- They’re the largest canids of all, easily dwarfing coyotes, jackals, and man’s best friend (with some rare exceptions in that last case).
- But even within their own vast subfamily, there are wolves that simply outstrip all others in the size stakes.
- These heavy hitters can be found prowling the Eurasian tundra, the frozen Arctic expanse, or hanging around a few villages with the consent of the locals.
For thousands of years, wolves have captured humanity’s imagination. While they may not be as large as lions or bears, wolves still fill people with fear. These sociable animals hunt in packs and are capable of bringing down prey much heavier than them. Their territory can spread over hundreds of miles, and packs can include up to 20 adult members.
With their powerful jaws, strong legs, and killer instincts, wolves are among nature’s top predators. They can run up to 30 miles per day, which allows them to stalk and run down their prey over long stretches. When motivated, a wolf’s bite force can reach up to 1200 pounds per square inch, allowing them to bite through bone with ease. Wolves are patient hunters and prefer to attack in numbers, but they are not to be underestimated even alone.
Wolves can be found worldwide, from the tundra of Siberia to the wild interior of Alaska. There are more than 30 known subspecies of wolves, but which one is the largest? Measurements of their length, height, and weight allow biologists to get a sense of how big different subspecies can get. Based on these measurements, here are 10 of the largest wolves in the world.
#10 Himalayan Wolf
Larger than its geographic neighbor, the Indian wolf, the Himalayan wolf (Canis lupus chanco) measures around 3.75 feet in length. The Himalayan wolf stands 30 inches in height at the shoulder. Its average weight is 77 lb, which is comparable to an adult male German Shepherd. They subsist primarily on Tibetan gazelle, but their diet also consists of Himalayan marmots, wooly hares, and pikas.
Himalayan wolves roam throughout the Himalayas, the Tibetan Plateau, and the highlands of Central Asia. They are adapted to live at high elevations, unlike most wolves that prefer lower, more oxygen-rich environments. While the Himalayan wolf’s taxonomy is up to debate, some biologists argue that it is a distinct subspecies.
#9 Mongolian Wolf
From its nose to its tail, the Mongolian wolf (Canis lupus chanco) measures from 3 to 5 feet in length. The tallest Mongolian wolves can stand almost 35 inches tall. Weights can vary, but most specimens weigh from 57-82 lb. They are smaller in stature than European wolves and generally have a slightly narrower muzzle. It is similar in appearance to the Himalayan wolf, and debates about its taxonomy are ongoing.
Mongolian wolves are native to Mongolia, central and northern China, and Russia. Their range has shifted in recent years due to the expansion of human settlements and the decline in the population of Siberian tigers, its chief rival for food. Prey includes saiga as well as domestic livestock.
Known as “the sheep’s assassin” in Mongolian, wolves are occasionally killed by herders to protect their livestock. The trade of their fur, revenge killing, and hunting combined to threaten Mongolian wolf populations. No protections currently exist for Mongolian wolves, and their total number is unknown.
#8 Red Wolf
The red wolf (Canis lupus rufus) is a distinct subspecies of wolves that is a cross between the coyote and the gray wolf. They get their name from their iconic reddish hue, although colors can vary between wolves. Red wolves usually are around 4.5-5.25 feet long and weigh between 50-85 lb. Some biologists liken them to greyhounds due to their long and slender builds.
Red wolves are native to the southeastern regions of the United States. While more sociable than coyotes, they are less companionable than gray wolves. Their diet consists of rodents, rabbits, white-tailed deer, and nutria.
Although they were once widespread throughout the southeastern states, red wolves went extinct in the wild due to hunting and habitat loss. Today, the IUCN lists red wolves as a Critically Endangered species. Most live in captivity or in specially designated wildlife refuges. Still, released red wolves living in the wild continue to face threats from hunters.
#7 Steppe Wolf
Also known as the Caspian Sea wolf, steppe wolves (Canis lupus campestris) weigh on average between 77-88 lb. They are not as large as Eurasian wolves, their closest neighbor, and their hair is shorter and sparser. The steppe wolf gets its name from the steppe regions of Eurasia, where it is a native subspecies.
Steppe wolves can be found throughout the Caspian steppes, the Caucasus, the lower Volga region, and southern Kazakhstan. Occasionally, villagers will keep them as guard animals. Their diet includes Caspian seals, rodents, and fish. However, hungry steppe wolves may also eat berries and other plants to survive.
Many steppe wolves live close to human settlements, and they frequently attack livestock. Since they are legal to hunt in certain regions, steppe wolves are at risk due to hunting by herders trying to protect their animals. Hunting is the primary reason for the decline in steppe wolf populations and has led to the IUCN listing them as an Endangered species.
#6 Tundra Wolf
The tundra wolf (Canis lupus albus), or Turukhan wolf, is a medium-sized wolf native to Eurasia’s tundras. The average male tundra wolf weighs between 88-108 lb, while the average female weighs 81-90 lb. Especially massive tundra wolves have been known to weigh up to 115 lb. They vary from 3.5 to 4.5 feet in length. Their lead-gray fur is dense, long, and soft, and historically their pelts have been highly prized by hunters and traders.
Tundra wolves range from the tundra regions of Finland to the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia. They tend to live in heavily wooded areas and river valleys. Their diet consists almost exclusively of reindeer, although they will also eat game such as rabbits, birds, and small rodents.
#5 Arctic Wolf
Also known as the white wolf or polar wolf, arctic wolves (Canis lupus arctos) measure between 3-5 feet long. They are smaller in stature than northwestern wolves, standing around 2-3 feet tall Arctic wolves generally weigh 70-125 lb. However, they look much more prominent due to their thick, waterproof coats that keep them dry in subzero temperatures.
Arctic wolves live throughout Greenland, Alaska, Iceland, and Canada. Since the frozen Arctic ground makes digging dens difficult, they typically seek shelter in caves or rocky outcroppings. They subsist on a diet of Arctic hares, caribou, and muskoxen. An arctic wolf can go 4 or 5 months without eating and can eat up to 20 lb of meat in a single meal.
Due to their remote location, arctic wolves rarely come into contact with humans. They have few natural predators other than polar bears, as the bears occasionally kill and eat their cubs. Since there are around 200,000 arctic wolves worldwide, the IUCN lists them as a species of Least Concern.
#4 Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf
The northern Rocky Mountain wolf (Canis lupus irremotus) is one of the largest subspecies of gray wolves. It stands between 26-32 tall at the shoulder and can weigh between 70-150 lb. Most northern Rocky Mountain wolves are light gray in color. They are distinguishable from other gray wolves due to their flat, narrow frontal bone.
Northern Rocky Mountain wolves historically resided throughout the Rocky Mountain region of the United States. Today, they can be found in parts of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and southern Canada. They primarily prey on elk, bison, Rocky Mountain mule deer, and beaver. When prey is scarce, they will resort to killing and cannibalizing an injured or infirm member of the pack.
While they were once widespread throughout the Rocky Mountains, northern Rocky Mountain wolves were almost hunted to extinction. The Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan led to their reintroduction to Yellowstone Park and other remote locations in the region. Currently, the IUCN does not list northern Rocky Mountain wolves as an endangered species. However, some activists argue that the population is still vulnerable.
#3 Eurasian Wolf
The largest wolf found outside North America, the Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus) is also known as the common wolf or Middle Russian forest wolf. While the average specimen weighs 86 lb, they can range between 71-176 lb in the wild, and in some rare cases, up to 190 lb. They range from 3.5-5.25 feet in length and stand up to 33 inches tall.
Eurasian wolves used to live all across Europe and the Russian steppe. However, mass extermination campaigns that ran from the Middle Ages through the 20th century severely curtailed their population. Today, they can still be found in northern and eastern Europe and across Russia’s steppe regions. They subsist on moose, deer, wild boar, and other local large prey in the wild.
Despite a reduction in the number of Eurasian wolves, attacks on livestock are still common. They are protected in most European countries, and populations have skyrocketed throughout regions once part of the Soviet Union. Thanks to an increase in their numbers, the IUCN lists the Eurasian wolf as a species of Least Concern.
#2 Interior Alaskan Wolf
The Interior Alaskan wolf (Canis lupus pambasileus) is the second-largest subspecies of wolves in the world. Also known as the Yukon wolf, the average male Interior Alaskan wolf weighs 124 lb, while the average female weighs 85 lb. They often range between 71-130 lb but mature, well-fed males can weigh up to 179 lb. Standing 33.5 inches tall, with heavy, large teeth, they are much larger than most other subspecies.
Interior Alaskan wolves are native to the interior of Alaska and the Yukon. They make their homes within boreal forests, alpine and subalpine regions, and the Arctic tundra. Their diet varies by region but mainly consists of moose, caribou, and Dall sheep.
Despite relatively sparse human settlements, attacks on livestock by Interior Alaskan wolves are common. Over the years, several programs aimed at reducing their numbers have led to mass killings. Still, the population appears to be stable, with an estimated 5,000 wolves living in the Yukon alone.
#1 Northwestern Wolf
The Northwestern wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis) is known by many names, including the Mackenzie Valley wolf, Canadian timber wolf, and Alaskan timber wolf. It is the largest wolf in the world, with the average male weighing 137 lb, while the average female weighs 101 lb. They range between 79lb and 159 lb, and exceptionally large specimens have measured 175 lb. That size makes the Northwestern wolf the largest wolf species in the world. With a length of up to 7 feet and reaching heights of almost 36 inches, they dwarf most of their kin.
Northwestern wolves range from Alaska through the western regions of Canada and down into the northwest United States. They prey on elk and have been documented stampeding a herd to separate young elk from their parents. Northwestern wolves are also known to hunt bison, although they usually only target the young or weak in a herd.
Currently, the Northwestern wolf is not in significant danger. While the hunting and trapping of wolves do exist, its population is stable, especially in Canada, where it is most dominant.
Bonus: The Largest Wolf On Record
The largest wolf ever documented was a Northwestern or (Mackenzie Valley) Wolf that was trapped in Alaska in 1939. The wolf was found near Eagle, Alaska, and measured 175 pounds!
One important note is that a wolf caught in 1939 had a full stomach, which can add significant weight to a wolf. Wolves coming off a fresh kill can have 20 or more pounds of meat in their stomachs, meaning their “actual” size likely doesn’t reach beyond 150 pounds except in exceptionally rare circumstances.
Other impressively-sized canids encountered include a similarly well-fed male weighing 172 pounds eight years later in the Northwest Territories, and more recently, a 148-pound male on a moose hunting expedition in the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve, in 2001.
Summary Of The 10 Largest Wolves In The World
|79 – 159 lbs
|71 – 130 lbs
|71 -176 lbs
|70 – 150 lbs
|70 – 125 lbs
|88 – 108 lbs
|77- 88 lbs
|50 – 85 lbs
|57 – 82 lbs
Honorable Mention: Other Large Wolves
- Labrador Wolf (Canis lupus labradorius) – this is a subspecies of the gray wolf, mainly found in Canada, specifically Quebec and Labrador, and is also listed as endangered. Believed to be a close relative of the extinct Newfoundland wolf, the Labrador wolf can reach weights of up to 66 pounds.
- Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) – also known as lobo, this is another subspecies of the North American gray wolf that is the most genetically distinct. One of the most endangered mammals in North America, in the wild, this species has a population of only 241 individuals. These wolves can be the size of a German shepherd, with weights that are between 50 to 85 pounds and heights between 28 to 32 inches.
- Italian Wolf (Canis lupus italicus or Canis lupus lupus) – this wolf, also known as the Apennine wolf, is another subspecies of the grey wolf and is native to the Italian Peninsula. They can be found in the Apennine Mountains and the Western Alps, and like many of the wolves on this list, are listed as endangered. Due to hunting, they were almost declared extinct and currently, there are only about 500 remaining in the wild. They can average weights between 55 to 70 pounds but larger males weighing between 88 to 99 pounds have been found. Italian wolves can have heights ranging from 20 to 28 inches at the shoulder.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Mircea Costina/Shutterstock.com
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