View Full Version : Wolves and Coyotes: Very Specific Questions

Howl at the Sun
06-28-2014, 08:39 AM
Hi all,

I've been puttering around on Google and Google Scholar, in addition to the Indiana Wolf Park and Wolves International websites, without overwhelming success, so I hope someone here can help!

These are the questions I've been circling around:

1) Why is there usually only one breeding pair in a wolf and/or coyote pack? While this can be somewhat explained by the mother, father, and pups making up most packs, sometimes there are outside wolves, and sometimes puppies stay with the pack well into sexual maturity. Wolves are unlikely to mate with wolves they grow up with, true, but is there a mechanism for reproductive suppression beyond that? What is it?

2) Can wolves and/or coyotes reabsorb their litters if there is insufficient food and/or stressful conditions? If not, what are some factors / biological reasons a wolf and/or coyote might not carry to term?

Thank you in advance for any thoughts.


Alex Haist

06-28-2014, 02:09 PM
I've been doing a hell of a lot of research into wolves too - mainly to make sure that my wolfwere actually thinks like a wolf.

Most packs in the wild only consist of the breeding pair, a set of 'yearlings' (last season's pups, now adolescents) and possibly this year's pups. The pack will only grow larger if there's an abundance of prey to support them - which is rare. All the others are relations of some form, with the very occasional 'adoptive' single yearling or a lone adult to replace a dead/deposed breeding member.

They generally don't mate with relatives, nature providing a defense mechanism in regards to scent - it smells gross. We have it too, which is why mothers always complain the most that their teenage son stinks - it's nature making sure they don't sneak into bed with them.

It's the alpha's job to keep the others of their gender in line; the female keeping other females 'in heat' away from her mate, the male keeping other males away from her. Normally, they'd do this by moving to a kind of 'love nest' some way away from the pack for the duration and spending most of the time alone 'dating'.

When adolescents reach sexual maturity, the males will usually leave/be driven off to find a mate, while the females will remain 'home'. The males will flit around at the edge of another pack's territory, hoping an young single female will notice them and come investigate. Very tense time, as her father will see the lad as competition - some have been killed for it. After some 'dating' of their own, the new couple will move off to find their own territory. Females who fail become 'old maids' in the current packs. Males who fail will become lone wolves.

Can't tell you much about litter reabsorption - it rings a feint bell, but that could just be lies. One thing I would say is that be careful in finding sources about wolves - before around 1990 most works studied wolf-packs in zoos, which has proven to be incorrect. Without going into details, it's like using a collection of prison inmates to study 'normal human behaviour'.

06-29-2014, 08:37 PM
1) Alpha pack dominance.
2) No.


06-30-2014, 12:26 AM
Hi all,

2) Can wolves and/or coyotes reabsorb their litters if there is insufficient food and/or stressful conditions? If not, what are some factors / biological reasons a wolf and/or coyote might not carry to term?
While this doesn't relate to losing a litter, I do know that coyote litter size relates to food availability. The larger the amount of food, the larger the litter.

(This is one reason why coyotes are so hard to kill off - the more you kill, the more food's available, the more pups they have).

07-04-2014, 10:08 AM
The abundance of prey does effect both the numbers and average age of the first litter for wolves - captive breeders usually have their first at around 18 months, while in the wild it's a year later. It's unknown if whether the earlier breeding in captivity is due to earlier onset of heat from an abundence of food or not - as it's been noted with humans, female puberty has been creeping downwards in the industrialised world for decades now, partly linked to childhood obesity. (Apparently the human body looks to laying in fat reserves as a prelude for it).

Howl at the Sun
07-06-2014, 06:58 AM
The tricky part of the alpha pair keeping males and females separate is that the rest of the pack would have to hang out in fairly close proximity and behave during the half hour when the alpha pair were locked together. It doesn't quite make sense; it's management that takes too much energy. In Yellowstone, they have the so-called Cassanova male wolves who trot in and mate with females of an existing pack. Yellowstone, of course, is kind of weird because they have impressively large packs and bison to support them.

Many dog forums talk about bitches aborbing their litters. This vet talks casually about litters being reabsorbed, which is interesting: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?A=1224 So perhaps there is some science to it?

Thanks for all your thoughts. Good to know other folks are puzzled by wolves and coyotes, too.

Howl at the Sun
07-06-2014, 07:16 AM
Okay, I just have to share: an actual good study that talks about litter reabsorption! http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2099502/