few in the wild and in captivity. Reintroduction of the species to the wild has helped, but they are still on the IUCN red list of endangered species.

What do Mexican Wolves Look Like?

Mexican wolves are gray with hints of yellow, with light brown fur on the back. Their fur is generally whiter around the muzzle and the bottoms of their legs.

Mexican wolves are the smallest of the subspecies of gray wolf, measuring about the size of a German shepherd. Their skulls are slightly smaller and narrower than other gray wolves.

The average height of an adult is about 75cm to the shoulder, and a length up to 2 metres. Females weigh less than the males, with females reaching a maximum of 55 kg compared to males who can reach a massive 80kg.

Mexican wolves are slender in appearance and well suited to running after larger prey. They are approximately a little more than half the size of the gray wolf.

Where do Mexican Wolves Live?

Following their almost extermination from North America, the species, although still endangered has slowly raised their numbers in the wild.

Mexican wolves were once abundant in North America, with numbers in the thousands. When the livestock industry began thriving in the Southwest, the wolves began to face their first hurdle.

Habitat was lost to the settlers who had moved into the territory, and Mexican wolves were forced to start killing livestock as their natural prey was no longer there.

With the threat to the livestock industry, the US Biological Survey began to hunt and kill Mexican wolves. The methods used included poison, traps and rifles, which almost led to the full extinction of the species.

The Mexican wolf was added to the endangered species list in 1976. To help protect the species, the governments of Mexico and the United States captured alive the remaining wild wolves.

Only five wild wolves were captured, but these were enough to start a breeding program to enable the species to grow. In 2017, the estimated number of Mexican wolves was 413. This consists of 240 in breeding programs in captivity and 143 wild wolves.

The Mexican wolf can be found mainly in two US states, New Mexico and Arizona. These can be seen along the Gila river in both these states, but are incredibly rare to see due to their status.

What do Mexican Wolves Eat?

Mexican wolves are very much like all the other wolves on this list. As with the other wolves, they mainly eat large hoofed mammals such as mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk. However, they will also eat smaller mammals such as hares, squirrels and mice.

Northwestern Wolf

The northwestern wolf is also known as the Mackenzie Valley wolf, Canadian timber wolf, Alaskan timber wolf or northern timber wolf. A subspecies of the gray wolf, the northwestern wolf, is the largest of the gray wolf species.

What does the Northwestern Wolf Look Like?

The northwestern wolf is much larger than all other gray wolves, and their size is quite surprising when you first see one.

The northwestern wolf can measure up to a mere tall at the shoulder. They can also weigh up to a massive 150 pounds. Females are slightly smaller, weighing up to 96 pounds. The size and weight of the northwestern wolf differ over North America, with the wolves in the northwest of the country being larger than the wolves in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

The northwestern wolf has a thicker muzzle, larger, round head and shorter ears.

The fur of the northwestern wolf is a light gray, with darker fur on their back. The fur is bushier on a northwestern wolf than on other subspecies of gray wolf.

Where does the Northwestern Wolf Live?

The northwestern wolf does not just live in the northwest of the country but also resides in the Yellowstone park area. In Yellowstone, northwestern wolves can be seen inside of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Wolves in Yellowstone park were wiped out by 1926, but northwestern wolves have been relocated into the park.

The northwestern wolf can also be found in Canada, in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

The range of the northwestern wolf runs down into the United States in Colorado.

What does the Northwestern Wolf Eat?

Due to their location in the wild, the northwestern wolf diet is a little different from other subspecies of the gray wolf. The added diet includes Dall sheep, Sitka black-tailed deer, salmon, voles, snowshoe hares and mountain goats.

This is in addition to their usual diet of ungulates including moose, elk caribou and bison. Northwestern wolves in Yellowstone will prey on the sick and wear bison in the area.

Once the small mammals become scarce, then they may prey on amphibians such as frogs, snakes and lizards. They may also eat carrion when food is scarce and will attack and eat injured or weaker wolves.

Arctic Wolf

The arctic wolf is one of the most aggressive wolves on this list, but this is mainly due to the fact that they do not see humans very often and view us as prey. Known to be the only location in Canada, the arctic wolves numbers are down to approximately 200 in the wild and fifty in captivity.

What Does the Arctic Wolf Look Like?

The arctic wolf is very distinct from other wolves. Their fur is almost completely white with few other colors showing. This is an adaptation to the environment they live in, living in very cold and snowy conditions.

Their white fur has two layers on top of the skin. The layer on top of the skin acts as a waterproof barrier to keep snow and ice-cold rain out. The second, outer layer of fur grows thicker to enable them to cope with the freezing conditions of the winter.

They are smaller than the northwestern wolf and have smaller ears than most other subspecies of the gray wolf. This helps them to keep warm in winter, without their extremities freezing.

The pads on the soles of the arctic wolves feet are padded. This gives them exceptional grip in the ice and snow and also protects them against the freezing cold temperatures.

Where Does the Arctic Wolf Live?

The arctic can be found in one place in the United States, one in Canada. The arctic wolves can be found to reside from Ellesmere Island to Melville Island in the Queen Elizabeth Islands. The Queen Elizabeth Islands are the furthest north islands in the arctic of Canada.

Arctic wolves also live in Alaska. They can be found in the Aleutians on Unimak Island, and on most of the other islands. There are no arctic wolves in Admiralty, Baranof and Chicagof.

Arctic wolves can live in a range of habitats from the arctic tundra along the Beaufort Sea to the rain forests of the southeast panhandle.

What do Arctic Foxes Eat?

Sitka black-tailed deer are the major source of food for wolves in Alaska. These occur over much of Alaska. They will also eat arctic hares, lemmings, seals, birds and arctic foxes.

The range of their food supply is much more varied than other subspecies of gray wolf due to the environment they live in.

In Canada, as well as the above-mentioned animals, they will also eat salmon, beetles, bear cubs, carcasses and musk oxen.

Muskoxen are better for the arctic wolf to prey on as they provide more long term viability to the wolf.

If you want more details about the gray wolf, I have written a complete guide which you can read here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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