Are Wolves Scavengers or Predators? (They Hunt!)

Wolves are predatory carnivores, meaning that their primary way of getting food is hunting down other animals. However, they will also occasionally be scavengers, as they will wait for the right opportunities to get food.

Even though the primary way of getting food for wolves is to hunt down other animals, they are opportunistic animals. They like to wait for the right opportunities and they will not rush a hunt when it’s not needed.

This patience allows them to find the right chances to get food, which also includes scavenging on dead animals.

Do Wolves Scavenge?

Wolves are primarily predators but will also scavenge if they find the right opportunity to do so.

Compared to true scavengers like hyenas, wolves are more subtle and have other means of finding the right sources of food.

They are apex hunters that hunt in packs, making them highly effective especially against larger ungulates, which is their primary source of food throughout the year.

However, in some parts of the year, they might go through periods of famine, which means they will have to look for whatever food they can find around them. This means that they will have to scavenge if they find the need to.

But their scavenging profile is very much different than the scavenging done by pure scavengers.

These scavengers who only do this as their primary way of getting food will scavenge on almost anything they can find, including decomposing flesh and carcasses that have started rotting already.

Wolves, on the other hand, will not consume a piece of food they have scavenged if they don’t feel attracted to it. If the food has decomposed too much, they will rather leave it than eat it, while other scavengers will consume almost any type of food they can scavenge, including decomposing and unattractive food.

What Do Wolves Scavenge?

Wolves prefer scavenging on fresh pieces of food that haven’t started rotting yet, such as carcasses of recently deceased animals, especially larger animals like ungulates.

There’s also a discussion as to what a scavenger really is. Some will argue that a scavenger is an animal that only eats decomposing food of dead animals, while others will say that scavengers are also those animals that kill badly hurt or severely weakened animals that are already on the edge of dying.

Wolves belong to the second category more than to the first one. They’re very well known for their ability to isolate weakened animals from a herd, such as ungulate herds.

This allows them to easily kill the weakened animal, such as an older animal or a younger animal that has been hurt or is not yet capable of defending itself.

So wolves will scavenge particularly on larger pieces of food that are not yet decomposing and are still relatively fresh. They prefer food that is not older than a couple of days, which might be a bit challenging to find, especially in the winter.

Also, wolves will sometimes face competition from other scavengers like bears, who will also occasionally scavenge on dead animals.

Wolves, however, will likely be too strong and too imposing for some other scavengers in their habitats – the most common scavengers they have to face up to include hyenas, jackals, and vultures.

Why Do Wolves Scavenge?

Wolves will only scavenge if they can’t find food otherwise or if they find an opportunity to do so that they can’t turn down.

As you already know, wolves are opportunistic animals. They’re not predators that will hunt an animal at all costs – instead, wolf packs have been known to employ the tactic of patience in order to catch other animals.

To survive, they have to look for various opportunities that might present themselves to the wolves, which allow them to get ample food, especially in tougher times like the winter. And one of the best ways to do that is to complement their hunting behaviors with occasional scavenging, as well as consuming plants or fruits they might find.

Scavenging is not the primary way of getting food for wolves.

They are apex predators that hunt in packs, although they have very strong senses of smell which enable them to sniff out potential scavenging opportunities from several miles away. And if they find an opportunity to find a fresh piece of food to scavenge on, they won’t waste it.

Do Wolves Get Scavenged On?

Wolves are scavengers but they can also get scavenged on, especially from other scavengers like birds, vultures, rodents, and larger carnivores like hyenas or jackals.

It often happens that a dying wolf would retreat to a solitary place, especially if the wolf is far away from the pack.

This is especially true for older wolves that die naturally, but it also happens for wolves that have diseases or those who have been hurt in one of the hunts or otherwise crippled.

That’s when wolves will also get scavenged on, although only after they have died. Some of the main scavengers for wolves include birds and rodents, as well as vultures, hyenas, jackals, and some other larger carnivores that might be in the same habitat.

Sadly, this is the reality in nature and something that also occurs often to wolves that can’t survive on their own. Wolves are scavengers themselves but they will get preyed on and scavenged by other opportunistic animals in their habitat.

If the wolf is a part of the pack and it dies with the pack, then scavenging is slightly less likely, and only possible when the pack leaves. That’s when the body of the wolf might already be decomposing, which might turn away some scavengers.

Final Thoughts

The primary way of getting food for wolves is to hunt down other animals, but they also have the capacity to scavenge dead animals. They are opportunists at heart and will not waste time if they find the opportunity to get food without spending too much energy. But the cruelty of nature also means that dead wolves are prone to be scavenged by other scavengers in their habitat.

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