wolverine facts

14 Wolverine Facts about the Skunk Bear

Wolverines, belonging to the same family of minks and weasels, inhabit the northern boreal forests, subarctic tundra, and western mountains. These Wolverine facts will reveal that even though these stocky animals resemble small bears, they are the largest weasel family members.

They possess impressive strength, allowing them to kill prey much larger than themselves. Their sense of smell surpasses that of wolves and bears, enabling them to detect hidden food under the snow.

Explore the fascinating world of the Carnivora order, which includes wolverines, bears, and dogs. If you're curious about other species from this group, check out our bear facts and dog facts.

14 Fun Facts About Wolverines

Photo by Wildfaces on Pixabay

1. They belong to the same family of weasels and badgers.

Wolverines belong to the Mustelidae family, including other carnivorous mammals like weasels and badgers. They are the largest land-dwelling species within this family. Wolverines also have a sturdy build, short legs, and a stocky body.

They are well-adapted to cold environments, sporting a thick, shaggy fur coat that helps them withstand extreme temperatures. Their fur varies in color, from dark brown to black, with distinct light patches or stripes along their sides. Some individuals also have prominent white hair patches on their chests. This coloration further provides them with effective camouflage in their natural habitats.

2. Wolverines are small yet strong.

Wolverines may be small, but their strength is truly remarkable. Individual wolverines can measure 26 to 42 inches long and can weigh between 20 to 70 pounds. However, wolverines have a robust and muscular physique that enables them to take down prey larger than them.

They have strong jaws armed with sharp teeth and powerful claws. Wolverines fearlessly take on prey and predators larger than themselves, exhibiting their tenacity and hunting prowess. They can take down caribou, which weigh 600 pounds (almost 12 times their weight). Furthermore, they can fight with wolves and bears to protect their territory.

3. They have many names.

skunk bear laying on grass
Photo by JStolp on Pixabay

Next on our list of wolverine facts, we take a look at their name: The name wolverine (Gulo gulo) comes from the Germanic word "wulf" due to its resemblance to wolves. They also have various alternative names that reflect their distinct characteristics and regional associations.

In French-speaking regions, they are often called "Carcajou," derived from the Algonquian term meaning "the glutton." The term emphasizes their reputation as voracious eaters capable of consuming large quantities of food. In some Indigenous cultures like the Cree and Ojibwe, they are known as "Quickhatch," symbolizing their ability to break open frozen carcasses swiftly.

The Wolverine is occasionally called "Skunk Bear" due to its resemblance to a small bear with their bushy tails and the emission of a skunk-like odor.

4. Wolverine populations reside in cold places.

Wolverines stand out from the weasel family due to their ability to thrive in snowy regions of the Northern Hemisphere4. They can survive in cold environments and snow-covered peaks, thanks to their thick fur and fat for insulation.

Due to their specific habitat requirements, wolverines mainly live in remote boreal forests, taiga, and tundra in North America, Northern Europe, and Asia, including Alaska, Northern Canada, Russia, and parts of the United States.

With their large paws, adult wolverines can easily navigate through deep snow, allowing them to explore vast territories.

5. Wolverines live alone.

wolverine hugging a tree
Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash

Another fact about wolverines is that they prefer to roam and hunt alone. They establish and fiercely defend their territories, covering vast areas ranging from 100 to 500 square kilometers. Wolverines are highly territorial animals that mark their territories using scent markings, vocalizations, and physical displays.

Their ecological requirements and resource availability likely influence the solitary nature of wolverines. Their large territories provide them with access to abundant food sources and ensure they can maintain their independence. By following a solitary lifestyle, wolverines reduce competition for resources and increase their chances of survival in harsh and demanding environments.

6. Wolverines have a mixed diet.

Wolverines consume small and medium-sized animals like voles, ground squirrels, snowshoe hares, and birds. Furthermore, it's uncommon for wolverines to occasionally kill larger animals like moose, Dall sheep, or caribou3.

Wolverines are opportunistic eaters and enjoy berries and vegetation. As scavengers, wolverines readily feed on carrion, including the remains of large mammals like caribou and moose. They have a keen sense of smell, allowing them to detect frozen carcasses from long distances. Wolverines are also adept at locating and exploiting the caches of food that other predators, such as wolves or lynx, have hidden or abandoned.

7. Female wolverines follow a unique reproductive cycle.

Wolverines observe a delayed implantation reproductive strategy, which means that after mating, the fertilized eggs do not immediately implant in the female's uterus. Instead, they undergo suspended development before implanting and continuing their growth.

This delay allows the sow to give birth during late winter or early spring when conditions are more favorable and prey is abundant2

8. Wolverine mothers give birth to two to three kits.

skunk bear on rock
Photo by Wildfaces on Pixabay

Females raise the wolverine kits without any help from male wolverines. In the harsh wilderness, a resilient female wolverine carves a den in the snow, creating a haven. It becomes a cozy nursery where she gives birth to two or three kits during late winter or early spring.

These vulnerable young wolverines, covered in white fur and unable to see, depend on their mother for care and guidance. The den is a vital life-support system, providing a secure space for nursing, growth, and sensory development. These kits are weaned after 9-10 weeks and may leave home after a year. Wolverines become sexually mature at two years old.

9. They have strong teeth and are highly territorial.

One fascinating wolverine fact is that the wolverines' remarkable feature differentiates them from other mammals: a specialized upper molar tooth twisted 90 degrees inward. This unique dental adaptation allows them to tear and gnaw at frozen flesh and bones, accessing the nutritious marrow inside.

It also helps them crush bones, making every meal a complete feast. Despite their small size, wolverines maximize their nutrition and minimize waste with this twisted molar. Additionally, male and female wolverines are highly territorial and fiercely defend their range against other wolverines and smaller predators.

10. They have strong scent glands.

skunk bear on forest
Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash

The smell of a wolverine is a potent weapon for survival. With scent glands releasing strong musk, wolverines use their scent for various purposes. They use it to mark their territories, warning others to stay away.

During mating season, the Wolverine's scent becomes even more powerful. It signals availability to potential mates and keeps rivals away. However, the Wolverine's use of scent goes beyond territory and mating. 

Whether it's a fresh kill or carrion they come across, wolverines spray their scent on it to send a clear message that it's not available for other animals to feed on, including larger predators. This unique way of using scent to protect their meals demonstrates the Wolverine's innovative survival strategies.

11. They are ecologically important.

Despite not being the largest or most fearsome predators, wolverines serve a vital role in their ecosystems. They act as nature's clean-up crew, preventing any food from going to waste.

While they may rely on large predators to provide them with food during challenging snowy conditions, they also contribute to maintaining ecological balance by controlling populations of rodents and insects.

12. They can live up to 15 years in the wild.

wolverine on water
Photo by wallner on Pixabay

Wolverines can live up to 10-15 years in challenging environments. They face numerous survival challenges, from predators to disease and food scarcity.

Sadly, many young wolverines do not make it past their first year. Despite these harsh realities, the survivors remain active, constantly searching for food. 

13. They use their fur in a variety of ways.

The Wolverine's fur is perfect for the cold northern rocky mountains. It has a dual-layered system that insulates and protects the animal.

The guard hairs are waterproof, allowing the wolverines to swim and move through snow without getting wet or frozen. Furthermore, the fur's dark color absorbs heat, keeping them warm. Indigenous communities value this fur for its warmth and use it in traditional clothing. However, hunting wolverines sustainably is vital to protect their population.

14. They are categorized as the least concern.

skunk bear crossing over
Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash

The world's total population ranges from 15,000 to 30,000 individuals. Despite their number, IUCN still classifies them as species of "least concern." Habitat loss due to human activities like urban development and deforestation is a significant factor, disrupting their solitary lifestyle.

Climate change poses a stealthy and significant threat to Wolverines. Previously, wolverines occupied a more comprehensive range, including the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, the Southern Rocky Mountains, and New Mexico. However, fur trapping and human development have reduced wolverine habitat to a smaller area in western mountains and boreal forests.

Scientists studying North American wolverines have noticed alarming population declines in regions with a drastic reduction in the snowpack1. Wolverines rely on deep snow for denning and reproduction. Decreased snowpack due to climate change severely affected the wolverine range.

The Wolverine Foundation is a non-profit organization that works to protect Wolverines. They study their behavior, educate the public, and advocate for their conservation. Their goal is to ensure the survival of wolverines through research, education, and advocacy. Furthermore, the Endangered Species Act of the United States also covers wolverines.

What are your favorite wolverine facts? Share it on your social media feeds, and tag us!

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with W.

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1

Balkenhol, N., Schwartz, M. W., Inman, R. D., Copeland, J. P., Squires, J. R., Anderson, N., & Waits, L. P. (2020). Landscape genetics of wolverines (Gulo gulo): scale-dependent effects of bioclimatic, topographic, and anthropogenic variables. Journal of Mammalogy, 101(3), 790–803.

2

Persson, J. (2005b). Female wolverine (Gulo gulo) reproduction: reproductive costs and winter food availability. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 83(11), 1453–1459. 

3

Magoun, A. J., Laird, C. R., Keech, M. A., Valkenburg, P., Parrett, L. S., & Robards, M. D. (2019). Predation on Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) by Wolverines (Gulo gulo) after long pursuits. Canadian Field-Naturalist, 132(4), 382–385.

4

Lukacs, P. M., Mack, D. E., Inman, R. M., Gude, J. A., Ivan, J. S., Lanka, R. P., Lewis, J. C., Long, R. A., Sallabanks, R., Walker, Z., Courville, S., Jackson, S. M., Kahn, R., Schwartz, M. K., Torbit, S., Waller, J. S., & Carroll, K. A. (2020). Wolverine Occupancy, Spatial distribution, and Monitoring design. Journal of Wildlife Management, 84(5), 841–851. 

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

Photo by Kristin O Karlsen on Unsplash
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