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European vs North American Wolf (Key Differences)

The main differences between the European wolves and the North American wolves are size, coloration, relationships with humans, and the number of subspecies found on each continent.

Wolves are found almost all around the world, and depending on the habitat they live in, display different features.

European wolves are slightly larger than most North American wolf species.

On the other hand, North American species are much more diverse and colorful than European wolf species.

European vs North American Wolf

Black coloration is more common with North American wolves thanks to their mixing with dog species thousands of years ago. It is also believed that European wolves are slightly more aggressive towards humans than their North American counterparts.

European vs North American Wolf – Key Differences

Let’s take a look at all the most notable differences between European and North American wolves.

1. European Wolves are Larger

One of the key differences between European wolves and North American wolves is that European wolves are larger.

An adult eurasian wolf will measure anywhere between 80 and 85 centimeters (31-33 in) in shoulder height, while North American wolves will measure at around 66 centimeters (26 inches) in shoulder height.

And accordingly, the European wolf will also be heavier thanks to a larger skeleton and more weight they can put onto their bones.

On average, the Eurasian wolf will weigh up to 176lbs at most, while the North American wolf will only weigh up to 130lbs.

The Mexican gray wolf, which is the smallest gray wolf species in North America, will only weigh between 50 and 80lbs, which is significantly less than the weight of European wolves and also most North American species.

All of these statistics point towards a trend – European wolves tend to be larger and heavier than North American wolves.

Despite that, there are also some extreme cases of big wolves found in Canada and Alaska such as the Mackenzie valley wolf, which is one of the only North American wolf species that will outweigh a typical Eurasian gray wolf.

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2. North American Wolves are More Colorful

It is typical that North American wolf species are more colorful and will have more differences between each other than European wolves.

That is mainly because of the fact that North American wolves were subject to different breeding mutations in their evolution, while the European wolf remained a cohesive unit for most of its development.

Because of that development, black color is much more often observed with North American wolves than it is with European wolves.

This has come because of the breeding with dog species that North American wolves did several thousand years ago (between 1500 and 7500), which resulted in more black coloration with wolf species.

Another potential reason for that is a more diverse habitat that is found in North America. From the cold of Alaska and Canada’s north to the humid, warm habitats found in Florida, to dry and hot deserts of California and the West, as well as the forests of Idaho and Oregon – all of these habitats present different challenges for the wolves.

On the other hand, the European habitat is much more unified and not as varied as it is in North America. For the most part, it is a moderate climate with a lot of forests and also tundra, especially in Russia and the eastern parts of Europe.

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3. North American Wolves are More Diverse

This point and the previous point go hand in hand.

Because of a different evolutionary path and a more diverse habitat, you’ll find many different subspecies of wolves in North America, while in Europe, by far the most common wolf species is the Eurasian gray wolf.

You will find many diverse wolf species in North America. Some of these include the arctic wolf, The Eastern wolf (Canis lycaon), the red wolf, the Mexican wolf, and some other subspecies.

Meanwhile, the European wolf doesn’t see as much diversity. The main species in Europe is the Eurasian wolf, but there are some other subspecies, like the Italian wolf, or the Iberian wolf.

The diversity comes partly from the evolution of each wolf species, but also partly because of different habitats.

North American and European wolves had different evolutionary paths, because for many centuries and even thousands of years, they were split and developed separately. This meant that both species developed their own specifics and quirks along the way, although these are small, minor changes.

The second big reason for these differences among the subspecies is the fact that the biomes in Europe and North America are much different.

Europe is a bit more unified as a habitat and it mostly has a milder climate with a lot of forests and greenery, while North America is much more diverse as a habitat.

4. Eurasian Wolves are a Bit More Aggressive

One minor difference between the two is the fact that Euriasian wolves tend to be a little more aggressive towards humans than their North American counterparts.

Why is that?

Ever since the Middle Ages, wolf attacks were more common in Europe than in North America. This study from France exhibits that notion.

The two main reasons include:

  • North American people are armed and are more effective at protecting themselves
  • Europe doesn’t have as diverse selection of animals of prey as North America does, which means wolves might attack humans more often

The aggression of wolves seems to rise the more we move out of the cities and towns.

And in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, wolves have a lot of wilderness to live in, which is why meeting humans is particularly rare. But when they do meet, the attacks seem to happen more frequently than they do in North America.

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In the end, Eurasian and North American wolves are not that different. It all comes down to a few minor differences between the two that separate the two subspecies. Habitats and the nature of the evolution of both species both play a big role in their developments and they’re two key reasons why these differences exist in the first place.

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