Great Plains wolf

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Great Plains wolf
Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate III) C. l. nubilus mod.jpg
Illustration based on a description by Edward Alphonso Goldman
Extinct  in the wild
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
C. l. nubilus
Trinomial name
Canis lupus nubilus
Say, 1823 [1]
North American gray wolf subspecies distribution according to Goldman (1944) & MSW3 (2005).png
Historical and present range of gray wolf subspecies in North America
Synonyms [2]

* variabilis (Wied-Neuwied, 1841) [3]

The Great Plains wolf (Canis lupus nubilus), also known as the buffalo wolf or loafer, is a severely endangered subspecies of gray wolf with a distribution that once extended throughout the Great Plains from southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan southward to northern Texas. Only 33 remain in captivity in Montana thanks to the efforts of Dr. E.H. McCleery of Kane, PA who purchased 20 from the U.S. Government. They are described as a large, light-colored wolf but with black and white varying between individual wolves, with some all white or all black. The Native Americans of North Dakota told of how only three of these wolves could bring down any sized bison.



This wolf was first recorded in 1823 by the naturalist Thomas Say in his writings on Major Stephen Long's expedition to the Great Plains. Say was the first person to document the difference between a "prairie wolf" (coyote) and on the next page of his journal a wolf which he named Canis nubilus. He described one of these wolves that had been caught in a trap:

Canis nubilus. Dusky, the hair cinereous at base, then brownish-black then gray, then black; the proportion of black upon the hairs, is so considerable, as to give to the whole animal a much darker colour, than the darkest of the latrans, but the gray of the hairs combining with the black tips, in the general effect produce a mottled appearance; the gray colour predominates on the lower part of the sides; ears short, deep brownish-black, with a patch of gray hair on the anterior side within; muzzle blackish above; superior lifjs, anterior to the canine teeth, gray; inferior jaw at tip and extending in a narrowed line backwards, nearly to the origin of the neck, gray; beneath dusky ferruginous, greyish with long hair between the hind thighs, and with a large white spot on the breast; the ferruginous colour is very much narrowed on the neck, but is dilated on the lower part of the cheeks; legs brownish- black, with but a slight admixture of gray hairs, excepting on the anterior edge of the hind thighs, and the lower edgings of the toes, where the gray predominates; the tail is short, fusiform, a little tinged with ferruginous, black above near the base and at tip, the tip of the trunk hardly attaining to the os calcis; the longer hairs of the back, particularly over the shoulders, resemble a short sparse mane.....The aspect of this animal is far more fierce and formidable than either the common red wolf, or the prairie wolf, and is of a more robust form. [1]

In 1995, the American mammalogist Robert M. Nowak analyzed data on the skull morphology of wolf specimens from around the world. For North America, he proposed that there were only five subspecies of gray wolf. One of these he described as a moderate-sized wolf that was originally found from Texas to Hudson Bay and from Oregon to New Foundland which he named C. l. nubilus. [4] [5] This proposal was not recognized in the taxonomic authority Mammal Species of the World (2005), which classified this wolf as one of the 27 subspecies of Canis lupus in North America. [2]


"Roping gray wolf" - John C. H. Grabill photograph 1887 Grabill - Roping gray wolf.jpg
"Roping gray wolf" - John C. H. Grabill photograph 1887

Gray wolves (Canis lupus) migrated from Eurasia into North America 70,000–23,000 years ago [6] [7] and gave rise to at least two morphologically and genetically distinct groups. One group is represented by the extinct Beringian wolf [6] [8] and the other by the modern populations. [6]

A haplotype is a group of genes found in an organism that are inherited together from one of their parents. [9] [10] Mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) passes along the maternal line and can date back thousands of years. [11] A 2005 study compared the mitochondrial DNA sequences of modern wolves from across North America with those from thirty-four specimens dated between 1856 and 1915 collected from the western United States, Mexico and the Labrador Peninsula. The historic population was found to possess twice the genetic diversity of modern wolves, [12] [13] which suggests that the mDNA diversity of the wolves eradicated from the western US was more than twice that of the modern population. Some haplotypes possessed by the Mexican wolf, the extinct Southern Rocky Mountain wolf and the extinct Great Plains wolf were found to form a unique "southern clade". All North American wolves group together with those from Eurasia, except for the southern clade which form a group exclusive to North America. The wide distribution area of the southern clade indicates that gene flow was extensive across the recognized limits of its subspecies. [13]

A study published in 2018 looked at the limb morphology of modern and fossil North American wolves. The major limb bones of the dire wolf, Beringian wolf, and most modern North American gray wolves can be clearly distinguished from one another. Late Pleistocene wolves on both sides of the Laurentide Ice SheetCordilleran Ice Sheet possessed shorter legs when compared with most modern wolves. The Late Pleistocene wolves from the Natural Trap Cave, Wyoming and Rancho La Brea, southern California were similar in limb morphology to the Beringian wolves of Alaska. Modern wolves in the Midwestern USA and northwestern North America possess longer legs that evolved during the Holocene, possibly driven by the loss of slower prey. However, shorter legs survived well into the Holocene after the extinction of much of the Pleistocene megafauna, including the Beringian wolf. Holocene wolves from Middle Butte Cave (dated less than 7,600 YBP) and Moonshiner Cave (dated over 3,000 YBP) in Bingham County, Idaho were similar to the Beringian wolves. The Mexican wolf (C. l. baileyi) and pre-1900 samples of the Great Plains wolf (Canis lupus nubilus) resembled the Late Pleistocene and Holocene fossil gray wolves due to their shorter legs. [6]


Buffalo Hunt, White Wolves Attacking Buffalo Bull - George Catlin 1844 George Catlin - Buffalo Hunt, White Wolves Attacking Buffalo Bull.jpg
Buffalo Hunt, White Wolves Attacking Buffalo Bull - George Catlin 1844

The Great Plains wolf's distribution once extended throughout the Great Plains from southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan southward to northern Texas. [14] They are described as a large, light-colored wolf but with black and white varying between individual wolves, with some all white or all black. The body length is 1.7 m (5.6 ft) with a weight of the male averaging 100 lb (45 kg) and the heaviest recorded at 150 lb (68 kg). The Indians of North Dakota told of how only three of these wolves could bring down a buffalo, including a large old bull. [15]

Early records indicate C. l. nubilus being very abundant throughout the Great Plains. After the disappearance of the buffalo (Bison bison) they were poisoned and trapped for their pelts until few remained. The pioneer Alexander Henry wrote about these wolves several times during his trips to North Dakota, noting how they fed extensively on buffalo carcasses. They were bold around humans, sometimes approaching people and entering their tents while they slept. He recorded that Indians occasionally dug up wolf pups from their prairie dens and dug large pitfalls to capture wolves and foxes. Members of his group dug up wolf pups and found them very tame and easy to train. In 1833 Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied recorded that these wolves were common in the upper Missouri, where the Indians operated wolf pits and traded wolves to him in exchange for two rolls of tobacco each. He found the Indian's dogs to be more of a personal danger than the wolves. [15]

In 1856, Lt. G. K. Warren gathered together a collection of this wolf's skulls which now reside in the National Museum of Natural History. [15] He noted that some wolf skull specimens appeared not to be full-blooded wolves as their molars indicated a hybrid. There have been many stories in this region about ferocious hybrid wolf-dogs, and it is possible that the wolf's tameness and lack of fear of humans might be due admixture with domestic dogs. In North Dakota, by 1875 sightings of the wolf became rare, by 1887 they were almost gone. [15] On the Canadian Prairies, bounty payments for wolves commenced in 1878 in Manitoba, and 1899 in Saskatchewan and Alberta. [16] In North Dakota, two were sighted in 1915 by Remington Kellogg. The last known wolf in the wild was shot in 1922. [15] The Great Plains was declared extinct in the wild in 1926. [17] [18] [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

Subspecies of <i>Canis lupus</i>

There are 38 subspecies of Canis lupus listed in the taxonomic authority Mammal Species of the World. These subspecies were named over the past 250 years, and since their naming, a number of them have gone extinct. The nominate subspecies is the Eurasian wolf Canis lupus lupus.

Red wolf

The red wolf is a canine native to the southeastern United States which has a reddish-tawny color to its fur. Morphologically it is intermediate between the coyote and gray wolf, and is very closely related to the eastern wolf of eastern Canada.

Dire wolf Extinct species of the genus Canis from North America

The dire wolf is an extinct species of the genus Canis. It is one of the most famous prehistoric carnivores in North America, along with its extinct competitor, the sabre-toothed cat Smilodon fatalis. The dire wolf lived in the Americas and China during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene epochs. The species was named in 1858, four years after the first specimen had been found. Two subspecies are recognized: Canis dirus guildayi and Canis dirus dirus. The dire wolf probably evolved from Armbruster's wolf in North America. The largest collection of its fossils has been obtained from the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.


Canis is a genus of the Caninae containing multiple extant species, such as wolves, dogs, coyotes and jackals. Species of this genus are distinguished by their moderate to large size, their massive, well-developed skulls and dentition, long legs, and comparatively short ears and tails.

Eastern wolf

The eastern wolf, also known as the timber wolf, Algonquin wolf or eastern timber wolf, is a type of wolf native to the Great Lakes region and southeastern Canada, considered to be either a unique subspecies of gray wolf or a separate species from the gray wolf. Many studies have found the eastern wolf to be the product of ancient and recent genetic admixture between the gray wolf and the coyote, while other studies have found some or all populations of the eastern wolf, as well as coyotes, originally separated from a common ancestor with the wolf over 1 million years ago and that these populations of the eastern wolf may be the same species as or a closely related species to the red wolf of the Southeastern United States. Regardless of its status, it is regarded as unique and therefore worthy of conservation with Canada citing the population in eastern Canada as being the eastern wolf population subject to protection.

Hokkaido wolf

The Hokkaido wolf, also known as the Ezo wolf and in Russia as the Sakhalin wolf, is an extinct subspecies of gray wolf that once inhabited coastal north-east Asia. Its nearest relatives were the wolves of North America rather than Asia. It was exterminated in Hokkaidō during the Meiji Restoration period, when American-style agricultural reforms incorporated the use of strychnine-laced baits to kill livestock predators. Some taxonomists believe that it survived up until 1945 on Sakhalin island. It was one of two subspecies that were once found in the Japanese archipelago, the other being the Japanese wolf.

Mexican wolf

The Mexican wolf, also known as the lobo, is a subspecies of gray wolf once native to southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas and northern Mexico. It is the smallest of North America's gray wolves, and is similar to C. l. nubilus, though it is distinguished by its smaller, narrower skull and its darker pelt, which is yellowish-gray and heavily clouded with black over the back and tail. Its ancestors were likely the first gray wolves to enter North America after the extinction of the Beringian wolf, as indicated by its southern range and basal physical and genetic characteristics.

Italian wolf

The Italian wolf, also known as the Apennine wolf, is a subspecies of grey wolf native to the Italian Peninsula. It inhabits the Apennine Mountains and the Western Alps, though it is undergoing expansion towards the north and east. As of 2019, the Italian wolf population is estimated to consist of 600–700 individuals. It has been strictly protected in Italy since the 1970s, when the population reached a low of 70–100 individuals. The population is increasing in number, though illegal hunting and persecution still constitute a threat. Since the 1990s, the Italian wolf's range has expanded into southwestern France and Switzerland. Although not universally recognised as a distinct subspecies, it nonetheless possesses a unique mtDNA haplotype and a distinct skull morphology.

Northwestern wolf Subspecies of mammal

The northwestern wolf, also known as the Mackenzie Valley wolf, Rocky Mountain wolf, Alaskan timber wolf, or Canadian timber wolf, is a subspecies of gray wolf in western North America. It ranges from Alaska, the upper Mackenzie River Valley; southward throughout the western Canadian provinces, aside from prairie landscapes in its southern portions, as well as the Northwestern United States.

Mogollon mountain wolf

The Mogollon mountain wolf is an extinct subspecies of gray wolf whose range once included southern and western Texas and northeastern Mexico. It is darker than its more northern cousins, and has a highly arched frontal bone.

Alaskan tundra wolf

The Alaskan tundra wolf, also known as the barren-ground wolf, is a North American subspecies of gray wolf native to the barren grounds of the Arctic coastal tundra region. It was named in 1912 by Gerrit Smith Miller, who noted that it closely approaches the Great Plains wolf in skull and tooth morphology, though possessing a narrower rostrum and palate. It is a large, white-colored wolf closely resembling C. l. pambasileus, though lighter in color. This wolf is recognized as a subspecies of Canis lupus in the taxonomic authority Mammal Species of the World (2005).

Southern Rocky Mountain wolf Extinct subspecies of the gray wolf

The southern Rocky Mountain wolf is an extinct subspecies of gray wolf which was once distributed over southeastern Idaho, southwestern Wyoming, northeastern Nevada, Utah, western and central Colorado, northwestern Arizona, and northwestern New Mexico. It was a light-colored, medium-sized subspecies closely resembling the Great Plains wolf, though larger, with more blackish-buff hairs on the back. This wolf was extirpated by 1940. Wolves of the subspecies Canis lupus occidentalis have now been reestablished in Idaho and Wyoming.

Beringian wolf extinct type of wolf that lived during the Ice Age in Alaska, Yukon, and northern Wyoming

The Beringian wolf is an extinct kind of wolf that lived during the Ice Age. It inhabited what is now modern-day Alaska, Yukon, and northern Wyoming. Some of these wolves survived well into the Holocene. The Beringian wolf is an ecomorph of the gray wolf and has been comprehensively studied using a range of scientific techniques, yielding new information on the prey species and feeding behavior of prehistoric wolves. It has been determined that these wolves are morphologically distinct from modern North American wolves and genetically basal to most modern and extinct wolves. The Beringian wolf has not been assigned a subspecies classification and its relationship with the extinct European cave wolf is not clear.

Pleistocene coyote

The Pleistocene coyote, also known as the Ice Age coyote, is an extinct subspecies of coyote that lived in western North America during the Late Pleistocene era. Most remains of the subspecies were found in southern California, though at least one was discovered in Idaho. It was part of a carnivore guild that included other canids like foxes, gray wolves, and dire wolves.

Megafaunal wolf

The megafaunal wolf was a Late Pleistocene – early Holocene hypercarnivore similar in size to a large extant gray wolf. It had a shorter, broader palate with large carnassial teeth relative to its overall skull size. This adaptation allowed it to prey and scavenge on Pleistocene megafauna. Such an adaptation is an example of phenotypic plasticity. It was once distributed across the northern Holarctic.

Cave wolf Subspecies of mammal

The cave wolf is an extinct subspecies of wolf that lived during the Late Pleistocene Ice Age. It inhabited what is now modern-day western Europe. The Don wolf from eastern Europe is regarded as a taxonomic synonym, which indicates that one subspecies once lived across Europe.

Evolution of the wolf

The evolution of the wolf occurred over a geologic time scale of at least 300 thousand years. The grey wolf Canis lupus is a highly adaptable species that is able to exist in a range of environments and which possesses a wide distribution across the Holarctic. Studies of modern grey wolves have identified distinct sub-populations that live in close proximity to each other. This variation in sub-populations is closely linked to differences in habitat – precipitation, temperature, vegetation, and prey specialization – which affect cranio-dental plasticity.

<i>Canis mosbachensis</i>

Canis mosbachensis, sometimes known as the Mosbach wolf, is an extinct small wolf that once inhabited Eurasia from the Middle Pleistocene era to the Late Pleistocene. It is widely accepted as the ancestor of Canis lupus, the gray wolf.


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