Wolves can change color as they age, which is apparent as they take on whiter color palettes later in their lives, while younger wolves tend to have more pronounced colors.
It’s very rare to see a wolf change the color of its fur because of the seasons, although some gray or even black wolves turn white as they age, but they also do that because of a variety of reasons, including stress and genetics.
Gray is the predominant color for wolf pelts, while black and white are less common. It’s typical to see white wolves predominantly in colder parts of the world such as Alaska, northern Europe, and Asia. White wolves will almost never or rarely change their color, though. Color changes are far more typical for gray and black wolves.
Why Do Wolves Change Their Color?
When wolves change the color of their fur, there are typically three main reasons for it:
- Stress and injuries
- Old age
Contrary to some opinions by people on forums, wolves will not change their color when winter comes around, which is typical of arctic foxes, for example.
Stress is perhaps the biggest factor why wolves change color. Males, especially alphas, undergo a lot of stress in their lives because they’re constantly challenged both by the environment and by other males that might threaten its existence.
In the early 1900s, nearly a third of gray wolves turned white in the continental USA, which is a phenomenon that many scientists are still examining. It has been discovered recently that many of those wolves have had injuries or prior trauma, so those factors can play an important role in wolves changing their color.
Old age is also another factor that might speed up the process of wolves changing their fur color, which normally fades into lighter colors as they get older. However, one of the biggest factors here is that not many wolves reach the age when this happens, which is at about 8-10 years old.
Lastly, genetics can also play a part in this. Think of it like this: some humans turn white later than others – and it’s the same with wolves. Some will just become white because of their genetic material, and perhaps earlier than other wolves that might not turn white at all.
Do Wolves Turn White in the Winter?
Wolves don’t turn white in the winter, but they will sometimes turn white or change the color of their fur due to old age or stress. Instead of turning white, other changes to the fur will happen, as it will get thicker and denser which will allow the wolf to survive colder temperatures.
It has long been believed that wolves turn white because of the cold, but that’s not true. Several studies have shown that not many gray wolves will turn white at all, and those that do, will turn white because of other factors.
Most gray wolves turn white because of old age and not because of cold. The greying of their furs can also be linked to their genetics, which is what people experience as we get older – some get gray hair earlier, while others might get it very late.
This belief that wolves turn white in the winter is encouraged by the fact that some other species in its habitat will turn white(r) when it gets colder. As such, most hares and caribou can turn white, as well as arctic foxes, lemmings, and even some hamster species.
What is the Rarest Wolf Color?
The red wolf is by far the rarest and most endangered fur color among all types of wolves. This species is a native of the southeastern part of the United States, and it’s critically endangered according to the IUCN list of threatened species.
The fur of the red wolf is not necessarily red as the name of the species might suggest; rather, it’s a blend of gray, white, and red hues that looks similar to the colors of a coyote rather than the pure colors of a gray wolf.
On the other side of the spectrum are gray wolves, which is the most widely distributed wolf species in the world. Gray is thus the predominant wolf fur color and it can be found all over the world, including Europe, Asia, and North America.
White wolves are also relatively rare. This color is almost always reserved for the arctic wolves. However, it has been often noted that some gray wolves might turn gray as they age, although their fur color will almost never be as white as that of an arctic wolf.
The Ethiopian wolf also has a very distinct orange look to it, and it’s very close to the color that we connect foxes with. It’s estimated that there are less than 450 wolves with this color, so they’re also quite rare.
Do Arctic Wolves Change Color at All?
Arctic wolves remain white for the entire year, unlike gray or black wolves that might change the colors of their furs slightly.
They will remain white because, in their habitat, snow can stay for the entire year so they’ll need the camouflage of their white fur to help them blend in with the habitat around them.
It’s typical for arctic animals, in general, to remain all-white no matter the conditions around them. Polar bears, owls, and wolves will not change the color of their furs, which can be observed even with those arctic animals that are kept in zoos.
It can be quite a phenomenon to see a wolf turn white, especially considering that wolves don’t turn white because of the cold weather. Their whitening is more often connected to genetics and aging, which is an inevitable process that all will have to go through, but not all of the wolves will be able to experience it. Color changing is thus only seen with gray wolves and some exceptions, while white wolves will stay white for the rest of their lives.