There are arguments about how many different types of wolves there are, but when it comes to genetics, there are only four different types of wolves. There’s the all-around general wolf that everyone is familiar with – the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus). The other three are less known, but no less critical – the Eastern Wolf (Canis lycaon), the Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis), and the Red Wolf (Canis rufus). The Gray Wolf has many subspecies due to how diverse they have become with how they hunt and where they live. But for this article, I am going to stick with the four main types of wolves.
There are roughly 38 subspecies of the Gray Wolf, however many of them are extinct now. The Gray Wolf easily adapts to any location from grasslands to mountains and even to deserts. Each of these animals adapts to its surroundings with regards to the ecosystem, food, and social habits. Some are more territorial than others and tend to howl as well as take down prey that is much larger by working together as a pack. Others are less territorial, less vocal, and tend to hunt alone for smaller prey, whatever is beneficial to the ecosystem they are in. Most of the wolves we are familiar with are the considerable stature gray wolves that range from 80 to 100 lbs. but can get much larger, up to 170 lbs. They are typically 4 to 6 feet in length. However, the desert wolves tend to be much more slender and smaller in stature – 3 feet in length and are less than 100 lbs. Their fur is shorter due to the desert heat.
The Eastern Wolf has a very foxlike look. It is also known as the Eastern Canadian Wolf, Eastern Timber Wolf, Eastern Canadian Red Wolf, and its more popular name is the Algonquin Wolf or deer wolf. While they are native to the Northeastern side of Great Lakes region and Southeastern Canada, they are most well known in the Algonquin Park where they are protected. Canada introduced them into the United States to build their populations. They cover a wide range of land due to their ability to find food. They are can hunt alone or in a pack which makes them incredibly successful. They are a fiercely loyal and extremely social species. Their howls are to communicate with their pack, for protection, and to warn other packs that it is their territory. In 2013 United States Fish and Wildlife considered it a distinct species, separate from the Gray Wolf.
The Ethiopian Wolf, also known as the Abyssinian Wolf, is native to Ethiopia and is its own species, although scientists have wondered if they aren’t true members of the jackal family (Canis aureus). These animals have adapted to the harsh landscape of the area, some struggling in the mountains while others have adapted to the plains. They are reddish brown in color and tend to blend into their surroundings. These wolves need socialization. However, there are loners within the pack. They can coexist with other wolves easily and are not as territorial as other animals. They tend to feed on the Afroalpine rodents which have a particular habitat. As they are not that large in stature, they tend to keep to smaller to medium-sized prey. There aren’t many of them left due to an outbreak of rabies in the early 90’s. About four hundred wolves were lost to rabies. Only about 550 adults are left in their depleted populations.
Last, but certainly not least, is the Red Wolf, known by its reddish tawny coloring and it’s somewhat coyote look. It is also known as the Florida Black Wolf or the Mississippi Valley Wolf. They currently range in North Carolina and Virginia with some straying into South Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas. It seems to be some morphological combination of the gray wolf and the coyote, hence the look. However, the way to tell it is a red wolf is to look at its face as it will always have white accents around their face. Their ears are larger than most other wolves, probably to help keep them cool. They tend to be social in the pack, but the pack is extremely hierarchical. They are very territorial and tend to hunt alone so will go after smaller to medium prey. Unfortunately, there has been an outbreak of heartworm in the Red Wolf populations. As there are only about 40 remaining, this is a sad occurrence