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

Appearance

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

Wolverines are primarily scavengers,(2) but they will prey upon almost any small to mid-sized mammal; including smaller mustelids.(3) The grey wolf is considered its 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. 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 other abilities, or vulnerabilities.

Range map

Size: 65–105 cm / 26–41 in (males), 63–89 cm / 25–35 in (females)
Weight: 9–17 kg / 22–36 lb (males), 8–12 kg / 18–26 lb (females)
Lifespan: 10 years
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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