Wolverine

Wolverine Photo
Wolverines are the largest of the land-dwelling weasels.
©Mark Packila

Symbols of remote wilderness, wolverines are elusive, ferocious, and yet vulnerable. Despite being less than a tenth of the size of a grizzly bear, a wolverine can have a territory as large or even larger than that of this massive bear, often covering hundreds of square miles. Mainly denizens of the subarctic and boreal forests of Canada and Siberia, small wolverine populations in the lower 48 states inhabit the northern Cascades and Rocky Mountains, including Glacier National Park, and as far south as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The largest of land-dwelling weasels, wolverines are powerfully built carnivores with the ability to kill prey many times their size. Their sharp teeth and powerful jaws enable wolverines to gnaw through frozen meat and bones. With their thick, frost-resistant coat and large, snowshoe-like feet, wolverines are ideally adapted to live in arctic, subarctic, alpine, and subalpine environments. To find food in these harsh habitats, wolverines travel incredible distances across rugged terrain.

Fast Facts

Scientific NameGulo gulo
  • Wolverines are highly territorial and use their strong scent to mark the boundaries of their range.
  • In Native American mythology, the wolverine is portrayed as a trickster-hero and a link to the spirit world.
  • WCS scientists tracked a young male wolverine as he traveled more than 550 miles in less than six weeks.

Challenges

Wolverine numbers declined substantially in the nineteenth and early twentieth century due to trapping and poisoning for the fur trade. Today, loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation and potentially warming climates, are the species’ main threats. To find enough food to survive in the rugged places they live, wolverines must establish unusually large home ranges and routinely travel great distances. This combined with their naturally low population densities and low reproduction rate makes them vulnerable. Loss and fragmentation of habitat resulting from natural resource extraction, rural subdivision and resort development, and warming climates at high latitudes and high elevations are the gravest threats to wolverine conservation. The isolated and naturally fragmented habitats of wolverines in the Greater Yellowstone area cause this population to be particularly at risk in the U.S. Rocky Mountain region. Increasing development in Canada’s boreal forest also compromises the wolverines’ long-term wellbeing.

WCS Responds

Studying an animal that exists at such low densities and reproduces as infrequently as the wolverine requires innovative thinking and a sustained commitment. WCS has established long-term research and conservation programs in Canada and the U.S. to conserve these remarkable animals. WCS scientists were the first to use GPS technology to track wolverines through the snow to gather basic information about population size, reproductive rate, threat types and severity, and habitat and habitat connectivity needs. Our scientists were also the first to radio-track these elusive carnivores in the vast swath of lowland boreal forests in Ontario, Canada. Sharing this information widely, WCS has partnered with local and national governments in Canada and the U.S., as well as land trusts and private landowners, in an effort to improve wolverine management, devise survey methodology, and preserve essential habitats and wolverine movement corridors.

WCS Projects

Corridor Conservation in the American West

Food, water, shelter, and the freedom to roam—these are the basic needs of wildlife. WCS-North America works to protect and interlink crucial wildlife habitats through field-based research, outreach, and policy.

From the Newsroom

Alberta’s Heritage of Wildlife & Headwaters Up for GrabsDecember 27, 2013

John Weaver, Senior Conservation Scientist with WCS-Canada, warns that the Alberta government’s draft Regional Plan for the South Saskatchewan, which would establish new Wildland Parks in about a quarter of the area, will be inadequate to conserving its vulnerable fish and wildlife populations and sources of precious water that are cherished by southern Albertans.

Tracking the Elusive WolverineOctober 1, 2012

Wolverines are known for their ferocity: these powerful carnivores are able to kill prey many times their size and are built to live in inhospitable environments. Despite these advantages, wolverine numbers steadily declined throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Determined to conserve these land-dwelling weasels, WCS established long-term research and conservation programs in Canada and the U.S. See how we study these reclusive animals in the following episode of This American Land, a weekly news program that focuses on issues impacting our country's landscapes, waters and wildlife.

Wolverines Need Refrigeration Zone to ReproduceJuly 11, 2012

Wolverines have always flocked to frozen terrain. In a new study, WCS biologists further explore the significance of cold temperatures and snow for these mountain-dwelling animals. 

Mapping Montana for Climate ChangeJune 23, 2011

A WCS conservationist maps out a climate change survival plan for species living within Montana’s Crown of the Continent ecosystem.

Happy 50th, Arctic RefugeDecember 6, 2010

As the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge celebrates its 50th anniversary, WCS calls for the coastal plain’s permanent protection from energy development.

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