Most wolf species including gray wolves do not hibernate in winter. They stay active throughout the entire winter, constantly looking for potential food sources that will keep them fed when it’s cold.
Wolves are apex predators, which means they’re at the top of their food chain. They are carnivores, so they’ll primarily look for meat-based foods. To get these foods, they will have to hunt down smaller or larger mammal species, although they will eat almost anything to satisfy their intense hunger when the food is scarce.
Unlike bears who enter a period of hibernation called “torpor” during the winter, wolves remain active. They don’t accumulate fat over spring, summer, and autumn as bears do. Instead, they’ll have to remain active to survive.
Wolves in Winter
1. Why Do Wolves Not Hibernate?
Wolves don’t hibernate because they’re able to maintain themselves during the winter by hunting down prey in their domains.
Sometimes, this means that they’ll have to group up with other wolves to track down larger mammal species. Although a lone wolf is perfectly capable of finding food for itself, too. It will not be picky as to what foods it will get, as it will catch anything from small mammals like rabbits, rodents, and even larger animals like deer.
They won’t be too choosy if there are no fresh meat sources around, though. They’ll eat almost anything they can catch, including grasshoppers, insects, and even birds if the chance presents itself for them.
Bears, on the other hand, will hibernate throughout the winter because they’re omnivores, so most of their food sources will be gone. A typical brown bear will eat fruits and berries as well as some other vegetable foods to supplement its fresh meat intake.
2. What Do Wolves Do in The Winter?
Wolves have thick furs so they’re capable of sustaining themselves during the long, cold winter nights. They’re capable of surviving temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, they’ll remain active and look to surprise other animals that are largely impeded by snow.
During the day, a wolf will also wander around its territory, looking for potential food sources. But a typical wolf will go through periods of “feast or famine”, meaning that they’ll be well-fed once they catch a big piece of prey, while they might go days or even weeks without catching anything.
When they’re going through a famine, they’ll look to conserve energy and only expend it when they see the chance to get their prey. During the night, they’ll curl themselves up into a ball and warm themselves up that way. Often, a wolf will look for other wolves to spend nights with, because they’ll lie close together so they preserve as much heat as possible.
If there is no prey in their area, they will have to travel and locate it using their strong senses. A lone wolf or wolf packs will travel for up to 25 miles per day and they might travel hundreds of miles during the winter because of lack of food. But once they get a track of their prey, they’ll usually remain in that area until they’re satiated.
During the day, wolves will group up into packs and go out on a hunt. This enables them to do a couple of things:
- They preserve more energy as they become more efficient hunters
- Wolves are able to track their prey better because they mostly follow the footsteps of other animals in deep snow
- They have strong senses, allowing them to smell other animals from up to 2 miles away
- When they’re in groups, they’ll go after larger mammals, so this will be enough food for the entire pack, including the younglings
3. Do Wolves Hibernate or Migrate?
Wolves will usually not migrate during the winter unless prey animals will change their habitats, and wolves will follow them. So wolves don’t hibernate but they will migrate if they have to in order to have enough prey to sustain themselves.
Wolves normally have a set territory where they’ll stay for the majority of the year. When seasons change, they will look to retain that territory as much as possible, although it is possible for them to move for several miles daily.
During the winter, animals of prey that interest wolves will migrate from their territory to look for better living conditions. This forces wolves to follow suit and follow the prey, as they seek to find food to survive during these harsh conditions.
They are also heavy daily travelers. Some wolf packs will travel up to 25 miles per day if they can’t locate a proper source of food. Although in some areas such as in the Apache National Forest, wolves will relocate to lower grounds where their prey will be to enable them to survive.
4. How Do Wolves Keep Warm?
Wolves have two thick layers of fur that enable them to withstand very cold temperatures. But during the night, they will curl themselves into a ball as much as possible to preserve heat and energy, while also seeking other wolves to come together with, enabling them to give off heat to other wolves.
All of these mechanisms allow wolves to stay awake during the winter. They’re able to survive temperatures that are far below zero.
During the spring when it gets warmer, they will start shedding their upper coat to be able to get more comfortable with higher temperatures. And they’ll also prepare in fall for a lengthy winter, they won’t be as rigorous in these preparations as bears are, which will accumulate more fat than wolves in order to survive and hibernate.
What Do Wolves Eat in the Winter?
If they can’t find these foods in their habitats, they’ll either move or travel several miles daily just to locate food for themselves. Sometimes, they’ll go for any meat-based foods they can find around them.
Read Next: Do Foxes Hibernate?
To conclude, wolves do not hibernate during the winter, and they’ll stay active because they’re able to find food and hunt it down even when it gets very cold.
In addition, they have strong survival mechanisms that will keep them warm when it gets cold. Their ability to conserve energy and heat is what keeps them alive during the winter and provides them with enough energy in order to be able to hunt down their predators and chase after them for miles each day.
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