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What do gray wolves eat?

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Gray wolves, also known as timber wolves, are large canids native to Eurasia and North America. Usually, they are instantly recognizable by their grayish-brown fur. Nonetheless, their coat color can vary, including a white underside and a gray or brown back with facial markings. Typically, these powerful predators are three to five feet long with a tail that is one to two feet long. Also, they live in groups. Wolf packs can be as small as two or as large as 15 wolves living together. One of the fascinating things about these canids is that they have one of the widest natural ranges of any other living mammal other than humans.

Big Gray Wolf is a mysterious creature, so how much do you know about it? Let's explore everything there is to know about what gray wolves eat and other fun facts about them!

What do gray wolves eat?

wolf eats deer
Gray wolves are carnivores and love to eat big-hoofed animals.

©Daniel Korzeniewski/Shutterstock.com

The gray wolf's diet includes large ungulates such as deer, elk, and bison as well as smaller prey such as beavers, rodents, and hares. They are classified as carnivores and scavengers. As a predator, gray wolves are capable of killing a 1,000-pound moose. Keep in mind that gray wolves can weigh anywhere from 60 to 145 pounds, depending on whether they are male or female. In other words, it suggests that these animals were powerful hunters, capable of hunting animals much larger than themselves.

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Despite their preference for big-hoofed animals, gray wolves will eat them when other foods are not available. They have been observed preying on various rodents, snakes, lizards, waterfowl, insects, and even carrion. However, they tend to reserve these options as a last resort. In North America, gray wolves prey on white-tailed deer, dole sheep, bison and caribou. However, most Eurasian wolf packs feed primarily on domestic animals, including roe deer, red deer, moose and wild boar. Meanwhile, Russian wolves have been known to feed on musk deer, caribou, ibex, and ibex.
Also, gray wolves do not hunt at will. In a study of gray wolves living in Yellowstone National Park, researchers found that wolves do not kill at random when hunting, but choose their prey based on species, age and sex. The risk of wolves attacking their prey at will is too great, as they may be injured or even die.

The Complete List of What Gray Wolves Eat

Gray wolves are mostly carnivorous, hunting or foraging for food. To maintain their diet, they consume a wide variety of animals. Although carnivorous, they have also been observed eating fruit from time to time.

Here's a full list of what gray wolves eat:

  • deer
  • bison
  • Elk
  • reindeer
  • bighorn sheep
  • beaver
  • Rodents
  • Hare
  • fish
  • birds
  • Fruits, such as apples, pears, figs, berries, cherries, and melons
  • waterfowl and their eggs
  • wild boar
  • moose
  • lizard
  • snake
  • large insects
  • Plants such as lilies of the valley and nightshades

As you can see, gray wolves have a very diverse diet. However, it's important to remember that they didn't eat all of these different foods consistently. Their main food source is big hoofed herbivores. Some food sources are eaten only when no other food is available, such as lizards and large insects. Now that we know what gray wolves eat and what their diet consists of, we have a better understanding of this amazing predator. Let's take a look at how gray wolves forage.

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How do gray wolves forage?

yellowstone gray wolf
With large teeth and strong jaws, gray wolves are able to grab prey and knock it down.

© Nagel Photography/Shutterstock.com

Due to their status as top predators, gray wolves have evolved keen hunting and survival skills. Their bodies also have all the physical features that help them hunt their prey. In addition to their large canines and strong jaws, gray wolves can run at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour. Although powerful in their own right, their real power comes from hunting in packs.

The ability of gray wolves to hunt alone is incredible. However, hunting in groups ensures a higher chance of success and also helps them reduce casualties. To track their prey, gray wolves rely on their excellent hearing and incredible sense of smell. Together these two help them track their prey. If their prey happens to be particularly large, gray wolves will split up and surround them as soon as they spot it. To bring down larger animals, they usually bite first on the shoulders and sides.

Despite their speed and sharp teeth, wolves face danger when hunting. Large antlers and hooves can cause serious problems for gray wolves if not careful. A moose or caribou can seriously injure or kill a gray wolf if you are not careful. Because of this, they choose their prey carefully, looking for weak animals.

What do little gray wolves eat?

Coyotes are called puppies! When pups are first born, they are completely dependent on their mother for food. Because gray wolves are born with their eyes closed, it is nearly impossible for them to hunt. They drink breast milk to begin with. After about 10-14 days, the cub finally opened its eyes. When they are three weeks old, they can finally start eating meat.

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However, at three weeks old, they still won't go hunting on their own. Instead, adult gray wolves bring them meat. The cubs actually eat regurgitated meat that the adults bring back from the hunt. While that doesn't sound particularly appetizing to us, puppies need it to survive. Puppies will start hunting larger animals with the pack at six months of age.

How do gray wolves affect ecosystems through their diet?

mysterious gray animal
Gray wolves help control animal populations through their diet.


There is no doubt that gray wolves play an important role in protecting the environment. Their presence can affect the behavior of wildlife in a wide range of ecosystems because they are top predators. Gray wolves, for example, play an important role in controlling deer and elk populations, which benefits many other plants and animals. Additionally, grizzlies and scavengers redistribute nutrients by feeding on the carcasses of their prey. Our ecosystem relies heavily on wolves and they are very important in controlling animal populations.


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featured image

Tibetan mastiff vs wolf
A gray wolf runs in the snow. These gray animals are pack animals, organized into unique hierarchies within wolf packs.

© Holly S Cannon/Shutterstock.com

about the author


Volia Nikaci is a freelance writer and content editor with a passion and expertise in content creation, branding and marketing. She has a background in broadcast journalism and political science from CUNY Brooklyn College. When not writing, she enjoys traveling, visiting used bookstores, and hanging out with her significant other.

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