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What Is a Red Wolf?

Karize Uy
Karize Uy

The red wolf is a type of wolf indigenous to the continent of North America. As its name indicates, this wolf is characterized by a warm red to orange glow of its fur when it hits the light, although its fur’s actual color can range from black to gray, yellow to brown, and even cinnamon. Depending on whether one considers the red wolf a separate species or a subspecies of the gray wolf, or the canis lupus, its full scientific name will be different. If it is considered a species, its scientific name would be canis rufus; if it is considered a subspecies, its name would be canis lupus rufus, with the Latin word “rufus” translated as “red.” An adult red wolf can reach a weight of 80 pounds (36 kg) and a length of 4 feet (around 121 cm) from tail to nose.

Historically, there were supposed to be plenty of red wolves living in the wild before the 1960s, but because they were dangerous predators to cattle, they were often hunted and killed. Another factor was the destruction of their habitats to create suitable lands for agriculture and cattle farming. Soon, the population of the red wolves dwindled, and in 1970, they were declared “endangered,” but the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) gathered pure-bred red wolves and started a breeding program to increase their population. In 1980, the wolves were declared “extinct in the wild.”

Red wolves tend to interbreed with coyotes.
Red wolves tend to interbreed with coyotes.

Since then, the breeding program has found enough success to reintroduce the red wolf into the wild, particularly in North Carolina. More than 100 red wolves have been released into the wild, but one concern about restoring their population is the wolves’ tendency to interbreed with coyotes. That is why the USFWS still keep about 200 of the red wolves under the breeding program to produce pure breeds.

A red wolf may be a fierce predator, but it is shy by nature and tends to avoid people. It is, however, a social creature in a sense that it lives and travels with a pack that has a similar structure to that of a family, with a mother, father, and children. This wolf usually has a permanent mate for the rest of its life. It is also observed to be a nocturnal animal, taking advantage of the darkness to stealthily hunt for food. This wolf likes to prey on smaller animals like rabbits, raccoons, and rats, but also has the capacity to kill deer.

Natural habitats of a red wolf would include forests and prairies, with felled trees and riverbanks as the location of many dens. A typical lifespan of the wolf would be eight years in the wild, but it can be twice as long when in captivity, as it does not have any competing predators. Wolves usually mate once a year, producing about three pups each time.

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Discussion Comments


@Melonlity -- Illegal hunting will be probably be a major problem. Another problem is that Americans really, really hated wolves not that long ago and the animals are still viewed as dangerous predators that could carry off your livestock if you're not careful (the phrase "leaving a wolf to guard the hen house" is still used to describe the foolhardy practice of leaving someone unsavory in charge of anything).

Regardless, maybe we are growing up a bit. There are quite a few groups out there doing their part to preserve the red wolf and other threatened wolves. Might not be a bad idea to donate to one or help out in some way.


The red wolf is, by far, the most endangered wolf in existence. By the time the U.S. government started its breeding program, there were only something like 14 of the things left (and that's not an exaggeration). Thankfully, it appears the breed might be saved.

Let's just hope illegal hunting doesn't destroy the wolves as they are released into the wild.

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    • Red wolves tend to interbreed with coyotes.
      By: gabe9000c
      Red wolves tend to interbreed with coyotes.