The Gray Wolf, being the largest of the canid family, stands about 26 to 28 inches high at the shoulder for an adult male; a body length of 40 to 58 inches and tail approximately 13 to 20 inches long. The female wolf is roughly 15 to 20 percent smaller.
The weight of North American wolves varies between 40 and 175 pounds, with average weights being between 60 to 100 pounds. Despite legends of 200-pound wolves, the heaviest wild wolf only weighed 175 pounds.
The gray wolf has a broad face and appears larger than it really is because of the ruff of fur below the ears. The eyes are usually a golden-yellow and at night shine a greenish orange. Its ears are approximately 2 inches long and the nose as much as 1.5 inches wide.
The wolf’s body is built for traveling and its chest is narrow, allowing it to push more easily through the deep winter snows. The coat is thick and fluffy with long guard hairs that repel moisture and a thick wooly undercoat for insulation. The guard hairs may grow to 4 or 5 inches in length. The winter coats are then shed in the spring. The legs are long with oversized feet which act like snowshoes to enable the wolf to travel more easily in the snow.
The color of wolves range from all shades of gray, tan and brown to pure white or solid black, with the Red wolves having reddish coats. The tip of the tail is often black. Many of Canada’s high Arctic wolves are creamy in color. White hair shafts have more air pockets than coloration pigment and therefore provide better insulation.
The wolf has extremely strong jaws with a crushing pressure that is twice that of a German Shepherd. The upper jaw has six incisors, two canine teeth, eight premolars and four molars. The lower jaw has six incisors, two canines, eight premolars and six molars. The incisors at the front of the jaw are used to cut flesh from prey. The canines, which may reach two inches in length, pierce into flesh to hold prey. Premolars and molars are used for slicing and grinding.
The surface sense of smell in a wolf is 14 times that of a human and the degree of sensitivity to smell is 100 times more than the sensitivity of man. They can pick up a scent at least a mile away or more.
According to Canadian naturalists, a dog’s hearing is about sixteen times that of man. A wolf’s hearing is even more acute than that. A wolf can hear as far as six miles away in the forest and ten miles away on the open tundra. Wolves have been known to respond to human imitations of wolf howls from three miles away.
The wolf’s sense of sight is relatively poor compared to their smell and hearing. Observations have shown that their sight is at least as acute as that of humans. Naturalists believe that wolves are quite nearsighted and that they can clearly see details up to about 75 feet. However, the wolf’s peripheral vision and ability to detect motion is excellent. The outer perimeter of a wolf’s retina is extremely sensitive to movement. Their night vision is far superior to that of man’s.
Naturalists have found that wolves tend to distinguish the colors red and yellow from other colors. The thinking is that perhaps because of red being the color of blood and yellow being that of urine. In any case, they seem to believe that wolves become more interested in colors that have a reddish base and have a strong ability to detect red from other colors.
Because of disease, parasites, injuries and hard winters of food shortages, wolves in the wild are likely to live less than 5 years. The true enemy of the wolf is man himself. Legal and illegal hunting, collisions with vehicles, trapping or predator control has wiped out a good many of the wolf population. In contrast to that, wolves in captivity can live as long as 18 years. Wolf Haven, near Tenino, Washington, had one wolf that lived to be over the age of 18 and currently has a wolf 17 years of age.