Spring 2019

The secret life of wolves

Tom Gable became fascinated with wolves as a college freshman, when he saw one on the ice near his family’s cabin on the North Shore of Lake Huron. “There’s something about them that captured my imagination,” he recalls. 

Now a Ph.D. student in the U’s conservation sciences graduate program, Gable has been studying gray wolves in Voyageurs National Park since 2015. “Our work has reframed the way we think about wolves as predators,” says the recipient of the Wally Dayton Fellowship in Wildlife Research.

Tom’s timeline

From April 1 to October 31, 2018, Gable:

• Followed eight GPS-collared wolves from seven packs

• Recorded 68,000 GPS locations

• Walked 900 miles to locations where wolves remained for at least 20 minutes, indicating a possible kill

He discovered:

Wolves wander but don’t leave their turf. They establish 40- to 70-square-mile territories and use natural barriers (water) and scent from urine to create boundaries.

Wolves live in packs of five. They travel in packs in winter but tend to be solitary in spring after pups are born. 

Wolves have two distinctive hunting styles. They chase down deer and moose in winter and patiently wait to ambush beavers and fish in summer. “They can go back and forth between these hunting styles,” Gable says. “Other large predators don’t generally exhibit that kind of flexibility in their hunting strategies.” 

Wolves aren’t exclusively carnivorous. They eat:

• Fish (Gable’s team was the first to document wolves catching freshwater fish)

• Blueberries (Gable found blueberries compose as much as 80 percent of their weekly diet in summer)

• Deer

• Moose 

• Beaver

Donors make the difference

Gable also received the Bell Museum Natural History Award and the Thomas H. Shevlin Fellowship. He says these awards, along with support from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and donors such as the Van Sloun Foundation, made this project possible. “Studying wolves is much more time-intensive than we thought,” he says. “Without this funding, we would have been stretched to get this done.”

Pack territories plotted out using GPS locations
A wolf captured on camera fishing