Red Wolf

Canis lupus rufus

Last updated: March 18, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Red Wolf from United States / CC BY 2.0 – License / Original

There are only 17-19 in the wild!


Red Wolf Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Canis lupus rufus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Red Wolf Conservation Status

Red Wolf Locations

Red Wolf Locations

Red Wolf Facts

Main Prey
Deer, rodents, raccoons
Name Of Young
Distinctive Feature
Reddish fur and thin white legs
Coastal prairie and marshland
Wolves, coyotes, humans
Average Litter Size
  • Pack
Favorite Food
There are only 17-19 in the wild!

Red Wolf Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Red
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Top Speed
46 mph
10-12 years
18-41 kg (40-90 lbs)
95-120 cm (37-47 in)

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The red wolf is the world’s most endangered canid and one of the rarest mammals.

The red wolf is a smaller, thinner cousin of the gray wolf, named for its reddish-tawny coat color, while in physical size it is between that of the coyote and gray wolf. This wolf species is native to the southeastern United States, though its habitat once extended from Texas in the west down to Florida and up into the Midwest. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the red wolf as an endangered species with protected status in the first class under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

4 Incredible Red Wolf Facts!

Red Wolf at Sandy Ridge, USA

A captive-bred population of red wolves was established at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.

©Red Wolf from United States / CC BY 2.0 – Original / License

Scientific Name

The scientific name of the red wolf is Canis lupus rufus or Canis rufus.

Canis lupus means “wolf dog” and it is a common part of the scientific name for various canine species, though by itself indicates wolf species, specifically the grey wolf.

Canis lupus rufus means “red wolf dog” while canis rufus means “red dog,” both owing to its red color, with Canis referring to the genus that includes wolves, coyotes, jackals, and dogs. On the other hand, the scientific name for the domestic dog is Canis lupus familiaris, literally “family wolf dog.”

Female Red Wolf on a white background

The scientific name

Canis lupus rufus

means “red wolf dog.”

©Abeselom Zerit/

Types of Red Wolf

There is much debate over the taxonomic classification of the red wolf, which is sometimes a reason why the animal is not included on endangered lists. It is thought of as either a distinct separate species, a subspecies of the gray wolf, or a coywolf — a coyote-wolf hybrid, also known as the eastern coyote, or sometimes the woyote, that is a cross between the Canis latrans (coyote), Canis lupus (wolf or grey wolf), and Canis lupus lycaon (eastern wolf).

Since it’s disputed whether the red wolf is its own species, the topic of subspecies is also debatable.

In 1937, the zoologist Edward Alfonso Goldman proposed there were three subspecies of red wolf, two of which are now extinct — the Florida black wolf (Canis lupus floridanus) and the Mississippi Valley red wolf or Gregory’s wolf (Canis lupus gregoryi) — with the surviving species being the Texas red wolf. However, many consider both the Florida black wolf, which was declared extinct in 1908 due to being hunted and habitat loss, and Gregory’s wolf, which was found in and around the lower Mississippi River basin and became extinct in 1980, to be subspecies of the grey wolf.

Rarest animal – Red wolf

There is much debate over the

taxonomic classification of the red wolf.


Evolution and History

The red wolf’s evolutionary history is a topic of debate among scientists and there are several theories about the species’ origin. Some consider the red wolf as a close relative of Old World gray wolves, others think it developed separately from a New World ancestor that was similar to the coyote and could have belonged to the same species as the Great Lakes wolf, while another group believes that it originated in the past 400 years from grey wolves and coyotes breeding.

Fossil remains of what’s believed to be the red wolf were discovered in Florida that date back 10,000 years. From this and other data, paleontologist Ronald M. Nowak suggests that all North American and Eurasian wolves are descended from a now-extinct species called C. mosbachensis, which was spread across Eurasia 700,000–300,000 years ago in the Middle Pleistocene.

Types of Wild Dogs

There are several theories about the origins of the red wolf.



The red wolf’s size is between the coyote and the gray wolf, or the same as small grey wolves. It is closely related to the eastern wolf of eastern Canada. The sides and head consist of a mixture of tawny brown, light grey, and rusty red colors, while the chest and legs are red or tan and creamy white. There are light markings around the lips and eyes and some black along its back. It has a black-tipped bushy tail. During the fall, it grows a longer coat which it sheds for a lighter one in spring.

These wolves have shorter and wider muzzles than coyotes and slightly more rounded eyes. Unlike other Canis species, the red wolf has a cerebellum that more closely resembles the foxes of the Vulpes and Orocyon genera. It is distinct from both coyotes and coyote-wolf hybrids in terms of physical measurements, with long and slender limbs similar to a greyhound, and ears that are larger than those of either coyotes or grey wolves. Adult wolves are 4 to 5 feet in length with a height of 2 feet at the shoulder and a weight of 45 to 85 pounds.

Red Wolf

Red wolves have shorter and wider muzzles than that coyotes and more rounded eyes.

©Rejean Bedard/

Red Wolf vs. Coyote

Red wolves are often mistaken for coyotes because the two predators have similar appearances, sizes, and even coloration. The main differences between red wolves and coyotes are that red wolves are larger, and can weigh about twice as much as coyotes at their largest weight. In addition, coyotes have a different call that involves more yapping while red wolf calls are drawn out. Most importantly, red wolves are critically endangered while coyotes are an animal of least concern. Today red wolves have an extremely small range. A common problem is wolves being shot after being mistaken for coyotes, so it’s important to understand the differences between these two species.

Do Coyotes Hunt in Packs

Red wolves are very similar in appearance to coyotes like the one above.



Like other canines, a group of wolves is called a pack. These wolves are highly social and close-knit with their pack, which is a family group consisting of a breeding pair plus any of their offspring and possibly immediate relations for anywhere between two to eight members, but usually five to eight on average. Facts about their behavior show that it is more sociable than the coyote and less than the grey wolf.

The red wolf hunts alone or together with its pack, and it is very territorial toward strange wolves. It is most active during dusk and dawn. Incredibly shy and fearful around humans, it avoids them whenever possible. Sometimes, however, these wolves will build their dens fairly close to farms in order to easily spot prey in the fields, and they can help control pests.

Red wolves have a variety of vocalizations ranging from long howls to short barks. They also use non-audible forms of communication including scent marking, tail and ear position, and body language. There are currently not many facts regarding wolf communication and research continues to reveal new information.

Red Wolf Conservation

The red wolf is able to hunt alone and most active during dusk and dawn.

©Joanna Wu/


These wolves are native to the southeastern United States. In the past, its habitat extended from Texas to Florida and the Midwest, even as far up as central Pennsylvania. The wide range suggests a variety of habitats from bottom-land river forests and swamps to farmland and coastal prairies, showing they can thrive in most habits with adequate prey populations and little persecution by humans. North Carolina is currently the last habitat where wild red wolves are found.

Red wolves are living in captivity in several zoos in the U.S. You can see red wolves at:

North Carolina Zoo

The North Carolina Zoo houses more than 1,800 animals, including red wolves.



Red wolves, like other canid species, are ultimately omnivores, but their diet focuses on their main carnivorous needs. They hunt and eat white-tailed deer, raccoons, and other smaller mammals such as rabbits, mice, nutria, and other rodents. They eat between two to five pounds of food a day and can travel up to 20 miles or more a day to find food.

During the winter, it is easiest for them to find food due to the lack of concealing vegetation for their prey along with obvious tracks their prey leave in the snow. Spring is the time they find food sources to prepare for the upcoming litter of pups. Summer is the most difficult time of the year with concealing vegetation, more frequent movement of prey, and needing more energy to spend in the heat to find sources of food.

White-tailed deer

Red wolves hunt and eat white-tailed deer.

©Herbie Pabst/

Predators and Threats

Red wolves have been known to kill cattle and some pets. They have often been mistaken for coyotes or other types of wolves, and hence killed by gunshot. Other factors that resulted in their population decline and species endangerment are cars, habitat loss from clearing woodlands to create farmland, predator-control programs in which they were treated as a threat to livestock and game, hybridization with coyotes, and poachers. Finally, inclement weather is a threat, with thunderstorms, floods, and hurricanes putting them in danger.

Hunter Aiming Rifle Gun

Humans are a threat to red wolves if mistaken for coyotes or other wolves.


Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Red wolves mate for life as monogamous pairs, and they mate usually once a year, in January or February. The gestation period is eight to nine weeks. Pups are born anywhere from March to May and are hidden in concealed dens including hollow tree trunks, along stream banks, or abandoned dens of other animals. Litters contain six to seven pups, and both parents participate in rearing the young.

During the fall, the young wolves practice and perfect their hunting skills with the abundance of food available. At age six weeks the pups distance themselves from the den, reaching full size at one year and becoming sexually mature at three years. At one to two years of age, they find new acquaintances to form a breeding pair or family group. Red wolves typically live six to seven years in the wild and up to 15 years in captivity.

A young red wolf cub lying on the ground

Red wolf pups are born any time from March to May.



The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List classifies red wolves as a Critically Endangered species and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Thanks to the efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than two decades, the 14 remaining red wolves captured at the brink of their extinction became the ancestors of those currently living in North Carolina. Few remain in the wild in North Carolina with greater numbers in the eastern region. The Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) is home to 18 red wolves as of the summer of 2020. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported in February 2023 that there were estimated to be 17-19 in the wild and 235 in captivity as part of its Red Wolf SAFE program.


The IUCN’s Red List categorizes red wolves as an endangered species.

©Tobias Arhelger/

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About the Author

Catherine Gin has more than 15 years of experience working as an editor for digital, print and social media. She grew up in Australia with an alphabet of interesting animals, from echidnas and funnel-web spiders to kookaburras and quokkas, as well as beautiful native plants including bottlebrushes and gum trees. Being based in the U.S. for a decade has expanded Catherine's knowledge of flora and fauna, and she and her husband hope to have a hobby farm and vegetable garden in future.

Red Wolf FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do red wolves eat?

Red wolves eat white-tailed deer and smaller mammals, mostly raccoons and rodents.

What is the difference between a red wolf and a coyote?

Both the red wolf and the coyote are of the Canis genus. However, they are different species, with red wolf’s scientific name being Canis lupus rufus and the coyote’s being Canis latrans. The red wolf is also bigger and more sociable than the coyote.

Where do red wolves live?

Red wolves live in the southeastern United States.

Why are red wolves endangered?

Red wolves are endangered due to hybridization with coyotes in overlapping areas, poachers, being mistaken for coyotes and shot, car accidents, flooding, predator-control programs, and habitat loss.

Are red wolves dangerous?

Red wolves are not dangerous to humans, but they pose a threat to livestock, game, and pets.

Are red wolves carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Like other canine species, red wolves are omnivores, meaning they will eat fruits and vegetables, but they are largely carnivores. Unlike cats, they are not obligatory carnivores.

What kingdom do red wolves belong to?

Red wolves belong to the kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do red wolves belong to?

Red wolves belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do red wolves belong to?

Red wolves belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do red wolves belong to?

Red wolves belong to the family Canidae.

What order do red wolves belong to?

Red wolves belong to the order Carnivora.

What type of covering do red wolves have?

Red wolves are covered in fur.

What are some predators of red wolves?

Predators of red wolves include wolves, coyotes, and humans.

What are some distinguishing features of red wolves?

Red wolves have reddish fur and thin white legs.

How many babies do red wolves have?

The average number of babies a red wolf has is 5.

What is an interesting fact about red wolves?

There are thought to be only 17-19 red wolves in the wild!

What is the scientific name for the red wolf?

The scientific name for the red wolf is Canis lupus rufus.

What is the lifespan of a red wolf?

Red wolves can live for 10 to 12 years.

What is a baby red wolf called?

A baby red wolf is called a cub.

How fast is a red wolf?

A red wolf can travel at speeds of up to 46 miles per hour.

What are the differences between jaguarundis and red wolves?

The differences between jaguarundis and red wolves include size, appearance, diet, habitat, behavior, and lifespan, among others.

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


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  2. National Geographic / Accessed December 10, 2020
  3. Defenders of Wildlife / Accessed December 10, 2020
  4. Just Fun Facts / Accessed December 10, 2020
  5. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / Accessed December 10, 2020
  6. Wolf Worlds / Accessed December 10, 2020
  7. Ducksters / Accessed December 10, 2020
  8. Kids Animal Facts / Accessed December 10, 2020
  9. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service / Accessed December 10, 2020
  10. The Truth About Red Wolves / Accessed December 10, 2020
  11. Ref Wolf Review / Accessed December 10, 2020
  12. Endangered Wonders / Accessed December 10, 2020
  13. WCC / Accessed December 10, 2020
  14. Washingtonian / Accessed December 10, 2020

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