The map above shows the 2,774 miles (4,464 km) travelled by a lone wolf in North Minnesota over the course of 11 months. The data comes the Voyageurs Wolf Project via a GPS-collar that tracked locations every 20 minutes.
Tom Gable, Wildlife Biologist posted it on Reddit and also answered some questions you can read below:
Q (beetothebumble): This is so cool! Do they know why it travelled a long way initially and then stayed in a relatively small area for a time? Was it seasonal?
A: Nope, don’t really know. Lone wolves have all sorts of travel patterns and it is hard to know why they go where they go sometimes. It doesn’t really appear to be seasonal from what we can tell.
Q (teamdren07): Why do you believe it wasn’t seasonal?
A: Of course there is no way to say for sure. But what we think of as seasonal (summer, fall, etc.) doesn’t necessarily correspond with changes in wolf movements and predation behaviors. Wolf movements are often a result of where food is at.
Wolf diets are highly variable during spring to summer. I.e., wolves don’t subsist on certain foods all summer and then switch to different foods in the fall and then different foods in the winter.
Certainly, some things could change during the winter which is when mating season is but this wolf was moving around a lot even before then. Again, no way to say for sure but we don’t think the movements are necessarily a result of seasonality.
Q (TheL0nePonderer): How big of an area would you say that little clump of wondering in the top left of the picture covers?
A: If I had to guess without looking at the data in more detail, I would guess about 150-330 km2.
Q (teamdren07): Well, 200km2 is a 20x10km piece of land. I don’t know exactly what this wolf is eating, but it seems like it would need a range of that size to get regular meals, right?
A: Yes, wolves need large spaces but generally adjust territory size to prey availability (i.e., denser prey populations=more food/unit area which means smaller territories on average). Average wolf territories in our area are about 100-150 km2 which is actually quite small compared to wolves in different environments like western and northern North America.
Q (Readyrabbit583428): I assume you started tracking him where you dropped him off? Possible he was just heading back to known ground or where he was captured?
A: We started tracking him once we got the collar on him. We did not drop him off anywhere but possible he was heading back to the area we captured him which could be close to his natal habitat.
Q (taleofbenji): How can you tell if something happens annually if there’s less than one year of data?
A: We have lots of data from over 75 wolves spanning over a 5 year time frame. Like I said, not saying for certain it is not seasonal but seems unlikely based on what we have seen from other collared individuals.
Q (zagadore): How did you know it was a LONE wolf and not traveling in a pack?
A: Great question. Wolves traveling in packs remain in localized areas (i.e., pack territories) whereas lone wolves do not have any fidelity to a particular area and just roam across large areas. For example, here is an animation from last year (same year as this animation) of 6 wolves that were in different packs. The difference between the two is pretty stark.
Q (thechrizzo): Close to the end there is this straight line from bottom to top… What was that? The wolf walking a straight line for miles? Kinda strange
A: The wolf was running down a power line that is a compacted snowmobiled trail during the winter. This trail allowed the wolf to travel in a straight line for a a good distance!
Q (sunburn95): Can any wolf experts tell us how long its scent persists? When it doubles back would it know it’s been there recently-ish?
A: It is really hard to say as the persistence of scent is dependent on environmental conditions (humidity, precipitation, etc.). Wolf scents (urine, scats, etc.) likely do last for some time but that is probably variable dependent on the weather conditions.
It seems unlikely that the wolf would be able to follow its scent 4-5 months after it went through the area. Instead, it is more likely that wolves are able to remember where they have are and have been, and can use that information to navigate vast areas.
Q (pjfridays): So cool! Looks like it flirted with the Canadian border a few times but never actually crossed. Any explanation about that? I’m not familiar with that part of the country. Is there a river or something?
A: Yes the Rainy River divides Minnesota and Ontario and likely was a large enough physical barrier to keep the wolf in Minnesota (granted, wolves swim across lakes and rivers all the time).
Q (SaxesAndSubwoofers): So, off topic, but are you guys named Voyageurs because of the old fur Voyageurs up in the quetico and the boundary Waters? Or am I just reading way too much into this.
A: No that is correct. Our work is in and around Voyageurs National Park which was named after the French-Canadian Voyageurs who traveled the waters of the park (and Quetico/Boundary Waters) for the fur trade.
You can learn more about the Voyageurs Wolf Project on Facebook.
You can learn more about Wolves from the following books:
- The Hidden Life of Wolves
- The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons From the Sawtooth Pack
- Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation
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