Adult wolves weigh from 20 to 80 kg. They have long legs and are fast runners with great endurance. The front paws have five toes each, while the back paws have only four, with powerful non-retractable claws adapted to eating meat. They have large canine teeth with which to seize and kill their prey. In contrast to the domestic dog, the wolf has a black stripe on its forearms which is about 10 cm long and 2 cm wide. The lifespan of wolves in captivity is at least 16 years.
The wolf is a flexible and opportunistic predator. In Slovenia wolves prey mainly on roe and red deer and wild boar, and may supplement their diet by feeding on carcasses, small vertebrates, invertebrates and even plants. On occasion they will attack domestic animals, in particular sheep. An adult wolf needs about 3 to 5 kg of meat per day. A wolf pack may travel 40-70 km at a time in search of food, aided by their extraordinary hearing and well-developed sense of smell. They usually hunt in packs, although they can also hunt individually. When hunting in packs, they usually wear down the prey by running, achieving speeds of 56 to 64 km/h. In this way they mainly catch animals in poorer physical condition.
Mating takes place once a year, from mid-January to mid-March. Only the alpha pair in the pack mate. The gestation period is from 62 to 64 days, and pups are whelped in a den. In Slovenia and Croatia most litters are born in April. There are usually 5 to 8 pups in a litter, which are born blind and covered in short, dark fur. They begin to see at 10 to 14 days after birth, and start venturing out of the den at 4 to 14 weeks. 40 – 50% of wolves die in the first year of life. They have a strong sense of family; a mating pair remains very closely attached during the time of whelping. In the beginning the male brings food to the mother and pups, and regurgitates it in the vicinity of the den. Later on the female will also bring food. In late autumn the pups will already accompany the pack on hunts. Wolves reach their adult size at 10 to 12 months and are sexually and socially mature by the age of two.
Habitat of wolves
Wolves live in very different types of habitat and can adapt to many different and even extreme conditions. In America they are found in the vast tundra, the prairie, semi-desert environments, the mountains and northern forests; in Asia in the tundra, taiga, steppes, semi-deserts, and in higher-elevation locations; and in Europe primarily in forests. In Slovenia these are most often the beech and fir forests which cover the extensive mountainous region of the Dinaric Karst.
Wolves are strongly territorial animals and live in packs whose members cooperate in hunting, reproduction, and protection of their territory. Pack size can range from 2 to 20 but is most often composed of 5 to 8 animals. The mating pair is dominant and other members are usually their offspring or other relatives. The size of the territory changes greatly and is dependent on the density of wolves, the density of prey in a given area, the geography of the region, and human access. Each pack actively defends its territory from wolves of a neighbouring pack. Scent marking and howling are used to establish the borders of their territory. Internal use of the territory is different within the year, depending mainly on the supply of prey and reproductive activities. During the time of whelping wolves stay close to the den but later on they disperse more widely over the territory. However, there are always certain trails and locations which the wolves prefer and use more frequently.