Wolves are made to move. Even deep snow does not hinder the snow wolf. Their narrow wedge-shaped chests cut through drifts. Their long, slender legs feature “elbows” that turn inward rather than outward, as on most dogs, centering the animal’s body mass over its large feet and minimizing stress on the shoulders.
Wolves also have rounded feet with spreadable, webed toes that act like snowshoes to keep them from sinking in snow.
With these advantages and the fact that prey animals like deer, elk and moose may be more vulnerable in snowy conditions, winter can be a hunting boon for wolves.
Wolves play a vital role in nature. They keep elk, deer, moose and other prey populations healthy and vigorous by feeding on old and sick animals.
As top predators, wolves contribute to ecosystem diversity and health. Their presence affects a multitude of plants and animals, a phenomenon biologists call the “cascade effect.”
In Yellowstone, wolf-wary elk now graze less in the meadows and wetlands where they once congregated. Willow and aspen trees are growing back in these sensitive areas after decades of over-browsing, improving habitat for native birds, fish, beaver and other animals.