A red wolf with brown fur on its body and red fur around its ears. By Dave Pape
Red wolves are smaller than the more widely known species of wolf, the Gray Wolf. They usually weigh between 45 and 90 pounds, and they have long legs, large ears, and a narrow body. Red wolves often have fur that looks reddish brown, although they can also have brown or black fur.
Red wolves are carnivores, which means that they eat meat. They hunt deer, raccoons, rabbits, and rodents. They hunt together in groups, or they hunt alone, depending on the time of year and the type of animal they are hunting.
Red wolves live in groups called packs. In the pack one pair of wolves is in charge, or dominant. This pair is called the alpha pair. They make decisions about life within the wolf pack. Other wolves in the pack follow the leadership of the alpha pair, although sometimes a wolf may challenge one of the alphas to try and replace them as a leader. The pack works together to hunt food, raise baby wolves (pups), and defend a territory, which is an area of land the wolves use for hunting and survival.
Before the 1900’s, the red wolf lived in most of the habitats found in the southeastern part of the United States. The habitats that red wolves lived in included mountains, forests, and wetland areas. As human development increased in the southeastern US during the 1900’s many red wolves could not adapt to changes in their habitats. The wolves either did not have pups or were not able to raise the pups, and red wolf populations decreased. In 1967, the red wolf was recognized as an endangered species.
In the 1970’s, there were fewer than 100 wolves living in the wild. The area they lived in was much smaller than their original range. They mostly lived in parts of Texas and Louisiana that were near the ocean. In 1980, the last wild red wolf was captured and red wolves only existed in captivity. In response to this unfortunate situation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service started a program to breed captive red wolves and reintroduce them in a few areas that were part of their historical range. Captive red wolves have been successfully reintroduced to the wild in North Carolina and on several islands along the Atlantic coast. The red wolf remains on the Endangered Species list.
This map shows where red wolves lived in North America before their population decreased in the 1900’s. By Fobos92, modified from a map available at www.discoverlife.org
An action photo of a red wolf running. Photo courtesy of Curtis Carley, US Fish and Wildlife Service
The above links were used as references, as well as the following books:
Wilson, Don. and Sue Ruff, ed. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington DC, 1999. pp. 234-235.
Reid, Fiona A. A Field Guide to Mammals of North America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company: New York, 2006. pp. 443-444.