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wolf, carnivorous mammal of the genus Canis in the dog family. Once distributed over most of the Northern Hemisphere, wild wolves are now confined to the wilder parts of a reduced range. Three wolf species (the gray wolf, red wolf, and coyote) have been generally recognized, although there is much local variation within them; some scientists have questioned whether the red wolf is truly a separate species (see below).

Other living members of the genus Canis include the jackal and the dog, which is classified as a subspecies (Canis lupus familiaris of the gray wolf. All Canis species can interbreed, producing fertile offspring; the Eskimos have interbred wolves and dogs to produce hardy animals for pulling sleds. The maned wolf, Chrysocyon brachyurus, found in wooded areas of central South America, is not a true wolf, although it is a canine (member of the dog family). It has extremely long, stiltlike legs and an erectile mane on the neck. Strand wolf is a name for the brown hyena (not a canine) of Africa. The aardwolf is also a member of the hyena family.

The Gray Wolf

The most widespread is the gray wolf, C. lupus, of circumpolar distribution; in addition to the domestic dog, its subspecies include the timber wolf, the arctic wolf, and the dingo. Extinct in W Europe except in a few isolated pockets, it is still found in SE Europe, Russia, and much of Asia. In the New World it is found in wilderness forests and tundra from Greenland and the shores and islands of the Arctic Ocean to the extreme N United States. There is and has been a healthy population in Alaska, but the gray wolf was an endangered species in the 48 contiguous United States. Thus protected, it has steadily increased its range since the late 1980s, especially in the Great Lakes region in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan and in the states surrounding Yellowstone National Park, where Canadian wolves were introduced in 1995 in the hope of restoring balance to the Yellowstone ecosystem. Canadian wolves were also introduced in central Idaho in 1995 and 1996, and natural reproduction has since steadily increased the numbers of both populations. Wolves have also migrated from Canada or neighboring states into parts of Montana, Washington, and Oregon and established themselves there. Gray wolves in most of the contiguous United States are now no longer federally protected. The Mexican wolf, a subspecies, was extinct in the wild but has been reintroduced on protected parklands in E Arizona and SW New Mexico. The Eastern wolf, found in the N Great Lakes region and to its east, has been considered a gray wolf subspecies, a separate species (C. lycaon), a red wolf, a gray wolf–red wolf hybrid, or a gray wolf–coyote hybrid. Smaller than the gray wolf, its fur is grayish brown, mixed with gray and cinnamon.

The gray wolf is similar in appearance to a German shepherd, with a thick, shaggy coat, erect ears, and a bushy tail. Its fur is usually gray mixed with black and brown but may be nearly black or, in the Arctic, nearly white. An average-sized adult male is about 3 ft (90 cm) high at the shoulder and 4 ft (120 cm) long, excluding the tail, and weighs about 100 lb (45 kg); some individuals weigh twice as much.

Active mostly at night, gray wolves prey on birds and small mammals and on weak members of larger species, such as deer; they also eat vegetable matter and some carrion. They can run at speeds of up to 35 mi (56 km) per hour and can clear 16 ft (4.9 m) in a single bound. While hunting they can maintain a speed of about 20 mi (32 km) per hr for many hours, eventually wearing down even the swiftest prey. They roam over large areas and may migrate in response to migrations by or numerical fluctuations in their prey species.

Gray wolves hunt singly and in family groups, called packs, which typically include about five individuals. Under severe conditions, especially in winter, several families may join together, forming a pack of up to 30 individuals, rarely more. During the mating season a wolf pair establish a den, usually in a cave or underground burrow, in which they raise the young; both parents bring home food. A pair is believed to remain mated for life.

Because of farmers' fears of raids on livestock, which wolves usually take only when wild prey is unavailable, gray wolves have been hunted ruthlessly, resulting in their extermination in all but the most sparsely populated areas. North American gray wolves have not been known to attack humans without provocation, although Siberian gray wolves have on occasion attacked riders of horses or horse-drawn vehicles. There are many stories of human children being raised by gray wolves, particularly in India, but none has been authenticated.

Red Wolves and Coyotes

The red wolf, C. rufus, is a smaller species that varies in color from reddish gray to nearly black, but are typically brown and buff with some black along the backs and often a reddish color on their ears, head and legs. It has been nearly eradicated from most of its range in the forest and brush country of the E and S central United States and is listed as endangered. However, captive breeding programs are slowly increasing its numbers, and some have been reintroduced to the wild. The red wolf is similar in behavior to, and has been considered by some scientists to be a hybrid of, the prairie wolf, C. latrans, better known as the coyote. One DNA study concluded that the red wolf is a gray wolf–coyote hybrid, with the majority of its genome of coyote origin.

Smallest of the wolves, coyotes are still widespread in W North America. Real estate development in their traditional habitat, combined with the opening up of the ecological niche formerly filled by gray wolves and mountain lions, has prompted coyotes to greatly increase their range; they are now common in E North America and have developed populations in large urban centers such as Chicago, New York City, and Toronto. Eastern coyotes are generally larger, primarily as a result of interbreeding with wolves; such hybrid coyotes are sometimes called coywolves.


Wolves are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Canidae.


See E. Zimen, Wolf: A Species in Danger (1981); F. H. Harrington and P. C. Paquet, Wolves of the World (1982); J. L. Gittleman, Carnivore Behavior, Ecology and Evolution (1989); T. D. Beeland, The Secret World of Red Wolves (2013).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Canis lupus), a predatory mammal of the dog family (Canidae). Its body measures 105-160 cm in length. It weighs 35-50 kg and, in rare cases, as much as 76 kg. The wolf is distributed in Europe, Asia, and North America; in the USSR it is found everywhere but on the Solovetskie Islands, in the southern Crimea, and on some islands of the Far East and the Arctic basin. It is most common in the steppes, particularly in areas where there is free pasturing of cattle; it is also often found in the desert but is rare in solid taiga regions. The wolf is gray in color; the tundra wolf is lighter in color and the desert wolf is grayish-red. The wolf feeds mainly on animals: wild and domesticated ungulates, dogs, hare, and small rodents. Wolves live in pairs during the breeding season and in late autumn and the beginning of winter sometimes form packs of up to 10-12 animals. In the spring, after 62-65 days of pregnancy, the females give birth to between three and 10-13 (most often five) blind pups, which begin to see after 12-13 days. Only steppe and desert wolves dig burrows; forest wolves raise their young in dens beneath felled trees, in reeds, and in other dry, secluded places. The parents feed the cubs regurgitated meat and later, killed prey. In the autumn the pups begin hunting with the adults. Wolves are harmful to livestock raising and hunting, and their destruction is permitted throughout the USSR during all seasons of the year.


Sokolov, A. A. Volk. Moscow, 1951.
Mlekopitaiushchie Sovetskogo Soiuza, vol. 2, part 1. Edited by V. G. Geptner and N. P. Naumov. Moscow, 1967. Pages 123-93.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about a wolf?

The wolf is another symbol that may be regarded as either good or evil. The fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood represents the onset of sexual maturity in young women, and the wolf represents the seductive “evil” male who tries to eliminate the protection of the wise old woman, Grandma. The honorable “good” male figure of the woodcutter values the feminine principle by protecting Red with his strength. The Native American values the wolf as a serene, majestic teacher, guide, and source of sacred wisdom. Some tribes relate the feminine lunar aspect of life to the wolf, while other tribal groups consider the wolf a strong warrior symbol for the male. Unless other dream elements point to a “big bad wolf” interpretation, this dream symbol may well represent “good medicine.”

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


A dissonant interval which appears when the meantone scale is extended to include chromatic notes.
(vertebrate zoology)
Any of several wild species of the genus Canis in the family Canidae which are fierce and rapacious, sometimes attacking humans; includes the red wolf, gray wolf, and coyote.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


symbol on coats of arms. [Heraldry: Halberts, 16]
See: Cunning


symbol of success on coats of arms. [Heraldry: Halberts, 16]
See: Success
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a predatory canine mammal, Canis lupus, which hunts in packs and was formerly widespread in North America and Eurasia but is now less common
2. any of several similar and related canines, such as the red wolf and the coyote (prairie wolf)
3. the fur of any such animal
4. Tasmanian wolf another name for the thylacine
5. Informal the destructive larva of any of various moths and beetles
6. Music
a. an unpleasant sound produced in some notes played on the violin, cello, etc., owing to resonant vibrations of the belly
b. an out-of-tune effect produced on keyboard instruments accommodated esp to the system of mean-tone temperament


1. Friedrich August . 1759--1824, German classical scholar, who suggested that the Homeric poems, esp the Iliad, are products of an oral tradition
2. Hugo . 1860--1903, Austrian composer, esp of songs, including the Italienisches Liederbuch and the Spanisches Liederbuch
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in classic literature ?
"And is that all?" Wolf Larsen queried, his voice soft, and low, and purring.
"You are too much of a man for ship discipline, if that is what you mean, and if you know what I mean," was Wolf Larsen's retort.
"Uncle's" huntsman was galloping from the other side across the wolf's path and his borzois once more stopped the animal's advance.
Nicholas and his attendant, with "Uncle" and his huntsman, were all riding round the wolf, crying "ulyulyu!" shouting and preparing to dismount each moment that the wolf crouched back, and starting forward again every time she shook herself and moved toward the wood where she would be safe.
"Man!" said Father Wolf, showing all his white teeth.
Father Wolf ran out a few paces and heard Shere Khan muttering and mumbling savagely as he tumbled about in the scrub.
Then I heard a wolf howl on my right, and from the left came answering howls, and these, again, were answered by others in front of and behind me.
"For a moment I stood thinking, then I lifted up my voice and howled like a wolf, and lo!
For the distance of twenty feet Wolf watched him go, himself all eagerness and expectancy, as though waiting for the man to turn and retrace his steps.
Failing in this, Wolf raced back to where Walt Irvine sat, catching his coat-sleeve in his teeth and trying vainly to drag him after the retreating man.
'If that's all you want done,' answered the wolf, 'you needn't worry yourself.
All the next day he spent wandering about the fields, and toward evening the wolf came running to him in a great hurry and said,