A Record Large Wolf,
Canis lupus, Pack
L. David Mech
This report documents a pack of 22-23
Wolves (Canis lupus) in central Minnesota. This is larger than the
largest pack previously observed on the mainland in the Midwestern U.S. during
650 wolf pack-years. Because this record-large pack preyed on White-tailed Deer
(Odocoileus virginianus), one of the Wolf's smaller prey, it is evidence
that pack size and prey size are not tightly related. It also indicates the size
that Wolf packs can attain in the area if fully protected from human
Wolf (Canis lupus) pack sizes are of interest for several reasons. One
is because of the possible relationship between pack size and prey size; packs
preying on Moose (Alces alces), for example, are often much larger than
those feeding primarily on White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
(Mech 1970). Second, documenting extremes is useful to a full understanding of a
species' basic life history. Third, as Wolf populations, which have been legally
protected since 1974 in the contiguous 48 states, recover in new areas inhabited
by humans, the potential sizes of their packs is of importance to resource
managers seeking to minimize conflicts with humans. Wolves in Minnesota feed
mostly on deer, and average pack sizes are relatively small (Mech and Frenzel
1971; Van Ballenberghe et al. 1975; Fritts and Mech 1981; Mech 1986; Fuller
1989). This note documents a record-sized pack.
A pack of 23 Wolves was observed on 19 September 1998 by Jack E. Stewart of
Ogilvie, Minnesota, in Pine County 8 km WNW of the town of Rutledge (46° 18'N;
92° 58'W). Some 7 km northwest of Stewart's observation, Ms. Shirley Kwapick of
Minneapolis, Minnesota counted a pack of 22 Wolves crossing the driveway of her
summer camp about 25 November 1998. Stewart (1999) recounted his observation in
a general way in a popular article. I interviewed Stewart and Kwapick to
document the details of their observations and to record them here for the
scientific community, along with a discussion of their significance. I also
confirmed the presence of an active Wolf den the following year within 1.6 km of
the Stewart observation.Discussion
Of 410 Wolf pack years recorded for Minnesota, the largest pack documented in
the state contained 17 members (Stenlund 1955; Van Ballenberghe et al. 1975;
Fritts and Mech 1981; Mech 1986 and unpublished; Fuller 1989). The largest pack
in adjoining Wisconsin (240 pack years) was 10 (Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources 1999). Olson (1938) claimed that Minnesota wolf packs contained up to
30 wolves but gave no evidence, and he cited trappers who told him they had seen
packs of 18 and 20.
Thus this observation of 22-23 Wolves represents a significant divergence
from most mainland Midwestern Wolf packs, even those living where the primary
prey is Moose (Alces alces). The area where these observations were made
is many km from the nearest Moose range. Deer constitute the only large ungulate
in the area other than livestock. Only seldom have Wolves killed livestock in
the area. Thus this large Wolf pack had to be living primarily on deer.
The sizes of most Wolf packs are assessed in winter when they can be aerially
observed. Because of mortality and dispersal over winter, the largest pack sizes
are usually seen in December (Mech 1986). Thus a November observation, such as
reported here is not a completely fair comparison to previous records. On the
other hand, the observation of 22 was made only 1 week before December, so it is
reasonably comparable with others and tends to confirm the 23 seen in September.
The fact that this record-large Wolf pack inhabited an area of deer rather
than of larger prey is at least some evidence that any relationship between prey
size and pack size (Mech 1970; Nudds 1978) is not tight. In addition, such a
large pack indicates the potential size of packs that Wolves in a recovering
population can reach when protected from human persecution.
This study was supported by the Biological Resources Division
of the U.S. Geological Survey, and the USDA North Central Research Station. I
thank J. E. Stewart and S. Kwapick for sharing their observations with me.Literature Cited
Fritts, S. H., and L. D. Mech. 1981. Dynamics, movements, and feeding
ecology of a newly protected wolf population in northwestern Minnesota.
Wildlife Monograph 80.
Fuller, T. K. 1989. Population dynamics of wolves in north-central Minnesota.
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Mech, L. D. 1970. The Wolf: The ecology and behavior of an endangered
species. Natural History Press, Doubleday Publishing Company, New York.
Mech, L. D. 1986. Wolf population in the central Superior National
Forest, 1967-1985. U.S. Forest Service Research Paper NC-270.
Mech, L. D., and L. D. Frenzel, Jr. 1971. Ecological studies of the
timber wolf in northeastern Minnesota. U.S. Forest Service Research
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Stenlund, M. H. 1955. A field study of the timber wolf (Canis lupus) on the
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