Arctic wolves (also known as the white wolf or polar wolf) are a sub-species of grey wolves. They spend their life in the Arctic tundra, higher than the northern tree line. They are the only wolf in the world with their coloring, unique due to the environment where they live. Due to its isolation, this wolf is not under threat by habitat destruction and hunting as its southern relatives are, and is the only wolf sub-species that is not threatened.
Arctic wolves live in the Arctic regions of Greenland and North America. They live amongst the Arctic tundra on land that is covered with ice and snow except briefly in the summer months. They also occur in the Arctic region’s glacier valleys, northern rolling hills, and ice fields by shallow lakes.
Arctic wolves are a social species and live in packs numbering seven to eight related animals. Within the pack there is a very complex social order, and every member has its place in the dominance hierarchy. Each wolf knows its position through body posture communication. The pack’s leader is a male, and usually only he and the dominant female mate. However, all pack members share the responsibility of looking after the pups. These animals do not hibernate, because during the winter much of the species they prey on is especially active at this time. They are awake either during the day or at night, but are generally diurnal. Arctic wolves hunt in packs and then share the kill. A wolf has a few different means of communication. They howl for many reasons, such as signaling their location to other pack members or bringing members together for a hunt. A howl can also warn neighboring wolves to stay away from their territory. They use scent markings to communicate territorial boundaries, as well as their presence, to other wolves.
Arctic wolves are predatory carnivores and eat a wide variety of food, hunting in packs for musk-oxen and caribou. They also eat Arctic hares, lemmings, ptarmigan, and other small animals, such as nesting birds.
Arctic wolves are a monogamous species and the alpha male and beta female are the only ones that are allowed to mate. Breeding takes place in winter from January to March. After gestation of 61-63 days, 5 to 7 pups are born, each weighing about a pound. The newborns are brown in color, and are helpless, being blind and deaf, and they depend upon the whole pack to protect them. Their eyes open in about 10 days. Their mother is very protective, not allowing other pack members into the den until the pups are two weeks old. Pups are weaned after about two months. After these early stages of development, the fathers help raise the pups by teaching them to play and hunt. Pups are strong enough at six months old to travel, and will join the rest of the pack to learn survival skills. Males are sexually mature at one year old and females at about the age of two.
Unlike other wolf species, the Arctic wolf hardly ever comes into contact with people and is not under threat by persecution or hunting. However, industrial development is a threat, an increasing number of roads, mines, and pipelines encroaching on its territory and interrupting its food supply. Another threat to this species is climate change. Recent extreme weather variations have made finding food more difficult for Arctic hares and musk-oxen to find food, causing their numbers to decline significantly, and therefore affecting this traditional food supply for the Arctic wolf.
According to the Cool Antarctica resource, the total population size of the Arctic wolf is around 200,000 individuals. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
As carnivorous hunters, these wolves help to control the numbers of animals such as musk-oxen, Arctic hares and caribou, as well as other animals inhabiting the region.