Yes, wolves are mammals. Wolves belong to the mammalia class of animals since they share some of the main characteristics that are typical only for mammals.
These include hair on their bodies, milk glands that are used for feeding the offspring, and the attachment of the jaw to the skull directly, and others.
If you take a closer look at the characteristics of mammals, you’ll see that a wolf shares most of them, if not all of them. There are 38 subspecies of the wolf that belong to the mammal class, which is directly tied with their mammal features as well as their specific evolution which means they belong to this group of animals.
What Makes a Wolf a Mammal?
There are several main characteristics that wolves have which means they belong to the mammal class. These include:
- Mammary glands. One of the main features of mammals are the mammary glands, which is also what wolves have. These mammary glands are used to produce milk, which is then used for breastfeeding. And breastfeeding is one of the universal features of mammals that we can see in every mammal species, including wolves.
- Hair/fur. This hair is not exclusive to mammals but it’s one of the main features of mammals that is not as often seen in other species. It is meant to preserve the heat of the body of the mammal and protect it against adverse weather effects. Some mammals have more hair or fur than others.
- Lower jaw is attached to the skull. You can see that wolves, as well as the majority of other mammal species, have their lower jaw attached to the skull, as compared to other species. For instance, some vertebrates have the lower skull as a separate bone, but that is not the case for wolves.
- Middle ear bones. These are also exclusive for mammals and their primary role is to transmit sound waves to the animal’s brains, allowing it to hear better. This mechanism is more pronounced and more well developed with some mammals as compared to other mammals.
- Heart diaphragm. This diaphragm is important for separating the lungs and the heart from the abdominal cavity.
- No nuclei in red blood cells. Other vertebrates have nucleated red blood cells, while mammals don’t.
You can analyze these mammal characteristics and you’ll see that wolves possess all of them, making them a clear-cut example of a mammal species.
It’s also becoming more and more apparent that wolves species descended from the same origin species as dogs, which gave them most of these mammal characteristics.
In the book Mammal Species of the World, the American zoologist Christopher Wozencraft specifies 36 C. Lupus species as well as 2 additional species that belong to this group, and also entering the entire C. Lupus family into the mammal group of animals, which is today the most widely accepted taxonomy of wolves.
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A Closer Look at the Wolf Species
According to the above-mentioned book Mammal Species of the World, there are 38 wolf sub-species altogether, and all of them belong to the mammal group of animals, as they all share the main characteristics of mammals.
Initially, there were only 36 wolf species belonging into the Canis lupus category, while the Canis familiaris (domestic dog) and dingoes were grouped into their separated categories.
However, with the pioneer of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, which is often called the “father of taxonomy”, the balance of wolves changed and their grouping into mammal species.
Initially, dogs and wolves did not have a separate group for themselves, but with Linnaeus, that dynamic changed. He renamed the domestic dog to Canis familiaris, which meant that the Canis group of animals received an additional subspecies:
- Canis familiaris (domestic dog) – the main distinct feature of this subgroup is the upturned tail, or the cauda recurvata in Latin. Linnaeus argued that domestic dogs and wolves were different as species and thus deserved separate groups of species, but still shared many similarities and came from the same ancestor thousands of years ago.
Then in 1793, this dynamic changed once again. Christopher Meyer analyzed the dingo and argued that it also deserves a separate subspecies group within the Canis genome.
He called the dingo the “Dog of New South Wales” and named it the Canis dingo. This species was added to the existing 37 subspecies of the Canis group, meaning that there are today 38 subspecies in this group today.
The nominate species of the wolf group of mammals is the Eurasian wolf, which is the most common and most widely distributed wolf species out there today.
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Other Features of Mammals like Wolves
We’ve already taken a look at the main characteristics of mammals and wolves, but there are some other minor features that make the species belong to this group of animals.
- Body temperature regulation. Although some other species are also capable of regulating the temperatures of their bodies, it’s most pronounced especially with mammal species like wolves. This ability lets them live in various habitats all over the world.
- Diversity. Most mammal species are incredibly diverse and they are fairly adaptable to their habitats, so they have developed their own quirks and features. No subspecies is the same, which is another feature of mammals that can be observed with almost any mammal species.
- Some can be domesticated. Some mammals can be domesticated, which has become mainstream and common in the late 19th century, but even earlier. People have used animals for reproduction, food, and resources as they have become a valuable source of life. Some mammals can’t be indoctrinated, though.
In short, wolves belong to the group of mammals thanks to their mammal-like features. The main one is their ability to breastfeed, which is one distinct feature of mammals that you won’t find anywhere else.
Linnaeus was the first zoologist to more closely define the term mammals and he also determined that wolves belong to this group of animals. He was also responsible for the creation of the Canis familiaris group, which is today known as the domestic dog.