Weasels, Skunks & Allies (Mustelidae)
Measurement: Size: 100 cm long/40 cm at the shoulders Weight: 15 kg
Description: Ask someone about the wolverine, and you will usually hear comments detailing its fierce character and ferocious nature. Our largest weasel, the wolverine while rarely spotted, is quite easy to identify. At first glance, they are approximately 1 m (3.3 ft) long, and resemble a small bear with a long tail. Light blonde patches along the sides earned it the nickname 'skunk bear'. They generally have a white spot on the breast and light cheeks and ear tips.
When they move, they are quickly identifiable as a weasel. The first time I saw a wolverine, I was not sure of my ID until it stood up on its hind legs to look back at me. The fluid movement of the weasel spine is far more flexible than any other animal.
Wolverines are a northern animal. They are extremely shy and rarely seen. While they are found throughout much of northern Canada, they are rare in the United States. They are, however found throughout the Canadian Rockies and portions of the American Rockies. That being said, many people spend a lifetime in the mountains without ever seeing a wolverine. If, like me, you ever get a chance to view one of these amazing animals, count yourself as one of very few lucky enough to do so.
Secretive and shy, their home ranges vary between 80-650 sq. km (30-250 sq. mi), with large home ranges exceeding 2000 sq km (770 sq. mi). Wolverines are constantly moving, exploring the farthest reaches of their territory, often covering more than 32 km/day (20 mi), even through deep snow.
Wolverines require undisturbed wilderness, preferably free of roads, rather than a specific stage of forest.
Despite its reputation as a fierce hunter, the wolverine would rather scavenge a fresh carcass than do the actual hunting. Their skull and bones are very heavy, and when combined with strong jaws and teeth, they are able to crush the hardest bones and cut through frozen meat. This allows them to get at the nutritious marrow hidden inside the bones of even the cleanest carcass. A strong population of ungulates and predators ensures a steady stream of carcasses on which to scavenge. On the downside, wolverines may fall victim to the same wolves and cougars which provide them with carcases. They may also end up eating poisoned baits, or the carcases of animals killed by them.
In winter, their large feet make them mobile, and capable of downing animals much larger than themselves. They will even take the occasional caribou or deer that may have become exhausted from the heavy snows. Their strength allows them to carry of a large beaver carcass or drag off an entire deer. They will also ambush small mammals and birds, occasionally digging up ground squirrel burrows. Even insects form a welcome part of their diet.
Extra food is cached for later. While wolverines are adept at caching their own food, they are equally successful at raiding the caches of trappers and outfitters. They follow regular pathways through their territory, routinely returning to favourite berry patches, calving grounds or traplines.
Wolverines mate in the spring and summer, but the fertilized egg does not implant and develop until autumn. The female will give birth to between 2 and 5 (usually 2 or 3) young in the spring, and while the young are dependant for around 8 months, they may stay with their mother for up to 14 months. They usually only mate every two or three years.
Female wolverines dig their den into talus slopes at high elevations. and while these locations are usually very remote, they are becoming popular locations for helicopter skiers, hikers and climbers. If there is more than a minimal amount of disturbance, females may abandon their den site. Winter recreation is of particular concern.
Notes: Wolverines are wary and tireless. They cover immense distances during their regular foray and show amazing endurance. They are the bane of trappers as they are adept at both stealing caches of food and stealing bait from traps. Their fierce character leaves them with few predators other than man. On rare occasions, wolves, cougars or bears may take on a wolverine, particularly young newly independent wolverines.
a guide to help you spot some
All Material © Ward Cameron 2005