July 16, 2010

Two Nursing Females!

When just a few miles out along our route to the den north of Slidre Fiord and paralleling it, we encountered a wolf heading in the same direction. It was quite important to see whether this wolf was one of the two we already knew this year or some new wolf. Thus we sped up and caught up with the wolf and stayed some 150 feet behind it. To identify it, we would have to get around it somehow without it thinking we were chasing it. Our opportunity came after a few miles when the wolf veered to perhaps check out some hare sign. We then got a bit ahead of it, and it came up to us. 

This was not the nursing female from the den because that female had a short tail (not sure why).  Neither was it "Wolf 2" because that one had 2 prominent scratch marks across its right foreleg. This was a new wolf. We could see a prominent nipple showing through her fur, and the animal later squat-urinated as only females do.

That this was an animal new to us made it important to see which way she was going after reaching a critical choice point. Thus we continued on, with the wolf following and eventually cutting inland from our route and paralleling us. (This was a common pattern of wolves along this route.)  We zoomed ahead so as to be sure to see where the wolf hit a wide river flats where Remus Creek enters the fiord which was on our right. There, if she continued to parallel the fiord, she was probably heading to the end of the fiord where she could cross the mud flats and head to the south (and second) den that we could not reach. If she headed NE, she was probably going to the den we were watching.

The wolf chose the latter. Thus it would be important to see her return to the den and interact with the other female. However, by this time, her shortcut inland gave her half-a-mile head start. Nevertheless, our ATV route from here was fairly smooth, and I decided to race the wolf back to the den. I zoomed up the river flats and began to gain on the wolf. She disappeared into our canyon where I would have to drive very slowly and carefully for 50 feet, and she was still 300 feet ahead of me. Nevertheless, the last 2 miles to the den lookout consisted of high-speed driving terrain (firm, continuous sandy flats). On the other hand, our route was curvy, and the wolf could cut cross-country again straight to the den. The race was on!

As soon as I reached where we park to walk to our observation site, I parked and scrambled up a hill some 100 feet to where I could see the den. During the last few feet I could see Female 1 and pups streaming SW and knew the new female was already within their sight. I put up my binocs just in time to see Female 1, with tail up, greet the new female whose tail was down. This meant that the new female was subordinate, perhaps the daughter or elderly mother of Female 1. I had won the race by 2 seconds!     

As we settled into our observation site and watched the various goings on, we noted that the pups were especially enamored of "Female 2," swarming all over and around her.  Female 1, which we photographed nursing the pups a few days ago, was lying leisurely off about 100 meters away from the fray. Female 2 lay on her side near the den mound with her belly facing us, and the pups nestled in around her underside as though nursing. We watched intently through the high-powered scope, and suddenly realized that, indeed, they were nursing!   When the nursing female arose, one pup was still clinging to a nipple.

So, are there 2 mothers of this batch of pups? True, one of the pups is smaller than the other 4 so could be from a second litter. The only other explanation is that one of these females is a wet nurse, but wet-nursing is not documented in wolves. Could Brutus have bred both these females? That certainly would not be unheard of in the wolf world, and it gives us even more incentive to try to collect as many pup scats as we can from around this den.


  1. AnonymousJuly 16, 2010

    How exciting! :O

  2. The year after wolves were released back into Yellowstone, one pack(forget which one), raised 17 pups, from two mothers, apparently. Agreed, this is rare in wolves, but it happens. Are the wolves of Ellesmere, that you describe, perhaps settling into a new territory? Just wondering.

  3. AnonymousJuly 19, 2010

    Thank you for the updates and interesting photography. From fans in Three Lakes WI.

  4. Anne,
    Yes, we are aware of several other records of female breeding females in a pack. However, they all involved many more than 5 pups. In our case, the
    small number of pups suggests the possibility that only one of the wolves is the mother and the other a wet nurse. That is only a possibility, but we need to check that out.

    1. Have you found out who the new wolf is? I was thinking that it could be a daughter.Also, could there be 2 wet nurses because if that is then that might be another wet nurse.

      Sweet Fur

  5. You're probably right, of course, being in the field and watching the pack. I'm not sure if I've ever heard of wolf wet-nurses, but than, wolves are far more complicated creatures than we used to think they were/.
    Anne G