Wolves are one of the most researched animals in the world. Scientists and researchers are discovering new things about the wolf all the time. Here at ROC Animal School, that means we are constantly updating our Lupinology program to reflect new information.
The word, “Lupinology,” isn’t a real word (not yet, anyway) but it roughly means, “the study of wolves.” Our program covers the basics of wolf behavior, ecological impact, the wolf language, wolf pack dynamics (and the current science thereof), how wolves hunt and which species and subspecies call North America home. All of this is broken down into sensible pieces, linked together with activities and games to enhance the learning experience.
In the last few weeks, we revised the program once again. While it didn’t need any major additions, we felt it needed some tweaks in pacing and some updated information about some of the subspecies.
Discussing gray wolf subspecies is difficult. It was once thought that there were 32 subspeciess living in North America alone, but then came the debate of whether some of those were not distinct enough to be considered a true subspecies and which ones were so unique that they might be a different species altogether. Some have argued that the gray wolf is the only true wolf species in North America and that there are only four or five subspecies.
Regarding subspecies research, there seems to be a stronger focus on the red wolf, eastern wolf, Mexican gray wolf, the arctic wolf and the Vancouver Island wolf. These are definitely quite distinct from each other, having unique traits and characteristics that have helped them adapt to their environment. Also, in the case of the Vancouver Island wolves, they have been fairly biologically isolated from the mainland wolves, allowing them to be wildly different. They’re one of the most interesting wolves to study.
As I rewrote our Lupinology program in preparation for an upcoming event, I had it in mind to craft a new program that focused on the arctic wolf. As I began work on the project, the issue of subspecies arose again, but this time, it was a lot harder to sift through the many types that were documented. Let me try to break apart the issues:
1. Alaska, Greenland and Canada are home to very harsh terrain and some areas are extremely remote and isolated. Wildlife that live there have to adapt to these extreme environments. The question is whether wolves living in one region are genetically different from those living in another.
2. Some of these wolves were first discovered in the late 1880s and not sought after until almost a century later. In some instances, researchers were unable to find them again, and/or wolves living in these regions currently were different from those first observed or from specimens collected at the time.
3. Some subspecies became extinct. Any information about them were gathered from historical accounts and remains stored in museums or cultural sites.
4. There is a large difference in the historical ranges and present day ranges of many of these wolves. Human expansion fueled a lot of this and as a result, scientists have had to look at historical accounts and gene studies to determine which subspecies they were looking at and where they may have lived prior to 1900.
5. Some of these subspecies, especially in the case of arctic types, migrate. They tend to follow herds of caribou and muskoxen seasonally as said herds moved to follow food soirces. A lot of their movements haven’t been studied. This can also make mapping ranges difficult.
6. Many wolves go by multiple names. This can be difficult for researchers especially when one name might be shared by more than one subspecies (for example, the name, “island wolf,” seems to be shared by the Vancouver Island wolf and the Alexander’s Archipelago wolf). Furthermore, some subspecies are broken down into smaller classification groups, called types. Correct identification between one type and another can be tricky.
7. Some arctic types live in extremely remote areas. Studying them and trying to obtain accurate population counts, migration habits and diet can be nearly impossible. This is further made difficult by the fact that the arctic experiences perpetual darkness during the winter.
Thus, due to the aforementioned reasons, researching Aslaskan, Greenlandic and northern Canadian wolves has proven to be a challenge. Arctic wolves, from the bits of info I could piece together, can be broken down into seven types (two of these are most likely extinct with an 8th type awaiting genetic testing to prove it’s identity).
As I continue to gather facts, I will have to go over data with a fine toothed comb to ensure I have everything as accurate as possible. I hope to have the program ready to launch by mid autumn along with the finished arctic wolf mascot who will host it.
Until next time, stay aild!