Wolves mark their territory by urinating, which is used to deter other wolves and animals away from the territory, and establish their dominance in the domain.
Wolves are highly territorial animals. They’re among the most territorial species in the world, so they’ll try to fend off any potential threats by initially marking their territory, and if push comes to shove, fight them off.
Not many other species are fit to challenge the authority of a wolf’s domain, so the territory marking will be enough to keep them at bay. This goes especially for smaller predators and potential challengers. When the wolf wants to mark its territory, it will raise its leg and urinate, which is called “Raised Leg Urination”, or RLU.
However, other alpha wolves might get aggressive towards the wolf that controls the selected territory. The wolf that holds the domain won’t back down, though – instead, the confrontation might result in a battle which is rarely fatal, but it might have consequences for the two challengers.
Are Wolves Territorial?
It’s a well-known fact that wolves are among the most territorial species in the world. It is estimated that each wolf will require at least 10 square miles of space for themselves. This territory is initially established by marking it, meaning that the wolf doing the marking is the undisputed king in this area.
However, wolf territories are not always set in stone. They will often migrate to other places, especially during the winter when the prey migrates, too. Wolf packs can travel several miles per day – maybe even as far as 30 miles per day.
Their territories will also change as wolf packs increase and they get new members into the pack, which is what happens when the wolf mothers bears new puppies. In that case, the territory might get even larger.
It is usually the job of the alpha male of the pack to mark their territory and establish dominance over other packs, as well as other animals. Wolves have a strong sense of smell, so other packs are able to recognize whether an area is already populated or not.
1. Why Do Wolves Mark Their Territory?
There are two primary reasons why wolves mark their territory:
- To establish clear dominance in the territory
- To let other wolf packs know that the territory is already taken
A wolf is the leader of its territory, it’s the undisputed king. It’s an apex predator, which means it doesn’t have any natural predators. This allows it to establish a clear dominance in their domain.
However, things might get a bit more complicated when several wolf packs are fighting over an area. This doesn’t happen that often because wolves travel several miles per day. But when it does happen, the urinating smell is used to spell danger for the approaching wolf pack, and that a fight might happen if they approach.
Territory marking, or scent-marking, is also commonly used to help members of the pack find each other again. This can happen if they separate and put a lot of distance between them. By smelling the urine, they are able to recognize their pack mates and unite with the again, providing them with a greater degree of unity.
2. Why Do Wolves Urinate to Mark Their Territory?
Urination is one of the primary means of establishing dominance over a territory, because it leaves strong scents to other animals which acts as a message to not come close.
When they urinate, they are leaving the message to other animals in the area. Male wolves, especially the alpha male, has a very specific smell which is used to mark the area. This smell can be instantly recognized by other species and wolves.
Wolves swear strongly by using scents and body language to talk to their environment, and to other wolves. Because they have such strong senses, they are able to recognize scents from miles away, allowing them to sniff out an enemy wolf pack and thus avoid confrontation if that is a possibility.
Urinating, however, has other uses for wolves, too. When they dig for food caches that they hide away for the winter, they use their urine to mark a used food cache (Note: wolves don’t hibernate, but they do become less active in winter). This gives them a good idea of where to dig next, and where they have already dug before, saving them time and effort in the future.
3. What Else Do Wolves Use Scent Marking For?
RLU, or raised leg urination, is typical for alpha males as they mark their territory. In addition to establishing the area of the pack, a wolf might use scent marking to:
- Mark a food cache so they know where they’ve already been and dug
- Let other members of the pack know where they are
- Assert their dominance as the leader of the pack
We’ve already covered the first two uses briefly, although there’s one more aspect of scent marking of wolves that we’ve not covered. This is the fact that male wolves are likely to urinate every two minutes, and the frequency increases if the wolf has a higher perceived value within the pack.
Alpha males are especially known to urinate more frequently. They might urinate every minute or two. This behavior further stretches their dominance over other wolves of the pack, and it allows it to let others know they’re there.
However, most other males will also use urination for marking their territory, not only the alpha male. This will especially happen if the wolf is separated from the pack and it finds itself on its own somehow.
Scent marking is a common behavior with many mammals in the wild. This behavior is especially typical for territorial animals such as wolves, which will use urination to primarily establish their dominance over a territory.
Wolves mark their territory by urinating around the area every minute or two, and they do that by raising its leg and urinating briefly, and then moving on and repeating that behavior until the territory is fully marked.