A wolf’s ears

Their ears are like radar. They can smell a man from three to four kilo­metres away. And their eyes… they can see through everything,” Ion Maxisimovic says in Wolf Hunter, a doc­u­ment­ary film by James Morgan.

Wolves are built to move and that in­cludes an aero­dy­nam­ic head fea­tur­ing a sleek muzzle lead­ing to tri­an­gu­lar-shaped ears that are gently roun­ded on top. Each ear can be in­de­pend­ently ro­tated cre­at­ing op­tim­al an­ten­nae for pick­ing up sounds.

According to Wolf Watch UK, do­mest­ic dogs can hear up to six­teen times bet­ter than hu­mans. Experts say a wolf’s hear­ing is even more acute and that they can hear noises ten to six­teen kilo­metres (six to ten miles) away on open ground. It’s also sus­pec­ted that wolves can hear fre­quen­cies as high as 80 kHz com­pared to a human’s up­per range of 20 kHz.

Wolf pups open their eyes when they’re around two weeks old and be­gin to hear sounds after three weeks.  Ears play an im­port­ant role in wolf body lan­guage and com­mu­nic­a­tion. Wolves cock their ears to in­dic­ate alert­ness, ag­gres­sion, play­ful­ness or sub­mis­sion.  And, along with eyes, ears, mouth, hackles, tail and pos­ture, ears con­vey mood, status, sexu­al in­terest and intent.

Dogs evolved from wolves and, over the cen­tur­ies, have been bred to ful­fill the de­sires of hu­mans, wheth­er that be as com­pan­ion, work an­im­al or simply the trendy fash­ion ac­cess­ory of the day.

These red wolf pups are only a few days old and are not yet able to see or hear. Their ears are still soft and floppy.
Photo by Ryan Nordsven, US Fish and Wildlife Services.

Studies show that a large pro­por­tion of people are at­trac­ted to dogs with floppy ears and short­er, roun­ded muzzles. These are ju­ven­ile char­ac­ter­ist­ics that all dog and wolf pup­pies have. As wolf pups grow, how­ever, their ears stand up­right and their snouts lengthen, where­as many dogs’ do not.



The top photo shows an adult red wolf wait­ing to be trans­por­ted to a site for re­lease into the wild. It’s well be­yond the puppy stage and its ears are erect. The po­s­i­tion of the ears, the eyes and the gen­er­al pos­ture of the wolf shows that it is stressed. Photo by B. Bartel, US Fish and Wildlife Services




How many grasshoppers will a wolf eat?

According to a scat ana­lys­is, one wolf ate at least 181 grasshop­pers and prob­ably at one go.

That sounds like a lot of hop­pers but, giv­en that each one weighs ap­prox­im­ately half a gram, that means the wolf in­ges­ted less than a cup of in­sects. Definitely a light­weight snack for a large carnivore.

It all star­ted a couple of years ago when Brandon Barton and some bud­dies were hik­ing through Hells Canyon Wilderness, which spans the Idaho/​Oregon bor­der. They were study­ing elk eco­logy but then Barton spot­ted some­thing odd – wolf scat that ap­peared to be filled with grasshoppers.

The trail was covered with live hop­pers and the group knew wolves ate a vari­ety of prey. But poop plugged with in­sect body parts seemed be­yond the norm.

Despite the pu­trid smell, Barton, a com­munity eco­lo­gist at Mississipi State University, triple bagged the scat for fur­ther ex­am­in­a­tion in a lab. In the mean­time, the group set up a couple of mo­tion-sensor cameras.

Sure enough, the black and white film caught a lone wolf vis­it­ing the trail every night to chow down on hop­pers. Because the in­sects are slug­gish when tem­per­at­ures are cool, it was as easy as a hu­man reach­ing into a bag of popcorn.

The big take away from the hop­per-filled turd on the trail ? It’s an­oth­er ex­ample of how all creatures, plants and wa­ter­ways are not isol­ated ele­ments in an eco­sys­tem; at some level they all in­ter­act to cre­ate a whole.

Photo by Eileen Kumpf


Takaya: Lone Wolf

In 2012, an ap­prox­im­ately two-year old wolf sud­denly ap­peared on Discovery Island, not far from the densely pop­u­lated mu­ni­cip­al­ity of Oak Bay on south­ern Vancouver Island, BC.

He’d prob­ably dis­persed from his birth pack on Vancouver Island and was look­ing for a mate and ter­rit­ory to call his own. But some­where along the way, he made a wrong turn and found him­self in an urb­an area. So, per­haps con­fused or spooked, he swam through chal­len­ging wa­ters to a small cluster of islands.

Wolves are highly so­cial an­im­als, so no one thought he’d stay. But, des­pite all odds, he has. For sev­en years he’s sur­vived – and thrived – in a loc­a­tion that has no oth­er wolves, no year-round source of wa­ter and no deer or oth­er un­gu­lates to hunt.

Cheryl Alexander has fol­lowed the jour­ney of the wolf she calls Takaya with her cam­era and heart for nearly sev­en years. The renowned wild­life pho­to­graph­er has watched him swim from is­land to is­land, seen him feed­ing on seals and listened to him howl to­wards the lights of Oak Bay.

On Friday, October 4, the story of this re­mark­able wolf and wo­man will air on CBC TV’s The Nature of Things. Takaya: Lone Wolf is an in­ter­na­tion­al co-pro­duc­tion, which will run on BBC, CBC and ARTE.

Cheryl was a won­der­ful re­source while I was re­search­ing Return of the Wolf and I can’t wait to see the doc­u­ment­ary fea­tur­ing her pho­to­graphs and in-depth know­ledge about this un­usu­al wolf.

Click here to view a trail­er of the documentary.

Photo by Cheryl Alexander

The Wolf wins silver!

Return of the WolfReturn of the Wolf won a Silver Medal in Environment/​Ecology  at the Independent Publisher Book Awards!

Based in the USA, the an­nu­al award hon­ours the best in­de­pend­ently pub­lished titles from around the world.

Judges in­clude ex­perts in the fields of edit­ing, design, book­selling, re­view­ing and lib­rar­ies. Their de­cisions are based on qual­ity of con­tent, ori­gin­al­ity, design and pro­duc­tion with a spe­cial em­phas­is on in­nov­a­tion, com­pel­ling text and so­cial rel­ev­ance to cur­rent times.

A thou­sand thank yous to every­one at my pub­lish­er, Douglas & McIntyre, for  the time, en­ergy and sup­port giv­en to the Wolf. And also to the people who so gen­er­ously con­trib­uted their know­ledge, ex­per­i­ences and photographs.

A book, es­pe­cially an award-win­ning one, is truly a col­lab­or­at­ive effort!