Gray Wolf



Wolf Pack


The Subspecies Controversy

These are the twenty-four subspecies of Gray Wolf which live or lived in North America. This list was developed by E. Raymond Hall and K. R. Kelson in 1959. Many of the extinct species are based on a few specimens such as skulls or pelts. The classification is based on unique aspects of each species based on morphological or geographical elements. The twenty-four subspecies identified are:


Subspecies Common Name Viability
alces Kenai Peninsula wolf EXTINCT
Arctic Wolf Viable
baileyi Mexican Wolf ENDANGERED
beothucus Newfoundland EXTINCT
bernardi Bernard EXTINCT
British Columbian Extinct in British Columbian Endangered in the Lower 48
crassodon Vancouver Island THREATENED
fuscus Cascade Mountain Wolf EXTINCT
Manitoba Wolf May or May Not have existed/Extinct
hudsonicus Hudson Bay Wolf Endangered
irremotus Rocky Mountain Wolf Removed from the Endangered Species List
labradorius Labrador Wolf Endangered
Alexander Archipelago wolf Endangered
lycaon Eastern No longer considered a subspecies but a separate species from the Gray Wolf
mackenzii MacKenzie Valley No longer considered endangered
manningi Baffin Island Endangered
mogollonensis Mogollon Mountain EXTINCT
nubilus Great Plains No longer considered endangered

MacKenzie Valley No longer considered endangered
orion Greenland Either a variety of the Arctic Wolf or endangered
pambasileus Yukon Not endangered
youngi Southern Rocky Mountain EXTINCT


In 1992 at the North American Wolf Symposium Ronald Nowak suggest only five subspecies based on his analyze of skulls. These five subspecies are:

Canis Lupus

Subspecies Common Name Viability
arctos Arctic  
lycaon Eastern  
baileyi Mexican Gray  


DNA testing will hopefully one day put an end to the controversy.

The gray wolf is found worldwide, ranging from across Europe to northern
Asia; however, it has been extirpated from much of its former range.
Formerly in North America, the gray wolf ranged from the southern fringe of
Greenland south through mid-Mexico and from the Atlantic to the Pacific
[34]. It occupied almost all regions of the United States except for
deserts and high mountaintops [22,34]. Today the gray wolf occupies about 1
percent of its former range in the contiguous states [10]. It occupies
northeastern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of
Michigan, northwestern Montana, central Idaho, and Washington's Cascade
Mountains. In addition the gray wolf is abundant throughout Alaska and
Canada. The ranges for the 24 subspecies follow [22,34]:

Ssp. irremotus - Idaho, western Montana, Wyoming, Alberta, and the
western fringes of Washington and Oregon
Ssp. columbianus - British Columbia and southwestern Alberta; can
move into the northwestern states
Ssp. occidentalis - northern Alberta and Saskatchewan,
northeastern British Columbia, and central
Manitoba, into the Yukon and the Northwest
Ssp. lycaon - southeastern Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the
eastern United States, from the Atlantic to
central Minnesota, south to northeastern Florida
Ssp. nubilus - thought to be extinct, although it may possibly
occur in Minnesota [19]; from southern Manitoba
and Saskatchewan, south through the Great Plains
into northern Texas
Ssp. alces - the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Ssp. pambasileus - Yukon Territory and all but northern Alaska
Ssp. tundrarum - northern Alaska
Ssp. hudsonicus - along the Hudson Bay in the Northwest
Territories and Manitoba
Ssp. arctos - Melville Island, Northwest Territories
Ssp. orion - Greenland
Ssp. labradorius - northern Quebec and Newfoundland
Ssp. beothucus - the island of Newfoundland
Ssp. ligoni - Alexander Archipelago, Alaska
Ssp. fuscus - the Cascade Mountains of Washington, Oregon, and
Ssp. crassodon - Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Ssp. youngi - the southern Rocky Mountains of Utah, Arizona,
New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming
Ssp. mogollonensis - central Arizona and westcentral New Mexico
Ssp. monstrabilis - Texas, Mexico, and southeast New Mexico
Ssp. baileyi - central Mexico into southern Arizona and
New Mexico
Ssp. bernardi - Banks and Victoria Islands, Northwest Territories
Ssp. mackenzii - northern Northwest Territories and Yukon Territory
Ssp. manningi - Baffin Island, Northwest Territories
Ssp. griseoalbus - Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest
Territories, and Newfoundland

Mating - occurs from January to April
Gestation Period - 63 days
Litter Size - average five to six pups; weaned at 5 weeks
Breeding Age - 2 years, but often do not breed until 3 years due to
social structure of the pack; usually only dominant
male and female breed
Life Span - up to 16 years, but 10 years is considered quite old
Pack Size - averages 2 to 15 individuals, although 36 individuals have
been reported; packs structured in a dominance hierarchy

Gray wolves' habitat preferences appear to be more prey dependent than cover
dependent. Herman and Willard [16] summarized that gray wolves choose home
territories with a variety of topographic features. Forests, open
meadows, rocky ridges, and lakes or rivers all comprise a pack's
territory. In the West gray wolves have been known to follow the seasonal
elevational movements of ungulate herds [16]. In Minnesota, where
territories encompass only subtle elevational changes, Fritts and Mech
[10] observed no changes in territory use by gray wolves between summer and
winter. In south-central Alaska Ballard and others [1] found that
gray wolves do not follow migrating moose or caribou outside of their pack
territories. Gray wolves do, however, follow moose and caribous' elevational
movements within pack territories.

Gray wolves excavate natal dens in well-drained soils in meadows near water
[16]. They may use the same den for several years. In Minnesota Fuller
[11] found gray wolves denning in hollow logs (24 to 35 inches [60-90 cm]
diameter). Gray wolves also den under tree roots, rock outcrops, or even in
beaver lodges [11]. After 1 to 2 months these natal dens are abandoned
for an open area called a rendez-vous site. Here the pups are guarded
by a few adult pack members, while the rest of the pack hunts [1].
Herman and Willard [16] summarized that gray wolves need a large, remote area
relatively free from human disturbance. Territory sizes range from 20
to 215 square miles (54-555 sq km) in Minnesota [10]. Average territory
sizes in Minnesota have been reported to vary from 55 to 120 square
miles (143-310 sq km) [29] and 25 to 29 square miles (64-75 sq km) [2].
In the West average territory sizes vary from 75 to 150 square miles
(194-388 sq km) and are smaller in winter when ungulates are
concentrated on their wintering grounds [16].

Gray wolves prey mainly on large ungulates, such as moose (Alces alces), deer
(Odocoileus spp.), elk (Cervus elaphus), and caribou (Rangifer
tarandus). They tend to prey on the young, old, and sick members of
ungulate populations. Beaver (Castor canadensis) are a major supplement
to gray wolves' diets [23]. Voigt and others [33] reported that gray wolves'
diets vary, depending on relative prey abundance. Other prey species
include mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), bison (Bison bison),
pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), various rodents, upland game birds
and waterfowl, snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), and black bear (Ursus
americana) [6,10,21,23,25,33]. On Isle Royale seeds of wild sarsaparilla
(Aralia nudicaulis) were found in gray wolf scat [7]. Occasionally gray wolves
prey on domestic livestock.

Humans are the only significant predator of the gray wolf and have eradicated
it from almost all of its former range worldwide [27,34]. Pimlott and
others [26] noted black bear preying on gray wolf cubs and adults.

Organized efforts to kill all the remaining gray wolves in the western United
States began in the 1860's. Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks
established an official predator-control policy between 1914 and 1926
[27]. Today both parks are included in the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf
Recovery Plan as two areas capable of sustaining viable wolf
populations. Bunnell and Kremsater [4] concluded that wolves need about
7,818 square miles (20,250 sq km) to maintain a viable population of 50
individuals. Fear of livestock depredation seems to be the single most
cause of opposition to gray wolf recovery. Also hunters worry that game will
be less available if gray wolves were to recolonize their former ranges. In
Minnesota, northwestern Montana, central Idaho, and the Greater
Yellowstone Ecosystem, livestock owners are reimbursed for animals taken by gray wolves [27]. An economic analysis conducted by Duffield
[36] concluded that gray wolf reintroduction could possibly reduce the number
of hunting permits, but that revenues lost would not exceed revenues
gained from tourism in and around Yellowstone Park, due to the increase
in photographers, filmmakers, and others wanting to see gray wolves."

Excerpt taken from:
Snyder, S. A. 1991. Canis lupus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2015, September 27]


An Account of the Taxonomy of North American Wolves from Morphological and Genetic Analyses

Legacy lost: genetic variability and population size of extirpated US grey wolves

Canis lupus subspecies (as of 2005)