Wolverine

(Gulo gulo)

Photo by William F. Wood

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. Due to their elusive nature, they are one of the world’s least studied animals.

Appearance

A mustelid with a robust yet athletic build, with relatively short neck, powerful shoulders and stocky body to help them preserve heat in cold climates. Legs are among the longest in relation to the overall proportions, equipped with paws that are the broadest of all mustelids to function as snowshoes. The tail is relatively short and bushy.

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)

Habitat

The wolverine is primarily found in the remote forest habitats and open plains of the Northern Hemisphere.

Behaviour

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Diet

The wolverine’s scientific name, Gulo gulo, comes from the Latin word gulo, which means glutton. However, despite popular belief, this name is unwarranted, since wolverines eat what they need to survive, and therefore do not fit the definition of gluttony. Gluttony (or simply overeating), refers to eating more calories than a body uses for energy. For practical physical health reasons, an obese wolverine would not survive for long in the wild.

Predators

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 their greatest natural predator.(4)

Habitat loss

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. 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.

Range map

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
Recognised subspecies(6)

  1. G. g. luscus
  2. G. g. gulo
References

  1. Landa, Arild, Mats Lindén, and Ilpo Kojola. Action plan for the conservation of wolverines in Europe (Gulo gulo). No. 18-115. Council of Europe, 2000.
  2. Van Dijk, Jiska, et al. “Diet shift of a facultative scavenger, the wolverine, following recolonization of wolves.” Journal of Animal Ecology 77.6 (2008): 1183-1190.
  3. Heptner, Vladimir G., ed. Mammals of the Soviet Union, Volume 2 Part 2 Carnivora (Hyenas and Cats). Vol. 2. Brill, 1989.
  4. Burkholder, Bob L. “Observations concerning wolverine.” Journal of Mammalogy 43.2 (1962): 263-264.
  5. Glenn Hurowitz (2008-03-05). “First wolverine in 30 years spotted in California
  6. Copeland, J.P. and J.S. Whitman. 2003. Wolverine (Gulo gulo). Pages 672-682 in Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Economics. G.A. Feldhamer, B.C. Thompson, and J.A. Chapman, editors. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Maryland USA.

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