The red wolf, Canis rufus is the most rare and most endangered of all wolves. It is thought that its original distribution included much of eastern North America. Red wolves were found from Pennsylvania in the east, Florida in the south, and Texas in the west. On the basis of further study, its historic range is now thought to have extended further north into the northeastern USA and extreme eastern Canada. In the last century habitat destruction and hybridization with coyotes have brought the red wolf to the brink of extinction. Only about 270 wolves remain. For decades, the red wolf has been indistinguishable genetically from either the gray wolf or the coyote. The red wolf breeds with both species and may again be in peril as contact with other species in the wild resumes. Traditionally, three subspecies of red wolf are recognized.
The red wolf is a medium-sized canid, smaller and more slender than the grey wolf but larger than the Coyote. Adult males weigh between 60 to 80 lbs (25 to 35 kg) while females are generally two-thirds this range. Their coats may take a variety of colors. The coat can be black, brown and grey through cinnamon and yellow. The reddish coats for which they are named were typical of some Texan populations. In the wild average life spans are estimated as low as four years. In captivity this rises as high as fourteen years.
Habits and Social Structure
Red wolves are shy and wary creatures. They prefer to hunt alone or in small family groups. The pack sizes are smaller than those of their grey cousins, consisting often of one adult pair and their offspring.
As in other canids pair bonding is strong and red wolves mate for life. They mate yearly and two or three pups are usually born in the spring. Both parents help raise the offspring who are mature enough to leave behind parental support at six months of age.
Their diet consists of small animals, including rabbits, raccoons and rodents. They occasionally bring down deer with the help of other red wolves and they supplement their diet with insects and berries.