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What Is Their Place in Nature?

The red wolf is considered a top predator and a keystone species. A top predator is one that is not eaten by anything else in the ecosystem, which means they have control over the prey populations in the ecosystem. A keystone species has a greater impact on the ecosystem than the number of individuals in that area. For both these reasons, the red wolf plays a very important part in the environment and should be preserved. But due to fears of many humans in red wolf areas, this species has had a very hard history.

Are They Endangered?

The red wolf is considered one of the most endangered Canids in the world. They were hunted to extinction in the wild (meaning the population was so small it was not able to recover in the wild alone) by 1980 due to many predator control programs that were started in the 1960s. However, today, the red wolf is the first predator to be successfully brought back from extinction in the wild.

Captive breeding programs are the reason for the great success of the red wolf today. In the 1970’s captive breeding programs were started in areas across the United States (the Tallahassee Museum is one of these locations today). Even with the success of this animal, there has been some debate among scientists as to whether the red wolf is a distinct species that should be conserved or if it is simply a hybrid of the grey wolf and the coyote.

What Kinds of Adaptations Have They Made?

The red wolf has gone through several adaptations in order to help their population survive in the wild. The first adaptation is the ability to live in the climate of the southeast United States. Since the red wolf has such a heavy coat, the red wolves in the south now go through a molt in which they will lose their heavy fur for a lighter coat. Another way the red wolf keeps itself cool in the hot southern summers is with their large ears. These ears will help the wolf loose through the large surface area.

Another adaption scientists are looking into with the red wolves is their ability to survive heartworm. There have been tests done to see how many red wolves released in the wild have the disease. All of the ones tested were positive for heartworm, yet there does not seem to be the same mortality rate between the disease and red wolves as opposed to domestic dogs. This trait has helped the red wolf population thrive because it seems to be one problem the small population does not seem to worry about.

How Do They Hunt?

The red wolf is a nocturnal animal that will hunt alone or with its mate. The wolf usually hunts for rabbits, raccoons, rodents, and other small mammals. Occasionally, it will hunt for deer. This animal consumes about two to five pounds of food each day. It is not necessary for red wolves to hunt in large packs since they do not hunt any large prey such as elk, bison, or moose. The red wolf is nocturnal, which means it does its hunting a night. However, during the winter months, the red wolf will hunt more during the day or at dusk and dawn.

For more information, see the References and Further Reading page.