The wolverine, also referred to as the glutton, carcajou, skunk bear, devil bear, or quickhatch, is the largest land-dwelling species of the family Mustelidae, and is primarily found in the remote forest habitats and open plains of the Northern Hemisphere. Due to their elusive nature, wolverines are one of the world’s least studied animals.
Wolverines have a stocky and muscular build, with short limbs, a broad and rounded head, and short rounded ears. Their compact bodies help them preserve heat in cold climates. They have a plantigrade posture, with five toes on each of their broad paws—which enable them to be efficient traveling through deep snow. The wolverine has highly hydrophobic fur, that is a thick, glossy, brown to brownish-black, with a yellow or gold stripe extending from the crown of the head laterally across each shoulder and to the rump, where the stripes join at the tail. A light silvery facial mask and white hair patch on the throat and or chest is distinct in some individuals.(1)
Diet and predators
The wolverine’s scientific name, Gulo gulo, comes from the Latin word gulo, which means glutton. However, this name likely derives from attributing human traits to animals, since wolverines eat what they need to survive, and for this reason do not fit the true definition of gluttony. For practical physical health reasons, an obese wolverine would not survive for long in the wild.
Wolverines are primarily scavengers,(2) but will prey upon almost any small to mid-sized mammal; including smaller mustelids.(3) The grey wolf is considered its greatest natural predator.(4)
Wolverines are coming into conflict with humans more frequently, due to the increase of property development and recreational lands. Hunting and trapping of wolverines have reduce their numbers, causing them to disappear from large parts of their former range.(5)
Sensationalism in media
Like weasels, wolverines are often given the overemphasized title of “killing machines”. Due to their size and strength, it is true they are more fierce than other mustelids. However, this behaviour is not unique in the animal kingdom; especially in larger carnivorous mammals. It should be noted that when an animal is simply branded a killing machine, people will often fixate on that one particular characteristic, rather than the animal’s lesser-known traits and vulnerabilities.
Body length: 65–107 cm / 26–42 in (males), 63–89 cm / 25–35 in (females)
Tail length: 17–26 cm / 6.7–10.2 in (males)
Weight: 9–32 kg / 22–71 lb (males), 8–12 kg / 18–26 lb (females)
Lifespan: Up to 13 years (wild), up to 17 years (captivity)
Range: The Northern boreal forests, subarctic and alpine tundra of the Northern Hemisphere.
Conservation status: Least concern