What wolves eat

As carnivores, wolves will eat anything from a mouse to a moose including grasshoppers, birds and frogs.  Although wild wolves will occasionally eat berries, their bodies require meat to survive.

As Jack London wrote in White Fang, a story about a wolf-dog hybrid, “The aim of life was meat. Life itself was meat.”

Most wolves obtain their meat from ungulates such as deer, elk, moose, bison and muskoxen. While it’s dangerous hunting large animals with horns and hooves, the huge food reward is worth the effort and risk of injury or even death. On the other hand, it takes a lot of mice to fill a wolf’s belly and the energy expended is often greater than the calories gained.

While most wolves depend on ungulates for their sustenance, some eat a lot of fish. This has been recorded throughout the world and often involves fish travelling upstream to spawn.

This wolf caught 15 sockeye salmon in one hour in Brooks River, Alaska. Photo courtesy Paul Stinsa

But some wolves rely heavily on fish and marine-related animals year-round. In fact, wolves on some British Columbia coastal islands primarily eat salmon, seals and shellfish, as well as mink and Canada goose eggs. They will even move rocks at low tide to eat tiny molluscs called chitons. Wolves on outer islands may seldom – if ever – see a deer.

 

Wolves aren’t picky about their food. They may cache some meat and dig it up for dinner later, as well as scavenge prey that has died of natural causes or been killed by other animals.

They can easily become used to the easy pickings found at unsecured human garbage dumps and will raid campsites or break into tents and kayak holds to check out human food. Although they probably won’t eat much of the food they find this way, they will bite into whatever they can access to check it out.

At times, wolves also kill and eat livestock and pets, which is the major source of their conflict with humans.

Top photo was taken on Ellesmere Island in the high arctic where wolves prey on hares and muskoxen. Photo courtesy Dave Mech

 

Will wolves howl at the super blood wolf moon?

From ancient times, Indigenous peoples in North America called the first full moon after the winter solstice the Wolf Moon. This was often the coldest, darkest month of the year, when hungry wolves could be heard howling outside villages.

The sky will provide a backdrop for some extra drama when 2019’s Wolf Moon takes place the evening of January 20-21. On that night the full moon will pass  its closest to earth making it appear larger and brighter than normal. That adds the super to Wolf Moon.

And, depending where you are, at some point that night the earth will move  between the sun and the super Wolf Moon creating a total eclipse. The earth’s shadow makes the moon appear red, hence the term blood.

A super blood wolf moon is relatively rare, occurring approximately every three years. But how do wolves respond to this lunar event?

Photo by John Cavers

Wolves howl, hunt and travel at any time but are most active around dawn and dusk, as well as throughout the night. And whether they’re sitting, standing or lying down, they lift their snouts to howl. But, rather than focusing on the moon, some believe they’re simply taking advantage of the extra light it provides.

“I know from sleeping near the Sawtooth Pack for eleven years that wolves do howl more during a full moon,” Jeremy Heft writes in the summer 2009 Sawtooth Legacy Quarterly. A wildlife biologist, Heft’s worked at the Wolf Education and Research Center in Winchester, Idaho, since 1998. “They tend to be more active then because it’s easier to see prey and hunt.”

In the 1970s, wolf researcher Paul Paquet observed unusual behaviour in a pack during a solar eclipse. The wolves were actively wandering around an estuary on the BC coast when the moon passed between the earth and the sun. As the light faded, the wolves gathered together along the shoreline and gazed in the direction the bright sun had been. They only resumed their normal routine when the sun began to reappear.

So it’s hard to say how wolves will react to a super blood wolf moon. My guess is they may howl earlier in the night when the moon is brightest but stop to gaze upwards during the dimming of light and change of colour during the blood phase.

Super blood wolf moon photo by Yu Kato (Unsplash)