11 Interesting Facts About Wolverines
Most people know of the wolverine as a superhero created by Marvel™, with fast healing powers, razor-sharp, indestructible retractable claws, and acute senses. The real-life wolverine is a member of the Mustelidae family, which also includes weasels, badgers, ferrets, otters, minks and martens. It has a stocky build with short legs, a rounded head and a bushy tail. It also has small eyes and ears. Because of its appearance, the wolverine is often mistaken for other animals like the American badger, the hoary marmot, a bear cub or even a red fox. Each wolverine has a unique appearance, however, and can be identified by the color patterns on its face, neck and chest.
The wolverine has poor eyesight — thanks to its small eyes. This is not a problem though, because the wolverine is a nocturnal animal, and because it has excellent senses of smell and hearing that it uses to find food.
Here are eleven fascinating facts about the wolverine:
1. The Wolverine Is the Largest Land-Dwelling Mustelid.
It can grow up to 42 inches (107 centimeters) long, though 32 to 34 inches (81 to 86 centimeters) is the more common length. It can also weigh up to 70 pounds (32 kilograms), with males being almost twice as heavy as females. Of all the mustelids, only the sea otter and the giant otter are larger.
It is still fairly small, though, compared to other animals. What makes the wolverine notorious is that it doesn’t consider its own size when going up against animals much larger than itself, like bears, wolves, reindeer and moose. This ferocity is precisely the inspiration for the fictional Wolverine, who is short in stature — only 5’3” (1.6 meters) — and yet fearless when going up against enemies.
2. Are Wolverines Endangered? No One’s Sure.
The current wolverine population remains unknown. Why? First, wolverines have a large home range, with that of males spanning more than 240 square miles (622 square kilometers) — that’s larger than the whole city of Chicago! Second, wolverines are secretive and difficult to observe. However, estimates put the population at 15,000 to as many as 30,000. The population is particularly large in Canada and Russia.
Because of this, the wolverine is listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, the worldwide population is decreasing, in general, and the IUCN’s European Mammal Assessment lists the European wolverine as Vulnerable.
In the US, the wolverine is classified by the USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management as a Sensitive Species. Also, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has recently proposed that the wolverine be considered an endangered species and protected as such.
Currently, the most serious threat to the wolverine population is loss of habitat since wolverines require large home ranges and also because females burrow in the snow. As the number of places covered in snow decreases with global warming, so less wolverines are born.
3. Wolverines Are Experts at Living in the Arctic.
Not just any animal can live in the Arctic, where there’s freezing weather most of the year. But the wolverine can. In fact, it is well-adapted to life in the Arctic. The wolverine has large, webbed paws that spread out on top of the snow, acting like snowshoes. It also has a thick, frost-resistant coat that keeps it warm through long winters so it has no need to hibernate.
As for finding food, wolverines are completely capable of eating frozen animal corpses, which they can smell even when buried 20 feet (6 meters) beneath the snow! They have a special molar at the back of their mouths which enables them to tear the frozen meat off bones. Not that they leave bones behind, though. In fact, wolverines are among the few animals that consume the bones of other animals, even the teeth. Because of this, wolverines have been likened to hyenas.
4. The Wolverine Is Also Called Gulo gulo.
The scientific name of the wolverine — Gulo gulo — comes from the Latin word gulo, meaning “glutton”. This is because (as well as having a ferocious temper) the wolverine has a ferocious appetite. When it eats, it eats quickly and voraciously, leaving nothing behind, almost as if it hadn’t eaten in days (or as if it will never eat again). According to scientists, this habit may be the result of the scarcity of food in the wolverine’s habitat.
The wolverine is also called nasty cat, devil bear and quickhatch. Another name, carcajou, is really interesting — read on!
5. The Wolverine Saved the World!
The native Algonquin peoples of North America had several words for the wolverine, like the Mi’kmaq ki’kwaju and the Innu kuekuatsheu. The word carcajou is a French-Canadian adaptation of these. The Innu tell a story about the wolverine, that begins: “Long ago, Kuekuatsheu built a big boat, and put all the animal species into it. There was a great rain and the land was flooded…” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Many other Native American stories about the wolverine are also told. Sometimes he is a light-hearted (but a little naughty) trickster, sometimes he is a comic entertainer, and sometimes he is even a lucky symbol of good fortune to come!
6. Wolverines Can Stink. Eew!
The wolverine is also called the skunk bear or the stink bear. The reason for this is obvious — wolverines can secrete a nasty-smelling yellow liquid from their anal scent glands. Normally, this liquid is used by male wolverines to mark their territories, warning other males to stay away and letting females know if they are available. However, male wolverines can also release the pungent odor in defense, just like the skunk.
7. The Wolverine Is a Thief.
In addition to being a predator, the wolverine is a scavenger that not only feeds on any dead animal it may stumble upon, but that also steals from other predators, such as wolves and bears, sometimes right after the animal is killed. Wolverines can also “steal” animals caught in human traps, without getting hurt themselves.
Sometimes, the wolverine will immediately consume the food it has stolen, especially if it is hungry, but other times the wolverine will stash its stolen goods under the snow. Think of the whole snowy landscape as a refrigerator for this clever creature.
Wolverines don’t just steal food. They are known to steal from hunting lodges, carrying off guns, knives, clothes, blankets, cooking utensils, tools and other items they have no use for.
8. Wolverines Can Climb Trees.
Wolverines sleep, hunt and give birth on the ground. However, they can climb trees just like some bears. They can do this because of their long, sharp hook-like claws, which they also use to climb sheer cliffs, icefalls and snowy peaks.
9. Wolverines Mate for Life.
Male wolverines reach sexual maturity at around 2 years of age, females at around 15 months. Once the male is ready to reproduce, he searches for not just one mate, but two or three, and he will mate with them for the rest of his life.
The mating season for wolverines is in the summer — from May to August. In spite of this, female wolverines have a special ability — they can delay their pregnancy until winter so they can give birth in dens made of snow. These dens are as deep as 15 feet (5 meters) under the snow, which protects the kits from predators.
Female wolverines have a low reproductive rate, giving birth to just one or two young every other year, but sometimes to three if food is plentiful. The gestation period lasts 30 to 50 days.
10. Wolverines Make Good Fathers.
For a long time, wolverines (especially the males) have been known to be solitary, which also gave them the reputation of being bad fathers. This, however, has been disproved. Studies show that male wolverines visit their young after they are born, sometimes taking care of them while their mother hunts. These visits continue until the kits are weaned at around 3 months. Also, once the kits can hunt (at around 6 to 7 months old), they sometimes travel with their father, though they stay with their mother until they become full-fledged adults.
11. Wolverines Have Been Known to Attack Humans.
The wolverine is considered one of the most dangerous animals in Canada, having attacked humans in the past. These attacks only occurred, though, because the wolverine was challenged or threatened by humans. Normally, wolverines stay away from humans, but if encountered, they will stand their ground, and if humans try to attack them in an effort to scare them off, they will fight back. Because of their sharp claws and teeth and their powerful bodies, wolverines are capable of causing serious injury, especially to children.
What do you know?
Think you remember what you’ve read? Try out the Wolverines Quiz!
The YouTube video playlist below contains videos about Wolverines. Details of the videos featured are underneath.
- The Wolverine by globalzoo
- Wolverines: Hyenas of the North by JHWFF
- The Wolverine Way – by Douglas H. Chadwick, published by Patagonia Books by patagoniavideo
- Top 13 Most Dangerous Animals in North America – a Summary by IP Factly