University of Illinois Extension

Wildlife Directory

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Canidae
Gray wolves (Canis lupus) are also known as Timber wolves.

Description and Identification

Wolves are the largest wild canid in North America.

Wolves are the largest wild canid in North America. Most have coats of grizzled gray or brown with lighter fur on the undersides. However, wolves may also have solid coats of black or white. They have bushy tails, narrow chests, long legs, and large feet.

  • Average Length: 4.5 to 6 feet (including 15 to 20 inch tail)
  • Average Height: 27 to 33 inches at the shoulder
  • Average Weight: 60 to 130 pounds (adult male); 45 to 80 pounds (adult female)

Tracks

Wolf tracks are approximately 4.5 to 5 inches in length and 3 to 3.5 inches wide. Unlike dog tracks, wolf tracks often appear with the hind track on top of the front track (direct registration).

Animals Often Mistaken for Gray Wolves

Coyotes (<span class="sci-name">Canis latrans</span>), such as the one pictured here, have thicker fur in winter, but are still smaller than the average wolf (<span class="sci-name">Canis lupus</span>).

Inexperienced observers can easily confuse coyotes, especially those with thick winter coats, with wolves. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has put together a valuable educational resource on canid identification. The site provides a chart describing the common identification characteristics of wolves, coyotes, and dogs, along with photos of the animals and their tracks.

Status in Illinois

Gray wolves are currently listed as a State Threatened Species throughout the entire State of Illinois. In addition, they are classified as Federally Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service south of Interstate 80.

Gray wolves were extirpated from Illinois before 1860. The IDNR is unaware of any self-sustaining populations or packs residing in Illinois, but they have documented that wolves are moving through and/or temporarily residing in the state. To date, there have been ten confirmed gray wolves in Illinois since 2000. Genetic information available from some of the wolves indicates that they came from the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment-most likely from Wisconsin.

  • A female wolf was killed by a vehicle in La Salle County in December 2013.
  • A female wolf that had been radio-collared in Wisconsin was tracked into Stephenson County in December 2012. The radio-signal was not detected the following week. In March 2013, the wolf was found dead near Apple Canyon Lake in Jo Daviess County.
  • A female wolf was trapped and released in Whiteside County in December 2012.
  • A male wolf and a female wolf were killed in Jo Daviess County in 2011 about 4 miles apart.
  • A male wolf was killed by a coyote hunter in Kane County in 2009.
  • A male wolf was killed by a coyote hunter in Jo Daviess County in 2008.
  • A male wolf was killed by a vehicle immediately north of Chain O'Lakes State Park in Lake County in 2005.
  • A male wolf was shot in Pike County in 2005.
  • A male wolf was shot during a coyote hunt in Marshall County in 2002.

Six of the ten wolves were young males. Young wolves (3 years old or less) leave their native packs and may travel long distances to either try to establish a pack of their own or to join another pack. This is typical wolf behavior. It is likely that a small number of other wolves have passed through Illinois over the last decade on their way to surrounding states. Photos and/or tracks of these animals may exist, but without genetic information it is impossible to confirm whether these animals were truly wild (i.e., from Wisconsin) or perhaps wolf-dog hybrids kept as pets that either escaped or were released intentionally by their owners.

The IDNR is interested in any information the public can provide about possible wolf sightings in Illinois. Please include specific location information. If available, please also send photos or track castings. Possible wolf sightings may be reported on-line at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/sightings_report.cfm or the information may be sent to:

Doug Dufford
Wildlife Disease and Invasive Wildlife Program Manager
Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Division of Wildlife Resources
8542 North Lake Road
Lena, IL 61048
Office Phone (815) 369-2414
Office Fax (815) 369-2128
E-mail: doug.dufford@illinois.gov