10 Incredible Red Wolf Facts

Red Wolf
© Rejean Bedard/Shutterstock.com

Written by Kyle Glatz

Updated: August 17, 2023

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When most people imagine a wolf in their mind’s eye, they picture a hulking gray monster with a large pack lurking in the forests and mountains. However, the U.S. is home to a far less numerous and smaller breed of wolf called the red wolf. This wolf is only found in the U.S., and only a small part of it at that. As their name suggests, these rare mammals are known for having a ruddy color in their fur. In this article, we’re going to explore 10 incredible red wolf facts.

You’ll learn why these animals are so rare, the steps taken to help the species, and their complicated origins.

An overview of 10 Incredible Red Wolf Facts.

10. Fewer Than 25 of These Animals Are Left in the Wild

A Red Wolf at Tacoma, WA Pt. Defiance Zoo, USA

Red wolves are incredibly few in number in the wild.

©Christine Majul / Flickr – Original

For a little while, it looked as though the red wolf population was recovering. While 2021 started off with 30 of these animals living in the wild, several were claimed in car collisions, two had died by unknown means, and one was shot by someone trying to protect his livestock.

Most, if not all, of the wild red wolves are tracked by government organizations to help understand the challenges they face and when they die. This is not so much one of the 10 incredible red wolf facts as it is a sad reminder of their plight.

9. Only 240 Red Wolves Are in Captivity

Female Red Wolf on a white background

Red wolves have an estimated population of 250, with most of those living in captivity across 44 different zoos.

©Abeselom Zerit/Shutterstock.com

When you add the total population of red wolves together, it equals just over 250 individuals. Most of them are in captivity in one of 44 zoos that are designed to help conserve and restore this species’ population.

Although it’s a good thing that they have these wolves in captivity, the small number of wolves shows the desperation of the species’ predicament. Some wolves are slowly being reintroduced to the wild, but that’s not going so well.

8. Red Wolves Can Travel Over 20 Miles for Food

Profile of standing canis rufus half-open mouth

Red wolves are not afraid to travel up to 20 miles in search of a meal.

©creator88/Shutterstock.com

Red wolves mostly eat small mammals and white-tailed deer, and the latter is their favorite. They are not afraid to range far to get the meal they want. Scientists track what they believe to be all of the remaining wild red wolves.

They were surprised to find that the mammals could travel a distance of twenty miles to find prey.

7. Red Wolves Are the Smallest Wolf Species in North America

Red Wolf at Sandy Ridge, USA

Red wolves are smaller than gray wolves.

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

Only two species of wolf exist in the U.S.: the gray wolf and the red wolf. The gray wolf stands about 2.8 ft tall, grows about 5 ft in length, and can measure up to 180 pounds.

However, the red wolf is a fair bit smaller. The red wolf measures about 2.2 ft tall at the shoulder and only weighs between 45 and 90 pounds. They are larger than coyotes, though.

6. They Have a Very Short Lifespan in the Wild

A closeup of a red wolf

While red wolves can live up to 15 years in captivity, their average lifespan in the wild is only 6-7 years.

©Matt Cuda/Shutterstock.com

Sadly, red wolves only live about six or seven years in the wild. They live far longer when they are in captivity, though. Red wolves can live for up to 15 years in captivity. During that time, they get safety, food, and treatment that allows them to flourish.

Their average age in the wild could climb if greater numbers of these wolves were introduced into a safe area devoid of the numerous threats they’ve faced in the last two centuries.

5. Red Wolves Mate for Life

red wolves in a pack

The offspring of a red wolf pair become their pack, usually numbering up to eight members.

©iStock.com/karen crewe

Red wolves find a match and then stay with them for the rest of their lives. Their offspring becomes their pack and can contain as many as eight different members.

4. Red Wolves Once Had a Range from Texas to Pennsylvania

Red Wolf

The red wolf once had a massive range.

©Joanna Wu/Shutterstock.com

In the past, red wolves were far more common. It’s believed that they used to roam from the southeastern part of Texas to the Atlantic Ocean, and as far north as Pennsylvania, almost to the Great Lakes.

These red wolves were far more common, but human intervention started to chip away at their numbers. They were hunted, and their primary food source, deer, was driven off by humans developing the land. Today, the only wild red wolves are found in North Carolina.

3. The Red Wolf Recovery Program Has Faced Many Challenges

Types of Wild Dogs

A red wolf on the move at the Sewee Center in South Carolina.

©iStock.com/cmicah

Since these animals are critically endangered, the U.S. government has stepped in to help revitalize the population. The Red Wolf Recovery Program helped a great deal in the first decade that it was operating.

The number of wild red wolves rose to 120 wild wolves between 1987 to 2012. However, that number began to sharply decline due to being hit by cars, shot, or dying of other causes in the wild.

The number of red wolves identified by the program has lingered at 20 or less for the last three years, and few, if any, pups have been born in the wild during this time.

2. Efforts to Restore the Red Wolf Population Are Not Over Yet

Red Wolf

The Red Wolf is critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List.

©Rejean Bedard/Shutterstock.com

Although it seems like the red wolf population is backed into a corner, nobody is giving up yet. Pairs of captive-born red wolves are being introduced to the wild slowly throughout this year. The hope is that by educating enough people about these creatures, people will know to look for them and prevent them from dying out in the wild.

1. The Red Wolf Is an Oddball

Rarest animal – Red wolf

There has been some debate if the red wolf is a hybrid of wolf and coyote or its own distinct species.

©mruizseda/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve looked at pictures of the red wolf and you are familiar with the looks of a coyote, you might be thinking that it’s very hard to tell the difference. That’s true, and there is a good reason for that. Several studies have been undertaken to determine the lineage of the red wolf.

Some of the results have shown that red wolves share many qualities with their wolf ancestors as well as coyotes. The interesting thing is that a genomic sequencing study in 2012, a whole-genome DNA study in 2016, and a DNA sequencing study in 2021 all discovered that the taxonomy of this wolf is very complex.

Red wolves have genetics that shows they are related to coyotes and gray wolves. They may be closer to coyotes than gray wolves. For now, they are considered an intermediary between the two species, and red wolves are classified as subspecies of the gray wolf. Future studies may offer additional insight.

The red wolf is facing some trying times right now. Hopefully, these 10 incredible red wolf facts provided you with some entertainment and also highlighted the dire situation of these creatures. Perhaps in future years, the wild population in North Carolina, the only one in the world, will be talked about as the beginning of this species’ revitalization.


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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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