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Arctic Wolf: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

Welcome to the world of the Arctic wolf, one of nature’s most resilient creatures. Known for their tenacity and adaptability, Arctic wolves are able to survive and even thrive in one of the harshest environments on Earth. They are a subspecies of the gray wolf, specifically adapted to survive in Arctic conditions with their thicker fur and layers of fat.

These incredible animals showcase nature’s raw beauty and its unforgiving harshness, making them fascinating subjects to study. In this article, we will delve into the life of the Arctic wolf, learning about its behavior, diet, lifecycle, and the challenges it faces in today’s world.

The Arctic Wolf at a Glance


Class:Mammalia (Mammals)
Species:Canis lupus
Subspecies:Canis lupus arctos

Essential Information

Average Size:1-1.8 m long (3.3-5.9 ft), 0.79-0.91 m tall at shoulder (2.6-3 ft)
Average Weight:32-70 kg (70-154 lbs)
Average Lifespan:7-10 years in the wild; up to 20 in captivity
Geographical Range:Arctic regions of North America and Greenland
Conservation Status:Least Concern (IUCN Red List)

Species and Subspecies

The Arctic wolf, or Canis lupus arctos, is a subspecies of Canis lupus, more commonly known as the gray wolf. While there are several different subspecies of gray wolves, the Arctic wolf stands out due to its distinct adaptations to the harsh Arctic environment.

Arctic wolves are generally smaller than other wolf species, with shorter ears, muzzles, and legs to minimize heat loss. They also have a thick, double-layered coat that enables them to survive in extremely cold conditions.

Arctic wolf face


Arctic wolves range in size from 1 to 1.8 meters long (3.3 to 5.9 feet) and stand about 0.79 to 0.91 meters (2.6 to 3 feet) tall at the shoulder. Males are typically larger than females, with an average weight between 70 and 154 pounds (32-70 kg), compared to females who average between 60 and 120 pounds (27-54 kg).

Arctic wolves are primarily white, a trait that helps them blend into their snowy surroundings, although some may have grey or brown patches.

They are distinguishable by their shorter ears, muzzles, and legs compared to other wolf subspecies. These traits help minimize heat loss. Their coat is made up of two layers, a thick undercoat and a weather-resistant outer coat, which they shed in warmer months.

Habitat and Distribution

Arctic wolves inhabit some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet. They are found primarily in the Arctic regions of North America and Greenland.

Unlike other wolf species, Arctic wolves often stay in the same territory all year long, even during the harsh winters when other animals migrate.

Their habitat consists of the tundra and areas with frozen plains where few other species can survive. They have evolved to survive in such a challenging environment, making them one of the only mammalian species that is not threatened by human encroachment.

Pack of Arctic wolves


Arctic wolves, like most wolves, are social creatures and live in packs. Packs are usually formed around a nuclear family and can consist of 7 to 10 wolves on average, but some packs can number up to 20. The pack is led by an alpha male and female, who are typically the only ones to breed.

While Arctic wolves are primarily nocturnal, they are also active during the day, particularly during the long daylight hours of the Arctic summer.

They communicate using a variety of sounds, body postures, and scent markings. Vocalizations include howls, growls, and whines, while scent marking involves urination and defecation at strategic locations to mark territory boundaries.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Arctic wolves are carnivores. Their primary food source in the harsh Arctic environment is the musk oxen and arctic hares, but they will also eat caribou, lemmings, seals, ptarmigan, and other small animals when available. They have been known to travel up to 40 kilometers (24.85 miles) in a day in search of food.

Arctic wolves employ a hunting strategy based on endurance rather than speed. A pack will slowly wear down its prey in a long, slow chase until the animal is too tired to continue. This strategy is effective in the vast and open Arctic terrain, where hiding places are minimal.


The Arctic wolf has few natural predators due to its remote habitat. Occasionally, they may come into conflict with polar bears, which are the only species known to hunt them. However, the greatest threat to the Arctic wolf is not predation but starvation.

The Arctic is a harsh environment with sparse resources, and finding food can be a constant challenge, particularly for young wolves or those who are sick or injured. Other potential threats include injuries during hunting and inter-pack conflicts.

Arctic wolf portrait

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Arctic wolves typically mate in January and February with the alpha pair being the ones to breed. The gestation period for Arctic wolves is approximately 63 days, similar to other wolf species. The female gives birth in late April to early May, often in a den dug into the side of a hill or bank.

Litter sizes can range from four to seven pups on average, although larger litters have been reported. The young are cared for by the entire pack, but primarily by the mother, who stays with them in the den for the first few weeks after birth. The pups are weaned at around 5 weeks of age and start to venture outside of the den.

Conservation and Threats

The Arctic wolf is not currently considered endangered. Its remote habitat has left it largely unaffected by human encroachment, and it does not face the same pressures of habitat loss that other wolf species do. However, they are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which is rapidly altering the Arctic landscape.

There are no specific conservation efforts targeted at Arctic wolves due to their stable population and remote habitat. However, climate change mitigation efforts and broader protections for Arctic ecosystems would indirectly benefit Arctic wolves. It’s essential to monitor their population considering the accelerated changes in their habitat.

Fun Facts

  1. Arctic wolves are one of the few mammals that can tolerate the harsh conditions of the Arctic all year round.
  2. Unlike many wolf species, Arctic wolves rarely encounter humans and are not threatened by hunting or persecution.
  3. The white coat of an Arctic wolf is not just for camouflage in the snow. It also provides an additional layer of insulation, keeping the wolf warm in freezing temperatures.
  4. Arctic wolves have shorter ears and muzzles than other wolf species, which helps them conserve heat.
  5. They can travel up to 25 miles (40 kilometers) per day in search of food, making them excellent hunters and survivors in the vast Arctic tundra.

Frequently Asked Questions

How big do Arctic wolves get?

Adult Arctic wolves typically weigh between 70 to 125 pounds (32-57 kg), with males being larger than females. They can measure up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) in length from nose to tail tip.

Do Arctic wolves have any natural predators?

Due to their size and strength, adult Arctic wolves have few natural predators, although polar bears may pose a potential threat. The primary threat to young pups is starvation and freezing temperatures.

What do Arctic wolves eat?

Arctic wolves are carnivores. Their diet primarily consists of musk oxen and Arctic hares. They have also been known to eat lemmings and other small mammals, birds, and occasionally carrion.

How long do Arctic wolves live?

Arctic wolves in the wild typically live between 7 to 10 years. However, in captivity, they can live up to 20 years due to the lack of threats and steady food supply.

Do Arctic wolves live alone or in packs?

Arctic wolves usually live and hunt in packs that can range in size from just a few individuals to over two dozen. The pack is typically made up of a dominant alpha pair, their offspring, and various subordinate individuals.

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