We all know that babies are cute, at least most of them. However, wolf pups are incredibly adorable. The main thing to remember is that babies are cute to perpetuate the species, no matter what it is. The most amazing fact is that once the pups are born, everything is about keeping them alive at all costs, taking care of them, and then teaching them. This is done by the pack as a whole, not just mom. All wolves participate in the care and teaching of the pups as this ensures their survivability and the continuation of the pack.
Conception to birth is roughly sixty-three days and, a litter usually consists of four to six pups. Their eyes and ears are closed when they are born, and they are unable to regulate their body temperature, yet another reason mom is so important. They can smell, but mostly they can taste and touch, which is the most important. This helps them to recognize their pack members from early on, most obviously mom, as they need to feed from her. They eat about four to five times a day for a few minutes at a time. Pups are born in a den which has to be large enough for mom and pups and is typically guarded so that nothing else can get in there. The sounds they make at this point are whining and yelping. And, of course, they can lick and suck to feed from mom. Mother wolf is an incredible housekeeper, cleaning up any messes that are made so that the den stays clean. She does this by eating all of the birthing remnants (the sacs, the cords, and the placenta) as well as stimulating the pups to urinate and defecate which she also ingests. No one said being a mom was easy. As she is unable to leave the den to go out and hunt, typically, the other wolves will bring her meat to sustain her through her trials of taking care of the pups. Occasionally, another non-breeding female will also produce milk and be able to feed the pups, but this is not a normal occurrence.
Their eyes start to open up along with their ears a couple of weeks after birth. They also start stumbling about in the den and, once steady, even venture outside of the den for short bits of time. Their milk teeth appear shortly after. By weeks four and five they start eating tiny bits of meat, they start getting adventurous outside of the den, with supervision, of course. The pups learn to lick the mouths of the other wolves to get them to regurgitate food for them. Their head and feet get disproportionately bigger as the rest of their bodies try to catch up. As they start play fighting and showing dominance, they are also getting more vocal, beginning to growl and whimper, along with sharing their slightly squeaky howl. Their “play” also includes “attacking and killing” bones, feathers, and skins of dead animals and after they “kill” their “prey” they carry it around like fantastic trophies.
The pups start getting weaned around five to six weeks, and once they are strong, the whole pack moves out away from the den to an above ground rendezvous site, where the wolves gather to sleep, play, and hang out. They also start replacing their milk teeth with their canines and incisors. By about 12 weeks, they are taken out on a hunt, not to participate in, but so that they will watch what is necessary to take down prey, like working together, each wolf has its own job and place in the pack. They will also share in the feast to further their instinct for the kill. Their eyes are starting to change color, from the beautiful baby blue to the yellow or golden color, and they are starting to come into their own sound when howling. By seven to eight months they are officially hunting with the pack, learning how to fit in and be aggressive. They are also almost indistinguishable from the rest of the pack with regard to size and looks. Right around a year, growth usually ends, and their status in the pack is generally determined as either a dominant or submissive type.
Unfortunately, even with all of the protection of the pack, pup mortality is pretty high, roughly thirty to sixty percent. This is usually due to things like diseases, malnutrition, or starvation, particularly if the pack has not found food readily available. As the pups are such a vital part of the continuation of the pack, and due to the pack’s social nature, they will mourn the dead and even bury them. Sometimes these are the mournful howls we hear in the distance.
For now, reach for the stars, believe in yourself, and howl at the moon for the sheer joy of it. Forever Follow the Wolf.Written by Samantha Ford
International Wolf Center