Canis rufusred wolf

Geographic Range

Formerly the range of red wolves included most habitats of the southeastern United States, however this species range was reduced in historic times to extreme southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana. Presently, red wolves are being reintroduced into areas of their historical range--Alligator River in North Carolina, and the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina (Wilson & Ruff 1999, Nowak 1991). (Nowak and Paradiso, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)


Before becoming endangered, red wolves inhabited mountains, lowland forests, and wetlands. Presently, red wolves survive mainly as small relict and reintroduced populations in inaccessible swampland and mountainous terrain (Wilson & Ruff 1999, Nowak 1991).

Physical Description

Red wolves are distinguished from their nearest relative, Canis lupus, by their smaller size, relatively narrower proportions, longer legs and ears, and shorter fur. Red wolves have a total length between 1000 and 1300 mm, tail length of from 300 to 420 mm, and shoulder height of 660 to 790 mm. Among red wolves, males average 10 percent larger than females. Red wolves usually have upperparts that are a mixture of cinnamon, tawny, and gray or black, while the back is normally blackish. The muzzle and limbs are tawny and the tail is tipped with black. In winter, the reddish element of the pelage is dominant. An annual molt takes place in the summer (Wilson & Ruff 1999, Nowak 1991).

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    20 to 40 kg
    44.05 to 88.11 lb
  • Average mass
    23.5 kg
    51.76 lb


The dominant male and female pair are solely able to reproduce within a pack. Other pack members assist in raising young and obtaining food for lactating females. (Nowak and Paradiso, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)

Breeding season extends from January to March. The gestation period is 60-63 days, with average litters of 3-6 pups occurring in the spring. However, litters of up to 12 pups can occur. (Nowak and Paradiso, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)

  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs between January and March.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 12
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    60 to 62 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years

Both males and females participate in rearing the young in the den, as well as other pack members. The young are cared for, nursed, and sheperded through their first year of life. (Nowak and Paradiso, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)


Most individuals live to about 4 years, though one captive individual was recorded at 14 years old (Wilson & Ruff 1999, Nowak 1991). (Nowak and Paradiso, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)


Red wolves are primarily a nocturnal species. Home ranges are formed and a portion of the home range becomes the exclusive territory of a pack. Packs usually consist of a mated pair, and their pups, but larger packs have been reported. Dens within the home range are built to rear young offspring. These dens are normally located within trunks of hollow trees, in sandy knolls, or stream banks. Packs often live harmoniously, however aggression towards unknown wolves is characteristic of red wolves, as it is of other canids. Within their home range, red wolves hunt over small portions for 7-10 days at a time, continuously shifting to new areas of the range. The vocalizations of red wolves are said to be intermediate between those of coyote and grey wolves (Wilson & Ruff 1999, Nowak 1991). (Nowak and Paradiso, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Red wolves communicate with conspecifics through a complex suite of behavioral, tactile, chemical, and auditory signals. Body language, pheromones, and vocalizations all serve to communicate about social and reproductive status and mood. Social bonding is often acheived through touch. Home ranges are delimited using scent marks.

Food Habits

Rodents, ungulates, and other small mammals are the main prey of red wolves. The dominant prey species include raccoons, white-tailed deer, swamp rabbits, cottontail rabbits, pigs, rice rats, nutria, and muskrats. Red wolves will also eat carrion. They typically hunt in a particular area for 7 to 10 days, then switch to a different range (Wilson & Ruff 1999, Nowak 1991). (Wilson and Ruff, 1999)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • carrion
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Red wolves are primarily killed by other canids, including gray wolves and coyotes as a result of agonistic interactions over territories. These are not predation events but are characteristic of competition between wild canids. Young red wolves may also be taken by other large predators such as alligator, large raptors, and bobcats.

Ecosystem Roles

Red wolves are important as top predators in the ecosystems in which they live.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Red wolves eat many rodents, thus helping to control the populations of these pests (Fox 1975).

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Red wolves were long thought by the public to be a serious threat to livestock. This threat has been grossly exaggerated, though they may occasionally kill domestic animals (Fox 1975).

Conservation Status

Red wolves have been blamed for depredations on livestock and game. As a result, humans, mainly ranchers, farmers, and government trappers, steadily eliminated populations of red wolves. In 1967, red wolves were listed as endangered and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service engaged in a salvage effort to protect remaining populations. Fourteen remaining red wolves were placed in a captive-breeding facility; they have become the founders of the present red wolf population. Currently, 200+ red wolves exist, and reintroductions are occurring in a few areas, including North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains.

Other Comments

There has been some controversy regarding the validity of Canis rufus as a species. It is possibly a naturally occuring hybrid of coyotes and grey wolves, though debate on this issue continues (Nowak, 1995, Wayne, 1995).


Michael Mulheisen (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Rebecca Ann Csomos (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Cynthia Sims Parr (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own


active at dawn and dusk

dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Fox, M.W. ed. 1975. "The Wild Canids: Their Systematics, Behavioral Ecology and Evolution". Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. New York, NY.

Canid Specialist Group, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, August 1998. "Red wolf (Canis lupus)" (On-line). Accessed November, 2001 at

Nowak, R. 1995. "Hybridization: the double-edged threat." (On-line). Accessed November 2001 at

Nowak, R., J. Paradiso. 1991. Canis rufus: Mammalian Species No. 22. The American Society of Mammologists.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Coordinator, "Red wolf" (On-line). Accessed November, 2001 at

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "Red Wolf (Endangered Species), Wildlife Species Information: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service" (On-line). Accessed November, 2001 at

Wayne, B. 1995. "Red wolves: to conserve or not to conserve" (On-line). Accessed November, 2001 at

Wilson, D., S. Ruff. 1999. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.