Plants and Animals

Canis lupus Gray Wolf

species photo
species photo

Key Characteristics

Wolves are the largest wild member of the dog family, between 4.5 and 6 feet (1.4 - 1.8 m) in length (nose to tail) and covered in a grizzled gray coat with a darker shoulder mantle. The tail is approximately 1.5 feet (0.5 m) long. Average weight is from 58 - 67 pounds (26 - 30 kg) with a maximum of 100 pounds (45 kg). Tracks range from 2.8 to 3.3 inches (7 - 8.3 cm) wide and 3.7 to 5.5 inches (9.5 - 14 cm) long and have pronounced claw marks, unlike wild cats.

Status and Rank

US Status: LE - Listed Endangered
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S4 - Apparently secure


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Chippewa 1 1981
Iron 2 2001
Keweenaw 1 1988

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Wolves have no specific habitat requirements, other than minimal disturbance from humans and a sufficiently large mammal prey base (primarily white-tailed deer but also snowshoe hare, beaver, and other mammals). Areas of 100 square miles with road densities less than 1 mile of linear road per square mile are suitable wolf habitat, although areas such as trails, roads, and ice-covered bodies of water are often utilized. Dens are typically situated in underground burrows, often enlarging those excavated by other animals, as well as rock crevices and ledges, hollow logs, overturned stumps, and debris piles. The distribution of wolves is larger than the colored map indicates, extending through much of the UP. They have also recently been documented in the northern Lower Peninsula for the first time in nearly 100 years, presumably crossing the frozen Straits of Mackinac in the winter.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

General management recommendations for the gray wolf include maintaining large areas of mature vegetation, maintaining a healthy prey base (primarily deer), and reducing probability of encounters with humans (settlements as well as roads). One of the greatest threats is an anti-wolf attitude by the general public based on erroneous beliefs. Education and outreach to increase public awareness and understanding of gray wolf ecology, behavior and management would enhance conservation efforts for this species.

Active Period

Active from first week of January to fourth week of December

Survey Methods

Search for tracks during winter snow cover. Wolves usually produce a single, deep and long howl with silent pauses of one minute or more between each howl. Wolf howls may carry 4 miles or more depending on weather conditions. They will respond to simulated howls, particularly at night.

Broadcast howl surveys

Survey Period: From first week of July to fourth week of September

Time of Day: Night

Track surveys

Survey Period: From first week of December to first week of March


Survey References

  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 1997. Michigan Gray Wolf Recovery and Management Plan. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lansing.
  • Wilson, D.E., F.R. Cole, J.D. 1996. Measuring and Monitoring Biological Diversity - Standard Methods for Mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.

Technical References

  • Evers, D.C. 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 412pp.
  • Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 1997. Michigan Gray Wolf Recovery and Management Plan. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lansing.