Top 10 Largest Wolves in the World
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- They are the largest of all canids, easily dwarfing coyotes, jackals, and man's best friend (with some rare exceptions in the latter case).
- But even within their own sprawling subfamily, there are some wolves that completely outshine all others in size.
- These heavyweights can roam the Eurasian tundra, the frozen arctic expanses, or hang out around a few villages with the locals' consent.
Wolves have captured the human imagination for millennia. While they may not be as large as lions or bears, wolves still scare people. These sociable animals hunted in packs and were able to hunt prey much heavier than they were. Their territories can extend hundreds of miles, and a group can contain up to 20 adult members.
With their powerful jaws, strong legs and killer instincts, wolves are one of nature's top predators. They can run up to 30 miles per day, which allows them to stalk and hunt prey over long periods of time. When motivated, wolves have a bite force of up to 1,200 pounds per square inch, allowing them to bite through bones with ease. Wolves are patient hunters and like to attack in packs, but even alone they are not to be underestimated.
Wolves can be found all over the world, from the tundra of Siberia to the wild interior of Alaska. There are more than 30 known subspecies of wolf, but which is the largest? By measuring their length, height and weight, biologists can learn about the body sizes of different subspecies. Based on these measurements, here is a list of the 10 largest wolves in the world.
#10: Himalayan Wolf
The Himalayan wolf ( Canis lupus chanco ) is larger than its geographic neighbor, the Indian wolf, at about 3.75 feet in length. Himalayan wolves stand 30 inches tall at the shoulder. Its average weight is 77 pounds, which is about the same as an adult male German Shepherd. They mainly feed on Tibetan antelopes, but also Himalayan marmots, woolly hares and pikas.
Himalayan wolves are found throughout the Himalayas, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Central Asian Plateau. They are adapted to living at high altitudes, unlike the lower, more oxygen-rich environments that most wolves prefer. While the taxonomy of the Himalayan wolf is debated, some biologists consider it a distinct subspecies.
Currently, the Himalayan wolf is listed as endangered by the IUCN. Although wolf hunting is banned in India, Nepal and China, international trade continues to threaten their populations.
#9: Mongolian Wolf
The Mongolian wolf ( Canis lupus chanco ) is 3 to 5 feet long from nose to tail. The tallest Mongolian wolves can stand nearly 35 inches tall. Weight may vary, but most specimens weigh 57-82 lbs. They are smaller in stature than European wolves and usually have a slightly narrower muzzle. It bears a resemblance to the Himalayan wolf in appearance, and debate over its taxonomy continues.
The Mongolian wolf is native to Mongolia, north-central China, and Russia. Their range has changed in recent years due to the expansion of human settlements and the decline in the population of their main food competitor, the Siberian tiger. Prey includes saigas and livestock.
Known as "sheep killers" in Mongolian, wolves are occasionally killed by herders to protect their livestock. Their fur trade, revenge killings, and hunting combine to threaten Mongolian wolves. There is currently no protection for Mongolian wolves, and their total population is unknown.
#8: Red Wolf
The red wolf ( Canis lupus rufus ) is a distinct subspecies of wolf, a cross between a coyote and a gray wolf. They get their name from their signature reddish hue, although the coloration can vary between wolves. Red wolves are typically about 4.5-5.25 feet long and weigh between 50-85 lbs. Some biologists liken them to greyhounds because of their slender stature.
Red wolves are native to the southeastern United States. While more sociable than coyotes, they are not as friendly as gray wolves. Their diet includes rodents, rabbits, white-tailed deer, and nutria.
Although they were once widespread across the southeastern states, red wolves became extinct in the wild due to hunting and habitat loss. Today, the IUCN lists red wolves as critically endangered. Most live in captivity or in specially designated wildlife refuges. Still, reintroduced red wolves living in the wild continue to face threats from hunters.
#7: Prairie Wolf
The coyote ( Canis lupus campestris ), also known as the Caspian wolf, averages between 77-88 lbs. They're not as big as Eurasian wolves, they're the closest neighbors, and they have shorter, sparser fur. The coyote is named after the steppe region of Eurasia, where it is a subspecies.
Steppe wolves are found throughout the Caspian steppes, the Caucasus, the lower Volga region and southern Kazakhstan. Occasionally, villagers keep them as guard animals. Their diet consists of Caspian seals, rodents and fish. However, hungry coyotes may also eat berries and other vegetation to survive.
Many coyotes live near human settlements, where they often attack livestock. Since hunting is legal in some areas, coyotes are at risk due to hunting by herders trying to protect their animals. Hunting is the main cause of coyote declines and has led to the IUCN listing them as endangered.
#6: Tundra Wolf
The tundra wolf ( Canis lupus albus ) or Turuk khan wolf is a medium-sized wolf native to the tundra of Eurasia. The average male tundra wolf weighs between 88-108 pounds, while the average female tundra wolf weighs 81-90 pounds. Large tundra wolves have been known to weigh up to 115 pounds. They vary in length from 3.5-4.5 feet. Their leaden gray fur is thick, long, and soft, and their fur has historically been highly prized by hunters and traders.
The tundra wolf ranges from the tundra regions of Finland to the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia. They tend to live in wooded areas and river valleys. Their diet consists almost entirely of reindeer, although they will also eat game such as rabbits, birds, and small rodents.
#5: Arctic Wolf
The arctic wolf ( Canis lupus arctos ), also known as the white wolf or arctic wolf, is 3-5 feet long. They are smaller in stature than Northwest wolves, standing about 2-3 feet tall, and arctic wolves typically weigh 70-125 lbs. But they look even more prominent thanks to a thick waterproof coat that keeps them dry in sub-zero temperatures.
Arctic wolves live across Greenland, Alaska, Iceland and Canada. Since the frozen arctic ground makes digging a nest difficult, they often seek shelter in burrows or rocky outcrops. They feed on arctic hares, reindeer and musk oxen. An arctic wolf can go 4 or 5 months without food and eat up to 20 pounds of meat at one meal.
Due to their remoteness, arctic wolves rarely come into contact with humans. They have few natural predators other than polar bears, which occasionally kill and eat their young. Since there are approximately 200,000 arctic wolves worldwide, the IUCN ranks them as a species of least concern.
#4: Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf
The Northern Rocky Mountain wolf ( Canis lupus irremotus ) is one of the largest gray wolf subspecies. It stands between 26-32 at the shoulder and weighs between 70-150 lbs. Most Northern Rocky Mountain wolves are light gray in color. They are distinguished from other gray wolves by their flat, narrow frontal bones.
The Northern Rocky Mountain wolf has historically spread throughout the Rocky Mountain region of the United States. Today, they can be found in parts of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and southern Canada. They prey primarily on elk, bison, Rocky Mountain mule deer, and beaver. When prey is scarce, they resort to killing and cannibalizing injured or infirm wolf pack members.
Although they were once widespread throughout the Rocky Mountains, the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf has been hunted to almost extinction. The Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Program has resulted in their reintroduction to Yellowstone and other remote parts of the region. Currently, the IUCN does not list the northern Rocky Mountain wolf as endangered. However, some activists argue that the population remains vulnerable.
#3: Eurasian Wolf
The largest wolf found outside of North America, the Eurasian wolf ( Canis lupus lupus ) is also known as the common wolf or Central Russian wood wolf. While the average specimen weighs 86 lbs, in the wild they range from 71-176 lbs, and in rare cases, reach as high as 190 lbs. They measure between 3.5-5.25 feet in length and stand up to 33 inches tall.
Eurasian wolves once lived across the European and Russian steppes. However, mass extinction campaigns from the Middle Ages to the 20th century severely reduced their populations. Today, they can still be found in northern and eastern Europe, as well as in steppe regions throughout Russia. In the wild they feed on moose, deer, wild boar, and other native big game.
Although the number of Eurasian wolves has declined, attacks on livestock are still common. They are protected in most European countries, and the population of the area that was once part of the Soviet Union skyrocketed. Due to their increasing numbers, the IUCN ranks Eurasian wolves as a species of least concern.
#2: Inland Alaskan Wolf
The Alaskan interior wolf ( Canis lupus pambasileus ) is the second largest wolf subspecies in the world. Also known as the Yukon wolf, the average male Alaskan interior wolf weighs 124 pounds, while the average female weighs 85 pounds. They usually weigh between 71-130 pounds, but mature, well-fed males can weigh up to 179 pounds. Standing 33.5 inches tall and with heavy and large teeth, they are much larger than most other subspecies.
The Alaskan interior wolf is native to interior Alaska and the Yukon. They make their home in boreal forests, alpine and subalpine regions, and arctic tundra. Their diet varies by region, but mainly includes moose, reindeer, and bighorn sheep.
Despite the relative sparseness of human settlements, wolf attacks on livestock are common in the Alaskan interior. Several programs to reduce their numbers have resulted in mass killings over the years. However, wolf populations appear to be stable, with an estimated 5,000 wolves in the Yukon alone.
#1: Northwest Wolf
The Northwestern wolf ( Canis lupus occidentalis ) has many names, including the Mackenzie Valley wolf, the Canadian timber wolf, and the Alaskan timber wolf. It is the largest wolf in the world, with males averaging 137 pounds and females averaging 101 pounds. They weigh between 79 and 159 pounds, with particularly large specimens weighing as much as 175 pounds. This size makes the Northwestern wolf the largest wolf species in the world. They can reach lengths of up to 7 feet and stand almost 36 inches tall, dwarfing most of their relatives.
The northwestern wolf ranges from Alaska to western Canada and into the northwestern United States. They prey on elk and have been documented running into a herd, separating young elk from their parents. Northwestern wolves are also known to hunt bison, though they usually only target the pups or weaklings in the herd.
Currently, Northwest wolves are not in significant danger. While hunting and trapping of wolves does exist, their populations are stable, especially in Canada.
Reward: Largest wolf ever recorded
The largest wolf ever recorded was the Northwest or (Mackenzie Valley) wolf, which was trapped in Alaska in 1939. This wolf was found near Eagle, Alaska, and weighed 175 pounds!
An important note is that wolves captured in 1939 had a full stomach, which can add significantly to a wolf's weight. Freshly hunted wolves may have 20 pounds or more of meat in their stomachs, meaning their "actual" size may not exceed 150 pounds, except in rare cases.
Other canids of impressive size included a 172-pound male, also well-fed, encountered in the Northwest Territories eight years later, and more recently, a moose in Yukon's Charle River National Monument in 2001 A 148-pound male canid encountered on a hunting expedition.
Summary of the 10 largest wolves in the world
|1||northwestern wolf||79 – 159 lbs|
|2||alaskan inland wolf||71 – 130 lbs|
|3||Eurasian wolf||71 -176 lbs|
|4||northern rocky mountain wolf||70 – 150 lbs|
|5||arctic wolf||70 – 125 lbs|
|6||tundra wolf||88 – 108 lbs|
|7||prairie wolf||77- 88 lbs|
|8||red wolf||50 – 85 lbs|
|9||Mongolian wolf||57 – 82 lbs|
|10||himalayan wolf||77 lbs|
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