Voyageurs National Park trail cams caught three members of the Nashata Pack having a blast during a recent snowstorm, the wolves running and playing in the gently falling snow.
If you’ve ever seen a ferocious lion lazily licking itself clean in the sun or a wild fox happily playing a solo game of catch with a dog toy, you know the similarities between members of the same taxonomic family are unmistakable. Size, diet, and ferociousness might vary, but at the end of the day, a canine is a canine and a feline is a feline.
Trail cam footage from Voyageurs National Park showed just how similar dogs and wolves can be. As freshly fallen snow coated the ground, a few members of the Nashata Pack took advantage of the powdery fun, rolling, digging, and playing tag in the wintery weather.
“Aside from the footage being pretty cool, it is also quite informative for understanding the size and composition of the Nashata Pack,” Voyageurs Wolf Project officials wrote in the Facebook post.
“The Nashata Pack appeared to be down to 3 wolves by late summer this year,” they continued. “And we did not get footage of any pups. The female, however, clearly was pregnant in April and then was nursing in late April/May. So the pack certainly had pups but it appears none made it. Unfortunately, we don’t know why or even how many pups they had.”
“The video also lets us determine pack composition: the first wolf in the video is the breeding female (she is very distinctive!), the second wolf is a subordinate female (you can see her parts so to speak!), likely a pup born in 2021, and the last wolf is the breeding male who is a bigger light gray wolf.”
Why Do So Many Voyageurs Wolves Die as Pups?
Sadly, pups dying shortly after birth isn’t uncommon among Voyageurs wolves, or wolves in general, for that matter. The average litter size of wolves is 5-6 pups. The survival rate, however, is a mere 2-3, sometimes even less. Pup survival in Voyageurs National Park, for example, hovers around just 10-20 percent.
This rather abysmal survival rate is largely due to starvation among pups. Because wolves have the most hunting success in winter, mama wolves are their healthiest in the colder months, leading to large litter sizes.
As wolf pups grow, they require an enormous amount of food, but by this time, food is far scarcer for wolves. Their prey is in peak condition, no longer suffering through the brutal cold of winter, making it more difficult to hunt. As a result, many pups die during this time of year because the adults of the pack simply can’t get enough food to feed them all.
Sufficient pack numbers are essential for wolves, however, making larger litters more advantageous than smaller ones in the long run, even if that means losing more than half of the babies along the way.