Published on February 7, 2013 by Amy
The wolverine (Gulo gulo) earned its place in North American folklore long before north-country trappers and a few overzealous naturalists began to spin tales of a beast of great ferocity, cunning, and extraordinary strength. Indian mythology describes the wolverine as a trickster-hero, and a link to the spirit world. Still, even today the wolverine remains largely a mystery.
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Some people call this animal Skunk Bear, Devil Bear, Devil Beast, or Glutton… but it is most commonly known as a Wolverine. It is in the order carnivora, in the family mustelidae (weasels, skunks), and is the sole member of the genus Mustelinae. Even though some people say it looks like a bear, it’s not related to the bear at all.
Wolverines are dark brown in color, with tan stripes down both sides, meeting at the shoulder and tail. Some people call these markings “Diamonds” because of the diamond like shape. They have long, fluffy tails. Females will may weigh up to 25 pounds. Males usually weigh up to 35 pounds. Occasionally a male will top 50 pounds, but it is very unusual. Although wolverines are relatively small animals, pound for pound they are considered to be one of the strongest mammals in the world… and they all have an extremely nasty disposition.
Their necks are larger than our heads, supporting tremendous jaw muscles that can crush even the massive leg bones of moose. They have heavily muscled legs, much larger in comparison to the leg muscles of other animals similar in size. Some people say their strength is comparable to that of a bear. Their semi-retractable claws (like a cat’s claw, only much larger), over one and a half inches long, are very sharp and light in color. They use their claws for digging, climbing, and to capture and kill their prey.
Wolverines live in the northern areas of Europe, Asia, and North America.
Wolverines make snow caves for weather protection. These caves are usually dug into snow drifts and are not very long. Natal dens are prepared during late winter. The female wolverine experiences delayed implantation, having been bred the previous summer. The kits do not begin to grow inside her until mid winter. The den she prepares is long, maybe 30 feet long. Leaves and grasses make up the nest at the rear of the tunnel. The inside climate of the den is constant. Winds and temperatures will not affect the coziness of the den when the kits are born in March.
The mother wolverine will nurse her kits, taking short trips to caches to eat. Later she will bring food to her kits. In a few weeks, she will take her kits on short hunting trips and they will watch her to learn to hunt. Within a year or two, the kits will move into their own territories and lead solitary lives. Wolverine territories vary in size from a female’s range of about a hundred fifty (150) square miles to a male’s range well over three hundred (300) square miles. Several female’s may have their territories within the territory of a male. Male territories do not usually overlap. All wolverines mark their territory using specialized scent glands and urine. This tells other wolverines that the area has been taken.
Their primary enemy is the wolf. When a wolf pack closes in on a wolverine the wolverine can’t defend himself. Although wolves may attack and kill a wolverine they will rarely eat the carcass. Bears are a threat especially Brown and Polar have been reported to kill wolverines. Usually, however, a bear will not attack a wolverine unless there’s a fight over food.
Wolverine’s are both predators and scavengers. Their main diet when food is plentiful is grouse, ptarmigan, snowshoe hares, voles, lemmings, and arctic ground squirrels. Sometimes they eat moose calves and caribou calves, marmot, mink, weasels, ermines, pika, and other small animals.
Wolverines always cache any extra meat to be eaten later when food is scarce. Foxes and other animals also cache their food. They depend on cached food in the winter when food is scarce.
The trapper could be considered an enemy of the wolverine. Often trappers kill wolverines because they have found his trap line and eaten the trapper’s bounty. Once a wolverine discovers a trap line it is a tempting and easily available source of food. The trappers don’t appreciate having their valuable pelts snatched away, so they either have to give up their trap line or destroy the wolverine.
It takes a heavy duty snap-trap to hold a wolverine. Wolverines are very cautious of traps. Sometimes the only way to capture the wolverine is by using a snare and enticing the wolverine into the snare with (good smelling) carrion.
The wolverine’s pelt is prized by many Native Americans and used for the ruff (collar). The wolverine fur doesn’t frost over in the cold, so it protects the faces and ears of people outside in severe weather conditions.
A major threat to the wolverine is the loss of habitat due to human invasion and activities. Road systems, snow machine activity, and other intrusions into the wolverine’s territory force into other areas.