Wolverine

Update from post on November 9th, 2013

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Profile

The wolverine is a medium-sized predator living in cold northern areas. These dangerous animals are in the mustelid family, which includes weasels, stoats, otters, and badgers.

They are well suited for the cold climate they live in. Wolverines have a very thick coat of hair to keep them warm, and their paws are large, making it easier for them to keep their footing in snowy or icy places.

These animals are brown on most of their body. This can range from the rusty-brown, which the one shown above has, to dark brown or even tan. On the top of their backs, wolverines have a patch of black which sometimes extends down to the neck and face. They usually have a dark muzzle with fur around it lighter than on the rest of the body. Their legs are also dark brown or black.

Size

Wolverines are the largest animals in the mustelid family. From their head to the base of their tail, these animals range from 26 to 34 inches (66-86 cm) long. Their tails are rather long for an animal of this size. They can be up to 10 inches (25 cm) long!

These creatures can weigh up to 66 pounds (30 kg), but they are usually much smaller, closer to 40 pounds (18 kg). Male wolverines are normally a lot larger and heavier than females, but I don’t have specific measurements for each.

Diet

These formidable creatures are the top predators in their area. Although they eat a lot of carrion, they also prey on many live animals. These animals are so powerful that they are able to attack and bring down animals five times as large as themselves by themselves!

Most of the time, they only eat smaller animals, such as rabbits and rodents. Sometimes, however, they will be able to kill animals as large as sheep, caribou, or even moose!

Although they are more than capable of killing animals to eat, wolverines prefer to feast on carrion and the carcasses of animals that other predators have killed. This is probably more common in the winter as prey is often scarce this time of year.

These voracious predators have gotten a bad reputation for being big eaters. Both the French and Spanish names for the wolverine, and probably their name in some other languages also, translate directly into English to mean “glutton!”

Habitat and range

Wolverines are found in various habitats in cold, northern areas of the world. These include the coniferous forests common in these areas as well as the tundra. This is a habitat composed of short grasses, lichens, and woody plants.

These animals live on three different continents: North America, Europe, and Asia. This last one, which is the largest continent in the world, naturally also has the largest range of these animals. The map below shows the areas wolverines live in.

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As you can see, North America also contains a lot of this predator’s range. They live in almost all of Alaska, most of Canada, and a few of the northwestern states of America.

At one point, their range was thought to extend as far south as southern California, much warmer than their typical range. They no longer live here, probably because humans have made them retreat much farther north, but still do have remnants left in pockets somewhat far south.

Status and threats

The wolverine is classified as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Redlist. There are very few known natural predators of these fierce animals, these being wolves and bears. Even these predators probably don’t prey on healthy adult wolverines as they would be too dangerous to attempt to kill.

The main threat to this animal is humans interfering with their natural habitat. Although they may not destroy the habitat, wolverines are extremely sensitive to human involvement. This may be because they were historically hunted for their furs. Sometimes their habitat will be destroyed by human industry and agriculture. Occasionally they will be hunted by humans still, as they threaten livestock.

Another threat that wolverines face is a side effect of human involvement. When humans destroy the habitat of animals such as caribou or moose, they threaten those deer. This, in turn, threatens the wolverines as they have less prey.

Daily life, reproduction, and young

Wolverines are mostly solitary animals. During the fall, winter, and early spring, which is not the mating season, males have large home ranges of up to 355 sq. miles (920 sq. km)! This is about as large as the city of Madrid, Spain! These large ranges often overlap the ranges of several different females.

These animals are active during the day and during the night. They alternate periods of activity and sleep, but not only one of each per day like humans do. When they are awake, wolverines travel long distances to find enough food.

Usually, the only time these animals interact is when they come together briefly to mate. Mating season lasts from may to August, which is when the weather is warmest. The females normally only mate once every two or three years.

The female’s embryo is not implanted immediately, but it waits up to six months to be implanted. After this time, the gestation period lasts 30 to 50 days. From the time the female mates, it can take from 120 to 270 days for her to give birth!

During the gestation period, the mother builds a den in the snow to protect the young when they are born. Between January and April, the female gives birth to around three small kits. They weigh about 3 ounces (85 g), which is a little less than a deck of cards!

From five and seven months of age, the young start to hunt for themselves and become independent. At one year, they have reached their adult size, but they are not ready to mate for a year or two. In the wild, these animals can live up to 13 years, and they can survive up to 18 years in captivity.

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

turtle

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Wolverine  – Matthias Kabel
  • Wolverine range – Oona Räisänen
  • Mystery animal – J. Patrick Fischer
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