Types of Wolves
Biology & Behavior
Wolves & Humans
Classification, or taxonomy, is the system of categorizing all living
things. Living things are separated into different categories based on similarities
and/or common ancestry.
Animals with a backbone
||lupus (gray wolves)
rufus (red wolves)
lycaon, which some scientists think is a subspecies of gray wolf-see
|Examples of other Canid Species
aureus (golden jackal)
mesomelas (black-backed jackal)
adustus (side-striped jackal)
familiaris (domestic dog)
simensis (Abyssinian or Ethiopian wolf)
Scientific Naming of Wolves
Every living thing on earth has a unique scientific name consisting of two words in
Latin, which are always italicized. The first letter of the first part of the
name, the genus, is always capitalized in writing, while that of the second part, the
species, is not. Therefore, the gray wolf's scientific name is Canis lupus.
This naming system is referred to as binary nomenclature and is the same all around
the world, which helps people who speak different languages talk about the same
species without question. Scientific names are often descriptive and give insight
into one species' relationship to another species.
Unlike scientific names, common names are not always unique and vary by culture
and geographic region. For example, a gray wolf living in a forested area might be
called a "timber wolf" while a gray wolf living on the tundra might be called a
Canids of North America
The canid family consists of thirty-five living species. Eight of these species
inhabit North America. These North American species include gray wolves, red wolves,
coyotes, red foxes, gray foxes, kit foxes, swift foxes and arctic foxes. The eight
species may be organized in three general categories: wolves, coyotes and foxes.
Wolves are the largest members of the canid family. This is the species
from which our pet dogs were domesticated. Wolves were once the most widely distributed,
wild terrestrial mammals. They inhabited most of the available land in the northern
hemisphere. Due to the destruction of their habitat and persecution by humans, they
now occupy only about two-thirds of their former range worldwide, and only about 5-8
percent of the contiguous 48 United States.
Wolves can be found in a variety of climates and habitats. These habitat variations
are sometimes seen in the type of morphology, or physical characteristics, seen in
wolves living in different geographical areas. These differences sometimes
differentiate types, or subspecies, of wolves around the world. However, these
different types are so subjective that over the years scientists have disagreed as
to whether in North America alone there are 24 such subspecies or only four. Current
workers generally accept five, but a recent article lumped those into four. Subspecies
of gray wolves in North America include the Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos),
northwestern wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis), Great Plains wolf (Canis
lupus nubilus), Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) and the eastern timber
wolf (Canis lupus lycaon), which is debated by some as a distinct species,
the eastern wolf (Canis lycaon). In reality, any differences among all these
proposed types are so minor as to be meaningless except to a few specialists.
Coyotes (Canis latrans) are smaller than most mature wolves.
Resilient animals, they have higher population numbers and inhabit a much larger range
than do wolves. Coyotes are able to adapt to change and have a strong tolerance for
human encroachment. Many people have used the terms "brush wolves" or "prairie wolves"
when referring to coyotes. Coyotes, however, are not wolves. Coyotes and wolves are
in the same family (Canidae) and genus (Canis), but are separate species,
just as foxes and wolves are separate species.
Like wolves, coyotes have been persecuted because of their predatory nature. They
are still trapped and killed in predator control programs throughout North America
but continue to thrive.
Foxes match the coyote's ability to cope with civilization. Foxes are in
the same family as wolves and coyotes (Canidae) but not the same genus. Gray
(Urocyon cinereoargenteus) and red (Vulpes vulpes) foxes inhabit about
three-quarters of the United States. Swift (Vulpes velox) and kit (Vulpes
macrotis) foxes inhabit only small portions of the western United States. Arctic
foxes (Alopex lagopus) live in the northern portions of Canada, Alaska and
outlying areas of Greenland.