The Wolf Moon

The first full moon of the year ap­pears in the heart of winter. And, de­pend­ing on loc­a­tion and cul­ture, it may be called Frost Exploding Moon, Freeze Up Moon or Cold Moon. For ob­vi­ous reas­ons, my fa­vour­ite full moon nick­name is Wolf Moon.

It’s said that Indigenous people dubbed the January moon Wolf as the pred­at­ors could of­ten be heard howl­ing through­out the long, dark nights. While some people be­lieve the wolves are howl­ing at the moon, they ac­tu­ally use that form of vo­cal­iz­ing to de­fend their ter­rit­ory, com­mu­nic­ate with oth­er pack mem­bers or grieve the death of an­oth­er wolf.

Photo by John Cavers

Sometimes wolves seem to howl for the sheer pleas­ure of it or as a warm-up to the nightly hunt. Young pups learn to howl by watch­ing and listen­ing to their elders.

Although vis­ible for sev­er­al nights, the of­fi­cial 2021 Wolf Moon will ap­pear in North America the even­ing of January 28. So, grab your bin­ocu­lars or tele­scope and look up.

And speak­ing of look­ing up, the reas­on people think wolves howl at the moon is that, wheth­er they’re sit­ting, stand­ing or ly­ing down, they al­ways lift their snouts to howl. But that’s more for the vo­cal af­fect than any­thing in the sky.

Try it your­self by look­ing down and howl­ing and then tilt­ing your head back and howl­ing again. Not only does the head-back howl sound bet­ter, the angle of the throat and mouth also pro­jects the sound over a longer distance.



When wolves lose their fear of humans

It was 11:00 p.m. and Stanley Russ was only a few steps from Grant and Miranda Moore’s house when a wolf bolted out of the bushes and at­tacked him. Hearing his screams, the Moores raced out­side. The ruck­ous also aler­ted the couple next door, Russ’ son Frank and his wife, Sylvia, to the emergency.

Frank got between the wolf and his dad, while the oth­ers provided first aid. Despite Frank yelling and throw­ing whatever he could find, the wolf re­peatedly at­temp­ted to get to Russ. A neigh­bour set off her car alarm and the wolf dis­ap­peared only to re­appear an hour later.

The sev­enty-two year old Port Edward, BC res­id­ent suffered severe bites to one arm and both legs. He re­ceived emer­gency sur­gery at the Prince Rupert Hospital and was later flown to Vancouver General Hospital for fur­ther treatment.

Russ sur­vived the at­tack, the wolf was killed and, after an in­tens­ive in­vest­ig­a­tion, Conservation Officer Service (COS) deemed the May 29, 2020 at­tack predatory.

Attacks by healthy wolves are ex­tremely rare and usu­ally oc­cur when wolves be­come ha­bitu­ated to hu­mans and are food con­di­tioned. the Port Edward in­cid­ent was a clas­sic case.

A large pop­u­la­tion of fer­al cats in Port Edward and Prince Rupert res­ul­ted in wolves fre­quent­ing both com­munit­ies. The in­vest­ig­a­tion into the at­tack also re­vealed a net­work of trails between Port Edward and a nearby land­fill where wolves ate garbage on a reg­u­lar basis.

As well as sources of food, wolves are also at­trac­ted to hu­man be­long­ings and have been known to keep and play with items for up to a year. COS ob­served a well chewed shoe at the dump that was reg­u­larly moved from one spot to another.

Most people do not real­ize how easy it is for wolves to be­come com­fort­able around people. If wolves re­ceive re­wards such as garbage, food or hu­man be­long­ings, they will be­gin to seek out places where people are rather than avoid them.

In many areas, wolf pop­u­la­tions are in­creas­ing and some wolves are mov­ing through or even oc­cupy­ing space close to hu­mans. It’s up to com­munit­ies and in­di­vidu­als to make sure there are no at­tract­ants to arouse their interest.

Photo cour­tesy Avishag Ayalon



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