M56 is young wolverine with a bit of wanderlust. Last June, he became the first known wolverine to enter Colorado in more than 90 years.
WCS biologists first began radio-tracking him outside of Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Within two months, the wolverine had traveled 500 miles to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. M56 seemed to like it there, spending last summer and autumn within the park's vicinity.
Then, he disappeared.
For two months, researchers heard neither beep nor bleep from their tracking devices as to what M56 was up to. In March, the trail of the wolverine turned up the old-fashioned way: imprinted on the ground. Someone spotted wolverine pawprints outside of Leadville and reported them to the Colorado Department of Wildlife. During his clandestine journey, M56 had crossed Interstate-70 and gone south.
Soon, a government airplane was hot on M56’s trail. They found the wandering wolverine near Mount Evans in Larimer County.
“This is a young male probably trying to establish his own territory and find mates,” said Bob Inman of WCS’s North America Program. “During the two months he was missing, it is possible that he toured most of southern Colorado.”
As we study these mysterious mammals more, we are learning that wolverines need large areas to survive. Their young also often travel long distances between mountain ranges to find a home of their own, as well as mates.
At 30 pounds, the average adult wolverine needs a lot of territory, about as much as a grizzly bear. Some males have ranges of around 500 square miles. This isolated lifestyle limits the number of these mammals—members of the weasel family—that can occupy a region.
Found in Alaska and Canada, the species' range extends south into the lower 48 states but only in high mountains where near-arctic conditions exist. Wolverines give birth in the middle of winter in dens beneath avalanche chutes. Historically, wolverines were native to California, Utah, and Colorado, but these states—where the animal nearly became locally extinct in the 1930s—currently do not have any breeding populations.
Whether or not M56 found a Mrs. M56 in his travels is unknown.
“We think Colorado could have 20 percent of suitable wolverine habitat in the lower 48 states,” said Jodi Hilty, director of WCS’s North America Program. “Establishing a population in Colorado would be significant for the species.”
Related: Wolverine Returns to Colorado