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Wolverine

WolverineThe Wolverine or glutton (Gulo gulo) has a circumboreal distribution but like most large carnivores, its range has contracted in recent years. On a global scale, the Wolverine is considered to be vulnerable, but its status on a regional scale varies. In eastern Canada, Wolverines are now considered to be endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), whereas those in western and northern regions of the country are classified as vulnerable. In Alberta, the Wolverine is included on the provincial Blue List of species that may be at risk.

Historically, the Wolverine could be found in all of Canada's ecozones, and therefore was found in a wide variety of habitats. Although the range of this species has contracted in recent years, it is still found in a diversity of ecozones, including the Boreal Forest, and Subalpine regions. Furthermore, home ranges of Wolverines, which are typically hundreds of square kilometres in size, usually encompass a variety of habitat types. It is therefore not surprising that specific habitat preferences for Wolverines have rarely been described. Wolverines will be found where ever there is an available food supply  rather than where the landscape may possess specific attributes. 

The Wolverine is the largest terrestrial member of the Mustelid family. Its pelage, or coat, is dark brown, usually with two tan stripes running along the flanks and joining over the rump. The fur consists of dense under-fur from which long straight guard hairs protrude.  The length and structure of these guard hairs make them exceptional at keeping their fur frost-free. This characteristic, as well as the beauty and rarity of Wolverine fur, makes it very valuable to arctic and subarctic peoples for parka trims. 

The Wolverine is both a scavenger and a predator, depending on the time of year. During the summer months, Wolverines are primarily predatory, with the most common prey being marmots, ground squirrels, mice, voles, birds and insects. Eggs and berries also may be included in the summer diet. During the winter, Wolverines are primarily scavengers and rely heavily on large ungulates killed by other predators or that have died of disease or starvation. However, live American Porcupines, mice and voles may supplement their winter diet, and Wolverines have been known to kill Caribou and Moose if snow conditions are favorable or if the prey is weakened. The importance of a large population of ungulates seems to be critical to the survival of Wolverines during the winter.

Due to their scavenging lifestyle, Wolverines forage over large areas. Home range size then depends upon the availability of food resources and will fluctuate with season, year, habitat type, age and sex. Females have smaller home ranges than males and home ranges are arranged so that one male's range may encompass all or parts of several females' ranges. Home ranges of both males and females are marked using glandular secretions, scats and urine. The function of scent marking may be to maintain spacing in time rather than space, notifying other individuals that an area is already being hunted. 

Wolverines are solitary animals except during the breeding season and while the female still has kits. Females usually dig a den under the snow down to ground level for the kits, or they may use blown down trees or rock crevices that have been covered in snow. Wolverines may be sensitive to human disturbances at this time, as females have been known to move their young to less secure dens to avoid human contact.

Reprinted from Alberta Wildlife Status Report No. 2 (1997), with permission from Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.

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