Known as highly intelligent pack animals, wolves have been widely misunderstood through the millennia as wild and deadly beasts. They are the creatures of myth and folklore, often to their detriment. The truth is that wolves are extremely social animals that develop very close social bonds with family members and their pack. In fact, wolves observed in the wild often illustrate significant displays of affection and other emotions with each other.

"The Pack" by Karen Crewe. Photo from Wildlife Photo of the Day.

“The Pack” by Karen Crewe. Photo from Wildlife Photo of the Day.

Here are some interesting and unique characteristics about the world’s most majestic land predator:

1. True love

Once a wolf has found a mate, they tend to stay together for better or worse, through sickness and health, often until death due them part. Of course it is typically only the alpha male and female that breed, leaving the rest of the adult pack members to help rear the young and ensure their survival.

2. Wolves will die for each other

In addition to a trend toward monogamy, wolves develop such strong social bonds for their family and other loved ones, they have been known to sacrifice themselves for the survival of the pack / family unit. Move over Romeo and Juliet!

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Photo taken in Yellowstone National Park, (c) Ray Doan

3. It’s all in the howl

Perhaps the most well known characteristic of the grey wolf is its penetrating, hauntingly beautiful howl. This is a primary communication tool, both between lone wolves and their pack, as well as between packs. When it comes to territory, inter-pack howling will determine the size and strength of different pack, often determining weather or not to attack or retreat.

4. Wolves are as long as really tall people – but much faster

While the average length of female wolves is 4.5 to 6 feet from nose to tail, males can grow up to 6.5 feet in length. This is partly why they can sprint at speeds of 36 to 38 miles per hour for short distances, though unless they are on the chase they tend to cruise at a more leisurely pace of about 5 mph.

5. Marathon runners

Although the above-noted speed is not super fast for a top predator (a cheetah can travel at up to 75 mph in short bursts), wolves are ultra marathon endurance hunters. They have been known to track and trace their prey for hours well into the night. And they have the added bonus of a high IQ and excellent sense of hearing and smell, all of which they put to good use in rounding up their next meal.

6. ‘Wolfing’ it down

Wolves can eat a huge amount, as much as 9 kg, in one sitting, thus the saying. The alpha male is first to eat and will devour the most meat out of the pack, followed by other pack members and or other scavengers. Although this is partly to blame for their bad reputation, it is really a survival tactic, as they never know when their next meal will be and often it is days before they eat again.

7. Oh, grandmother, what big hands you have!

If you’ve ever seen a true wolf paw print, it’s enough to make the hair on your back stand on ends, as their average foot size is comparable to an adult human hand, at 4 inches wide by 5 inches long

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Photo of wolves’ (mother and cub) paw prints taken on Nat Hab’s Yellowstone Wolf & Wildlife Safari. (c) Paul Brown

8. Even bigger houses

If you thought you live in a McMansion, try to imagine a property that extends up to 1000 square miles. In Canada and Alaska their territory extends 300 to 1,000 square miles, with a more modest 25 to 150 square mile territory in Minnesota. Living, hunting and playing in packs as highly social animals, they often travel up to a dozen plus miles a day.

Once widespread throughout North America, Europe and beyond, the grey wolf now exists only in parts of the USSR, North America and Eastern Europe, where it continues to retain its legendary and mythological status among the animal kingdom.

Search for grey wolves in the wild on a Yellowstone safari with Nat Hab and WWF.