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The wolf, or gray wolf, (Canis lupus) is a mammal of the Canidae family and a close relative of the domestic dog.


Gray wolf Canis lupus, Agassiz NWR, Minnesota

( Public domain image from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / J & K Hollingsworth full size image)

Wolves were once widespread throughout the Northern hemisphere, but their range has been drastically reduced by human encroachment on their habitat and persecution of the animals themselves.

Wolves are social predators and hunt in packs organised according to a strict social hierarchy and led by an alpha male and alpha female. Normally, the alpha pair would be the only members of the pack to breed. This kind of organisation can also be found in other pack-hunting canids, such as the Indian dhole (Cuon alpinus) and the African hunting dog (Lycaon pictus).

The relation between the wolf and the domestic dog is a matter of debate. Some authorities see the wolf as the dog's direct ancestor, while others point to the golden jackal (Canis aureus) as the most likely ancestor. In fact, the Canidae is a family that has evolved fairly recently, and different species of the genus Canis are still able to interbreed to some extent.

Wolves in folklore and mythology People and wolves have a troubled relationship - as is demonstrated every time a wildlife service or organization attempts to preserve vanishing wolves or reintroduce wolves to previous habitat. The dominant image of wolves in human folklore is as a predator; there are, however, interesting exceptions.

Little Red Ridinghood and bad wolves
Romulus and Remus and good wolves
Children Raised by Wolves

see also werewolf