The Symbolic North American Grey Wolf

The North American Grey Wolf is the largest type of wolf and is native to the wilderness of North America. It is a fascinating animal, well proven by the fact that it is the most researched on any species Canid. There are possibly more books, movies, articles and documentaries about the North American Grey Wolf than any other type of wildlife.


The grey coat of this canine gives it its name but they are more often a mixture of grey, brown and white. The tails are long and bushy, sometimes tipped with black. Their faces are marked with white and white fur can trail their undersides from chin to chest. Some are even pure white. They resemble the German Shepherd breed of dog with a few variances like head and paw size and length of legs.

Grey wolves are carnivores that eat large, hoofed animals, or ungulates, like deer, moose, caribou and antelope. They also eat rabbits, rodents, raccoons and other smaller mammals. They are foragers, which means they wander from place to place in search of food and will eat dead animals as well as garbage and other unconventional food sources. A single grey wolf can eat 20 – 25 lbs in a sitting.

Grey wolves are found in North America, Asia and Europe. They are adaptive and as long as an area has ample space and provides prey for them to hunt, they can adapt to life there. The wolf has been dangerously close to extinction for years. Indian tribesman hunted them for fur and teeth and bones and by the mid 1930’s they were almost wiped out.

The grey wolf
By Sakarri

In 1995 a reintroduction of wolves began in the United States in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and North Carolina. Efforts have been successful and Yellowstone Park in Idaho is one of the most populated areas. Ranchers in the area had concerns and fought the idea originally.

The huge elk population forced the hands of some. So many extra elk caused a decline in vegetation and the ecosystem became unstable. Overgrazing was causing a serious spiral in deciduous plants like the upland aspen and riparian cottonwood causing damage to other species as well.

Grey wolves live in packs for the most part. However, solitary wolves do exist. Packs are comprised of the mated couple plus their pups and yearlings. Packs may also contain more than one family and large packs of 30-40 wolves have been documented.

Eventually, males will most often leave their pack with the onset of sexual maturity or if competition for food becomes too strong. In some cases wolf packs have adopted stray wolves into their pack. They are almost always adolescent wolves with no chance of competing for food or mates. In the rare instance a full grown male is adopted into the pack it is to replace a deceased breeder of the pack.

The mother and father of the pack are called the alphas and are the leaders. They are the hunters; they decide the territory of the pack as well as the site of the den.

Wolves do communicate with each other and other animals through barking, growling, body language and scent marking. They communicate warnings, subservience, social hierarchy and their location to each other. Wolves have a more developed sense of communication than coyote or other land mammals.

The posture and facial expressions of a wolf say as much as vocal emersions. Wolves show their aggression by making slow and deliberate movements. They will often raise their hackles and raised body posture. A wolf being submissive will have slicked back fur and a tucked tail. It will also lower its head and eyes. Submissives may also lick the other wolf’s mouths.

A wolf howl can be chilling to human ears but to each other it is a calling card. Wolves howl to gather before and after a hunt. They also howl as a type of beacon to find each other in unfamiliar territory or during storms. Howls are also used as warning signals near a den site and to pups.

North American Grey Wolf
by US Fish & Wildlife Service

Male and female wolves howl in distinctly different ways from each other. Males have a deeper growl and focus on the O sound while females are more nasal and focus on the U sound. Pups do not howl at all but yearlings will emit a weak howl that ends in a series of yips and yaps.

Howls are the most well known sounds made by the North American grey wolf but they also growl, bark and whine. These other sounds are used to tell each other and other animals how they are feeling and what is happening. They express anxiety, curiosity, excitement and surprise depending on the situation.

All about the North American Grey Wolf

Basic Grey Wolf Facts

The North American grey wolf is shrouded in symbolism and takes on meaning according to the various cultures. Native Americans in particular have North American grey wolves intertwined throughout its traditions and folklore.