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North Dakota's

Federally Listed Endangered, Threatened, and Candidate Species – 1995


Wolverine (Gulo gulo)

JPG -- species photo gif--species map

Status: Former Candidate (Note: As of February 28, 1996, this species is no longer listed as a Candidate species. However, it remains a species of management concern.)

Historical Status:
The wolverine was historically found throughout large portions of North America, Europe and Asia. In the United States they were found as far south as Maryland and New Mexico. Wolverine numbers appeared to begin to decline in the mid-1800's.

Present Status:
The wolverine is found throughout the northern forests and polar regions of the world. However, the southern limit of its range has been pushed much further north than its historical distribution. The wolverine has been extirpated from most of its former range in the lower 48 states. Scattered populations can still be found in the western United States. The wolverine appears extirpated (no longer exists) in North Dakota, and probably has been for some time. Individuals, probably dispersing animals, have shown up in South Dakota and Iowa within the last 30 years.

Habitat:
Although the wolverine once inhabited deciduous forests and grasslands like those found in the Dakotas, today it is limited to conifer forests and tundras.

Life History:
Male wolverines appear capable of breeding when 1.5 years old. Only about half the females are capable of breeding at this age. Breeding occurs in the summer; however, birth does not occur until the following winter. The breeding pair will part shortly after they are done breeding. The following winter the female will select a den in which to give birth. The average litter size appears to be about 3-4 young. The young venture out of the den when they are about 8 weeks old. The family group splits up in the fall. Wolverines are primarily meat eaters, feeding on a wide variety of prey such as beavers, squirrels, rabbits, deer, and whatever carrion they can find. A large proportion of the deer in a wolverines diet probably comes from carrion. In the summer plant foods make up a large part of their diet. Wolverines travel widely, with individual males having home ranges as large as 750 miles2 while females have home ranges of 175 miles2. Wolverines probably live to about 10 years in the wild.

Aid to identification:
The wolverine is one of the largest members of the weasel family. Adult males will weigh about 20 pounds and adult females about 15 pounds. A large male wolverine will measure up to 40" in length with about 7-8" of that being tail. They will stand about 16" at the shoulder. The feet are extremely large for the size of the animal with the hind foot of a large male being up to 4" in length. The large feet are an adaptation to aid the wolverine in walking on snow. The fur of the wolverine is dark in color except for light blondish bands running across the head and along both sides. Like other members of the Mustelidae family, including the skunk, the wolverine is capable of emitting a foul smell from 2 well developed glands.

Reasons for decline:
People appear to be the only serious enemy of the wolverine. Loss of habitat and overharvest are probably the cause of the decline in wolverine numbers.

Recommendations:
Evidence of wolverines in North Dakota should be reported to a wildlife agency.

Comments:
Through myth and folklore, the wolverine has achieved supernatural stature. The wolverine is also known as the "skunk-bear" although it is not in the bear family. Wolverine fur is valued because frost crystals do not adhere to the long hairs (due to the strait shape of the individual hairs). This makes their fur well suited for trimming around the hoods of parkas.

References:
Wild Mammals of North America, edited by Joseph Chapman and George Feldhamer, 1982.


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