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Idaho Fish and Game

The Basics of Wolf Biology

By Michael Lucid, Wildlife Biologist Southwest Region Late spring is a time of activity for wolf packs in Idaho's mountains. After a long winter of hunting and foraging, a fresh crop of pups emerges from dens and take their first look at the world around them. A wolf pack is a family group comprised of an alpha male, alpha female and their offspring. The alpha pair leads the pack and mates once a year in mid-February. The alpha female digs a den and gives birth to three to four pups in mid-April. Several weeks after pups are born, they move out of the den to Ôrendezvous sites' which are usually wet meadows or lodgepole pine thickets close to water and cover. Rendezvous sites are safe havens where pups are reared until they are large enough to travel and hunt with the pack. Upon a successful hunt, adult pack members gorge themselves with up to thirty pounds of meat, travel back to the rendezvous site, and regurgitate a meal of meat for the pups. In late summer, pups begin to grow big enough to travel with more experienced members of the pack and explore their territory. A territory is a wolf pack's exclusive area which they defend from other wolves. Wolves let other wolves know a territory is occupied by howling and scent marking (defecating and urinating). If other wolves enter an occupied territory, resident wolves may attack and often kill the intruder(s). Wolves dislike domestic dogs as well. If you see wolf sign while traveling in the woods, it would be wise to keep your dog leashed or on heel. As pups continue to grow, pack food demands increase, and conflicts with livestock increase in late summer. In recent years, wolves have been implicated in about 25 cattle and 200 sheep depredations annually throughout the state. When the snow begins to fly, wolf pups are nearly full grown and can travel actively with the pack. Wolf conflicts with livestock decrease as stock are moved to lower elevation areas and elk - a wolf's main prey item - become easier to hunt due to deep snow. In Idaho, elk comprise about 77 percent of a wolf's diet. Last year, biologists counted 59 wolf packs in Idaho and estimated the wolf population at between 500 and 600 animals. Currently, biologists are busy counting this year's new crop of wolf pups. You can help monitor Idaho's wolf population; if you see a wolf or hear wolves howling, note the details and then take a moment to submit a report on-line at Fish and Game's website: