What is the red wolf ?

Wolf species -

What is the red wolf ?

The red wolf (Canis rufus) is a carnivorous mammal of the Canidae family. It is sometimes considered a hybrid of the grey wolf and the coyote. The actual status of this canid is not yet clear. The red wolf is one of the rarest of all canids in the world.

red wolf

1. Description of the Red Wolf

The red wolf is one of the rarest canids in the world. It averages between 95 cm and 1.20 m in length with a tail of 25 to 35 cm and a weight of 20 to 35 kg. For years, the red wolf was not genetically differentiated from the grey wolf or the coyote. However, it can be distinguished from the grey wolf by its smaller size, lighter weight, thinner legs and shorter ears and fur.

The coat is cinnamon red or fawn with patches of grey and black. The back of the body tends to be dark, and the tail has a black tip. The muzzle and limbs are tawny. In winter, the reddish element of the coat is dominant. A moult takes place every year in summer. 

The red wolf also has some special features, such as being able to stand on its hind legs or to breed with the grey wolf and the coyote.

The red wolf is generally a crepuscular species with peak activity at dawn and dusk. They usually live in pairs, sometimes accompanied by their pups. It hunts in small patches within its home range for 7 to 10 days and then moves to another field.

The vocalisations of the red wolf are thought to be intermediate between those of the coyote and the grey wolf. It communicates with its conspecifics with a complex sequence of behavioural, tactile, chemical and auditory signals. Body language, pheromones and vocalisations are used to communicate about social status, reproduction and mood. Social bonds are by touch 

red wolf description

2. Red Wolf habitat

The red wolf was once found throughout the southeastern United States, near the Atlantic coast, north of the Ohio Valley and central Pennsylvania, west of Texas and south of Missouri. As a result of persecution during the 20th century, the species was declared extinct in the wild in 1980 after the last 17 wild red wolves were captured to begin a captive breeding program. Currently, red wolves are being reintroduced into their historic range. In 2003, the free-ranging red wolf population numbered about 100 individuals in 20 family groups. To date, there are about 270 wolves left in the wild. 
Before becoming an endangered species, the red wolf inhabited mountains, lowland forests and wetlands. Today, red wolves survive mainly in small residual and reintroduced populations in inaccessible swamps, forests, wetlands, virgin forest areas and mountainous terrain.
red wolves habitat

3. What does the red wolf eat ?

The red wolf is a predator whose diet consists mainly of meat. It eats mammals such as ;

  • water rabbits
  • white-tailed rabbits
  • marsh rabbits
  • coypu
  • deer
  • muskrats
  • and raccoons form the bulk of their prey. It will also sometimes settle for carrion.

red wolf feeding a deer

 4. Red wolf reproduction

The breeding season for the red wolf takes place between January and March. The gestation period lasts between 60 and 63 days, after which the female gives birth to a litter of 3 to 6 pups. The dens where puppies born are found in dense vegetation in the fields, near the banks of a river or in large trees' hollows. The pups are fed and raised by the breeding pair and the young from a previous litter. They leave the maternal den when they reach the age of 15-20 months. The average life expectancy in the wild is four years. However, one captive individual has lived to the age of 14 years.  

baby red wolves

 5. Red wolf predators

The red wolf is mainly preyed upon by other canids, including its congeners from different families, grey wolves and coyotes. Young cubs are also attacked by other large predators such as alligators, large raptors and bobcats.

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red wolves predators

6. Why is the red wolf endangered species?

The red wolf is one of the most endangered wolves in the world. Historically, in the eastern and south-central United States, red wolf populations were decimated in the early 20th century due to intensive predator control programs and habitat degradation by humans. When the red wolf was designated as endangered in 1967, the U.S. Wildlife Service launched efforts to conserve and recover the species. Today, approximately 40 red wolves roam their native habitats in eastern North Carolina as a non-essential experimental population (NEP). More than 200 red wolves are maintained in captive breeding facilities throughout the United States.

Also, the red wolf has long been persecuted and hunted, because according to livestock farmers, it posed a direct threat to livestock and game. Hybridization is also a threat to the survival of this species. Because populations are so fragmented, single individuals interbreed with closely related coyotes. The taxonomic status of the red wolf has been widely debated. Recent genetic and morphological research suggests that the red wolf is a distinct species rather than the hybrid offspring of the grey wolf (Canis lupus) and the coyote (Canis latrans).

red wolf animal

7. Did you know that ?

  • The current status of the red wolf is still uncertain. Some authors suggest a hybrid resulting from the crossing of the grey wolf and the coyote.
  • Other authors consider that it is instead a subspecies of the grey wolf, and its vernacular name is, therefore, Canis lupus Rufus.
  • The red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980, but fortunately for the red wolf, a captive breeding programme has led to its successful reintroduction.