Gray Wolf Physiology

By Alyssa Premo

There are currently estimated to be 38 subspecies of wolves. Under the subspecies of gray wolf, there are an additional five subspecies (“Episode 109: Howl for the Grey Wolf.”): 

  • Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos)
  • Northwestern wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis)
  • Great Plains wolf (Canis lupus nubilus)
  • Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)
  • Eastern timber wolf (Canis lupus lycaon) 

Gray wolves are the largest canid species currently living on the planet with an average weight of roughly 100 pounds. Interestingly, Northern latitude subspecies of gray wolves tend to be larger in size than those who inhabit southern latitudes (“Episode 109: Howl for the Grey Wolf.”). The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife provides an excellent description of the gray wolf: 

“The wolf has relatively long legs, a narrow and deep chest, elbows that turn inward and foot pads that turn outward. These, combined with the digitigrade feet possessed by all canids, make the wolf highly adapted for running. The pelage of gray wolves is long over the body and tail, but relatively short on the legs and face. The predominant color is gray, but the legs, flanks, and venter sometimes are yellowish or light brownish. These colors are overlain by long, black guard hairs on the dorsum, tail, and mane; some individuals are essentially entirely black. Occasionally, but more commonly in higher latitudes, all-white individuals occur.”

Other general facts about the gray wolf include: 

Gray wolf pack hunting an elk in winter
  • They live 8-10 years in the wild and up to 15 years in captivity. 
  • Wolves live in a pack of around five to nine members, led by an alpha pair. Generally, the alpha pair are the only pack members allowed to breed and are mated for life.
  • Wolves can run over long distances at five miles per hour and can sprint for short distances at a speed of up to 40 miles per hour. 
  • They can travel as many as 12 miles in day.
  • Canis lupus are carnivores and prefer large prey such as deer, elk, and bison.

Works Cited:

“Episode 109: Howl for the Grey Wolf.” All Creatures Podcast, All Creatures Podcast, 20 Aug. 2019,

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Coyotes, Wolves and Foxes: Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.” Coyotes, Wolves and Foxes | Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2020, 

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