US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



International Wolf 21:1 (2011), pp 4-7.


US govt work


Gray wolf, timber wolf, red wolf, eastern wolf, brush wolf, arctic wolf, Mexican wolf, maned wolf, Ethiopian wolf, etc., etc. How many kinds of wolves are there? And what are the differences? This is a really good question, and the answer is getting more complicated all the time. Let us start by going back a few years to the way science looked at wolves more traditionally— before the days of the new field of molecular genetics. Molecular genetics examines the actual DNA of animals and tries to classify them according to genetic similarities. ...

What does all this mean in terms of understanding basic wolf biology and behavior? Actually not much. The aphorism “a wolf is a wolf is a wolf” is highly appropriate in this regard to anyone except the taxonomist. Regardless of what they are called or what differences the current genetic testing shows, wolves throughout the world are pretty much the same in basic appearance and behavior. The strong implication here is that when it comes to the great majority of the wolf genome that codes for basic wolf appearance and behavior—the DNA that has not been tested—gray wolves are essentially all the same. As to the races or subspecies of gray wolves, or the proposed new species, time and much more study will tell. Meanwhile, the classification of wolves to most members of the public will remain a mystery and an enigma probably best embodied in the not-so-scientific name, Canis lupus soupus.