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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Red Wolf
Order Carnivora : Family Canidae : Canis rufus Audubon and Bachman

Description. A rather small, slender, long-legged wolf resembling the coyote in color but often blackish; typically larger, with wider nose pad, larger feet and coarser pelage; smaller and more tawny than the gray wolf. Dental formula as in the coyote. External measurements of an adult male: total length, 1,473 mm; tail, 362 mm; hind foot, 235 mm; a female, 1,448-355-216 mm. Large males weigh 30-40 kg; large females 20-30 kg.

Species distribution mapDistribution in Texas. Formerly, red wolves ranged throughout the eastern half of Texas but their numbers and range quickly declined under pressure of intensive land use in the region. Also, early lumbering and farming practices allowed the coyote to expand its range into East Texas; hybrid offspring of interbreeding red wolves and coyotes more closely resembled coyotes and the genetic identity of the red wolf was gradually suppressed.

In 1962 Howard McCarley, who had assiduously searched for them in East Texas for several years, held the opinion that they no longer occurred there. John Paradiso reported in 1965, however, that seven specimens taken near Anahuac (Chambers County) in 1963-1964, and one specimen from Armstrong (Kenedy County) taken in 1961, were definitely red wolves. All of the recent, so-called red wolves we have examined from eastern Texas have proven to be large coyotes. It appears that in Texas, red wolves are now extinct.

The following comparisons are derived mainly from a review of the status and knowledge of the red wolf prepared by G.A. Riley and R.T. McBride.

Weight (in kg):
means and extremes
  22.7 (17.3-34.5) Male
20.0 (16.3-24.5) Female
  15.0 (10.0-16.0) Male
13.1 ( 9.5-15.9) Female
Total length (m)   1.42 (1.32-1.60) Male
1.34 (1.22-1.42) Female
  1.27 (1.21-1.35) Male
1.20 (1.12-1.30) Female
Hind foot (cm)   23.1 (21.0-24.9) Male
22.1 (20.3-24.1) Female
  20.5 (19.0-21.3) Male
19.8 (17.8-21.6) Female
Ear length (cm)   12.7 (11.4-14.0) Male
12.2 (11.4-12.7) Female
  11.6 (10.7-12.2) Male
10.9 ( 8.6-12.2) Female
Width of nose pad (mm)   More than 25   Less than 25
Length of skull (mm)   More than 215; usually
more than 220
  Less than 215; usually
less than 210
Tracks (back of heel pad
to end of longest claw,
in millimeters)
  102.0 (89.0-127.0)   66.0 (57.2-72.4)
Stride (cm)   65.8 (55.8-76.2)   41.4 (32.4-48.3)
Muzzle and head   Normally broad   Normally narrow
Muzzle coloration   White area around lips
may extend well up on
sides of muzzle
  White area around lips
thin and sharply
Threat behavior
(when trapped or
  Tail held upright; snarl
exposes only the canines
and a few front teeth;
ruff on neck and back
  Tail held between legs;
mouth opened wide and
all teeth exposed; back
arched and ruff may or
or may not be raised

Red Wolf (Canis rufus). Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Coyote (Canis latrans). Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Red wolf (top) and Coyote (bottom). Notice the facial markings, the length of the ears and the width of the nose pad and muzzle.

    Habits. Red wolves inhabited brushy and forested areas, as well as the coastal prairies. They are more sociable than coyotes. Three or more may maintain a group structure throughout the year. Riley and McBride, on the basis of systematic tracking, estimated that the home range is approximately 40-80 kmē, averaging 56 kmē.

They are known to feed on cottontails and other rabbits, deer, native rats and mice, prairie chickens, fish and crabs (along the Gulf Coast), as well as upon domestic livestock, especially free-ranging pigs. Riley and McBride list nutria (which they consider an important buffer between red wolves and domestic livestock), swamp rabbit, cottontail, rice rat, cotton rat, and muskrat as specific food items.

Breeding occurs in January and February, and the three or four pups are born in March and April. The nursery den normally is dug in the slope or crest of a low, sandy mound or hill, or in the bank of an irrigation or drainage ditch. Man-made culverts and drain pipes occasionally are utilized. The dens average about 2.4 m in length and normally are no deeper than 1 m. Den entrances vary from 60 to 75 cm in diameter and normally are well-concealed. Both sexes take part in rearing the young. Frequently, young of the previous year occur in the vicinity of a nursery den, but they do not appear to participate in guarding, feeding, or training of the pups of the year. When about 6 weeks old the pups may forsake the nursery den.

Remarks. The red wolf was apparently extinct in the wild by 1980. However, captive breeding colonies of red wolves have been established at several locations throughout the country. Beginning in 1987, red wolves were re-introduced to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR), located on an island off the coast of North Carolina. Between 1987 and 1992, 42 wolves were released in ARNWR and at least 23 wolves were born in the wild. As of August 1992, the ARNWR population numbered at least 24 wolves. Additionally, red wolf pairs have been released on Bull’s Island, South Carolina, St. Vincent Island, Florida, and Horn Island, Mississippi, but breeding and survival on these islands have been limited. Most recently, red wolves have been re-introduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is doubtful red wolves can be re-introduced in Texas because of human population pressures where they formerly occurred.

Photos courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.