Apennine Wolf

C. lupus

Last updated: November 9, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit iStock.com/Ciro de Simone

Wolves do not howl at the moon. They howl to communicate with other members of their pack.

Apennine Wolf Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Carnivora
Family
Canidea
Genus
Canis
Scientific Name
C. lupus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Apennine Wolf Conservation Status

Apennine Wolf Locations

Apennine Wolf Locations

Apennine Wolf Facts

Prey
Deer, wild boar, chamois
Main Prey
Deer
Name Of Young
Pup
Group Behavior
  • Pack
Fun Fact
Wolves do not howl at the moon. They howl to communicate with other members of their pack.
Estimated Population Size
3,300
Biggest Threat
Illegal hunting by humans to protect livestock.
Most Distinctive Feature
Greyish-brown, white and black fur, turning reddish in summer.
Distinctive Feature
About the size of a German Shepherd
Other Name(s)
Italian wolf
Gestation Period
2 months
Temperament
Territorial, aggressive
Age Of Independence
1-5 years
Litter Size
2-8
Habitat
forest
Predators
Wolves, humans
Diet
Carnivore
Average Litter Size
2-8
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Favorite Food
deer
Common Name
Italian wolf
Special Features
Greyish-brown, black, and white pelt, turning reddish in the summer.

Apennine Wolf Physical Characteristics

Color
  • White
  • Black-Brown
  • Grey-Brown
Lifespan
10 years
Weight
55-77 pounds
Height
20-28 inches at the shoulder
Length
43-58 inches long
Age of Sexual Maturity
3 years
Age of Weaning
3 months
Venomous
No
Aggression
High

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Interesting Fact

“According to legend, an Apennine wolf raised the twin brothers who founded Rome.”

Apennine Wolf Summary

The Apennine wolf is also known as the Italian wolf and is the unofficial national animal of Italy. It is native to the Apennine Mountains and the Western Alps. It nearly went extinct in the 1970’s due largely to illegal hunting, but after strict protections were put in place, its numbers have grown. There are now over 3,300 of them and they have begun to spread into southeastern France and Switzerland.

Apennine Wolf Facts

  • The Apennine wolf is the unofficial national animal of Italy.
  • They almost went extinct in the 1970s but are rapidly multiplying today.
  • It’s not clear whether they are a separate species, or a type of the Eurasian wolf.
  • Apennine wolves can eat up to 6.5 pounds of meat a day.
  • They do not howl at the moon. They howl to signal danger to their pack or while hunting.

Apennine Wolf Scientific Name

The Apennine wolf is also known as the Italian wolf. Its scientific name is Canis lupus italicus. In Latin, “canis” means “dog,” “lupus” is “wolf,” and “italicus” means “Italian.” Apennine wolves are of the Mammalia class and the Canidae family. In Italian the common name of this wolf is “lupo.”

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There has been some controversy over whether the Apennine wolf is a distinct subspecies of the common Eurasian wolf, Canis lupus lupus. Some sources list them separately; others consider them the same species. 

Apennine Wolf Appearance

Members of this wolf species are about the size and weight of German shepherds. They may weigh 55-77 pounds, although male specimens have reached 99 pounds. Their bodies are 43-58 inches long and 20-28 inches high at the shoulder.

Their fur is grey, brown, white, and black. The stomach and cheeks have lighter colors, while the back and tail are the darkest part of the pelt. In the summer they take on more of a reddish hue.

An Apennine wolf in the wild close up
Apennine wolf fur is grey, brown, white, and black.

iStock.com/Ciro de Simone

Apennine Wolf Behavior

Apennine wolves live in packs of anywhere from two to a maximum of 12 animals. Compared to other wolf species, they run in smaller packs due to a lack of large prey in their habitat. After deer were reintroduced into Italy’s Abruzzo National Park, however, larger packs of six to seven wolves began to appear.

Wolves communicate with one another with barks, howls, yips, growls, whines, and other vocalizations, as well as body language, scent, touch, and taste. It is a myth that wolves howl at the moon. Instead, they howl to gather the scattered pack before and after hunts, to sound an alarm, to locate one another in new territory, and to communicate over a distance. A wolf’s howl can travel over a territory of 50 square miles in the right circumstances.

Socialization

Social behavior of wolves within their packs is complex and interesting. Wolves are very social creatures that form close ties with one another and are highly territorial and protective of their families. They usually claim a larger territory than they actually need for their survival in order to make sure they have a steady supply of prey. They try to avoid hunting near the edges of their territory to avoid conflicts with other packs.

Packs include an alpha pair and their offspring who stay with them until they are old enough to find their own mates, which can be as short as 10 months or up to nearly five years. Competition for mates and food are the main reasons they disperse rather than making ever-larger packs. Wolves may travel 100 miles or more away from their families to start their own packs. They hardly ever adopt non-related wolves into their packs; they kill them instead. “Lone wolves” driven out of their packs may remain solitary.

The ability of wolves to cooperate is one of the keys to their success as a species. They collaborate on vital activities, such as hunting and defending territory from other wolves. Each member of the pack has a role to play, from the leading alphas, to more gregarious or submissive members. Dominant and aggressive wolves move slowly, walk with their body held high, and raise their hackles. In their presence, submissive, lower-status wolves keep their bodies low, their fur flat, and their ears and tail lowered.

Apennine Wolf Habitat

The preferred habitat of this species is the forest, including coniferous forests at higher elevations and temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, to the Mediterranean forests and scrublands of the warmer south.

Wolves construct dens in the summer using natural features like rock outcroppings, overhanging riverbanks, and vegetation-covered holes. They may even steal and enlarge a burrow from a smaller animal, such as a fox, badger, or marmot. Wolves prefer dens near a water source and facing south to get more warm sunlight exposure.

Apennine Wolf Diet

In its habitat, the Apennine wolf is the apex predator. They are carnivores, eating up to 6.5 pounds of meat a day. They hunt nocturnally for various species of deer, wild boar, and chamois (a species of goat-antelope). When they cannot find larger prey, they hunt hares, rabbits, birds, and even invertebrates. Near settled areas, they will prey on sheep, goats, calves, horses, and other livestock. They are also scavengers, prone to eating carcasses or edible bits of human garbage. They occasionally eat berries and herbs for roughage.

Apennine Wolf Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

Since these wolves are apex predators in their territory, other species do not hunt them. Their biggest natural threat is one another, with territorial fights being one of their leading causes of death.

Human beings are the greatest threat to the survival of this species. This is a result of fear and, in the past, superstition. Medieval records indicate wolves attacked hundreds of Italians from the 15th-19th centuries. However, no attacks were recorded after World War II. In the 1920s, many rural people still believed in werewolves. They would not sleep facing the full moon for fear they would transform into wolves. These kinds of fears led to the killing of enormous numbers of wolves.

However, one of the main reasons for the hostility of humans toward wolves is the threat they pose to livestock, which can be easier prey for them than hunting wild game. In France, to reduce the number of unfavorable interactions between wolves and farmers, the government has subsidized electrified pasture fencing and night pens, hiring additional farm hands, and the purchase, training, and upkeep of livestock guard dogs. Despite these measures, some livestock owners still illegally kill wolves when they stray onto their property.

The current conservation status of the Apennine wolf is “vulnerable.” The species nearly went extinct in the 1970’s due largely to illegal hunting, but after strict protections were put in place, its numbers have grown. The most recent estimates are that 3,300 of them live in Italy and they have begun to spread into southeastern France and Switzerland. Apennine wolves are now protected in all three countries and their numbers are growing.

Apennine Wolf Reproduction, Babies and Lifespan

Wolves mate for life, but if one of them dies, the survivor finds a new mate quickly. Mating occurs in March with a two-month gestation period. Females may give birth to between two and eight pups, depending upon the age of the mother. They usually just have one litter a year.

Italian wolf pups weigh 8-12 ounces, about the same as a glass of water or a can of soda. They are blind, deaf, and covered in gray-brown fur at birth. They start opening their eyes at nine to 12 days old. They leave the den after three weeks but continue drinking their mother’s milk until they are 30-45 days old. At three to four months, they can digest meat. They become sexually mature at about three years old. The whole pack helps protect the young, keeping them in a den at the center of their territory.

In the wild, Apennine wolves can live up to about 10 years. In captivity, wolves can live to 15 years or more.

Apennine Wolf Population

The Apennine wolf population in Italy is estimated at 3,300 individuals. Most of this population—about 2,000 animals—are distributed across the central and southern portions of Italy. They are multiplying most rapidly in the Alps of northern Italy. From there, they have been steadily spreading into France and Switzerland.

Similar Animals to the Apennine Wolf

  • Eurasian wolf These are so similar to Apennine wolves that some zoologists think they are not a separate species. Eurasian wolves inhabit the European and Asian landmass while Apennine wolves live only in Italy, France, and Switzerland.
  • Coyote – Coyotes are similar to wolves but smaller. They live in North America, not Europe.
  • German shepherd dog – German shepherds have a similar size and appearance to wolves but are a domesticated dog breed that originated in Germany.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer and a lifelong animal lover. I've traveled the world, but the high point for me was riding an elephant in Nepal. Currently I'm an "Emotional Support Human" to 2 dogs, 1 cat, and 3 guinea pigs. My favorite wild animal is the quokka. If you've never heard of it look it up . . . and smile!

Apennine Wolf FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where does the Apennine wolf live?

They live mainly in the central and northern mountains of Italy, but are spreading into France and Switzerland.

What does the Apennine wolf eat?

In the wild its favorite foods are deer, wild boar, and chamois. It also likes smaller animals, like rabbits or birds when it can catch them. It will raid farms to steal livestock and will also eat abandoned carcasses and garbage.

Can Apennine wolves breed with domestic dogs?

Yes, all dogs descend from wolves and are able to interbreed with them. This may occasionally happen in the wild between a domestic or feral dog and a wolf. However, the more usual outcome would be a fight, sometimes to the death. Sometimes people breed wolves and dogs to create hybrid puppies. These may retain many of the wild instincts of their wolf parent.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia.org Italian Wolf, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_wolf
  2. Wikipedia.org Wolf, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf
  3. Animal Corner, Available here: https://animalcorner.org/animals/italian-wolf/
  4. International Wolf Center, Available here: https://wolf.org/wow/europe/italy/
  5. The Wolf Intlligencer, Available here: https://thewolfintelligencer.com/italian-wolf-canis-lupus-italicus/
  6. Ecotur, Available here: https://www.ecotur.org/en/apennine_wolf.xhtml
  7. Wanted in Rome, Available here: https://www.wantedinrome.com/news/italys-wolf-population-rises-to-3300.html

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