Lupine Evolution, Species, and Subspecies

Taxonomic Classification of Wolves

Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum: Chordata (Animals with notochords; A flexible structure that forms the main support)
  Subphylum: Vertebrata (Animals with backbones)
Class: Mammalia (Chordates that produce milk via mammary glands)
  Subclass: Eutheria (Placental Mammals: Mammals with a membranous organ that develops in female mammals during pregnancy which lines the uterine wall and partially enveloping the fetus)
Order: Carnivora (Meat eaters)
  Suborder: Caniforma (Canine-like carnivores)
Family: Canidae (See below)
Genus: Canis (Coyotes, dingos, domestic dogs, jackals, and Wolves)
Species: lupus (Gray Wolves), rufus (Red Wolves)

Lupine Evolution

Modern day Wolves have remained relatively unchanged over the last one to two million years.

About 120 million years ago, the ancestors of Wolves and the ancestors of ungulates (hoofed mammals) diverged on the evolutionary tree. Both evolved from forest dwelling ancestors that moved out into the open plains, becoming swifter and more intelligent thereby. Evolving together, the ancestors of Wolves, known as creodonts, adapted to capturing and feeding upon the ancestors of ungulates. To counter this, early hoofed animals adapted to predation by developing better senses to detect and escape predators.

Experts believe that creodonts developed in North America and gradually dispersed. Between fifty and sixty million years ago, certain mammals developed flesh tearing teeth called carnassials. Over the next ten million years, a dog-like creature called Miacis evolved. Miacis is a member of the Miacidae family, from which several meat eating species evolved, including dogs, cats, bears, weasels, raccoons, civets, and hyenas.

Thirty to forty million years ago, Miacis diverged into the dog and bear families. Following the dog line, Crynodictis evolved, having the same number of teeth as the modern day Wolf. The animal was much smaller than the Wolf, and somewhat weasel-like with moderate length legs. Over the next fifteen million years the raccoon family branched from this group. Crynodictis begot Cryodesmus, which begot Tomarctus, which begot Canidae, the modern day dog family. Through evolution, these animals developed longer and longer legs, more compact paws, and shorter tails. From Tomarctus the Wolf and fox diverged and evolved separately. The Wolves grew in size until they reached their present day size. One Wolf species became very large, known as the Dire Wolf; these Wolves went extinct a few thousand years ago.

The Lupine Species and Subspecies

In 1992 certain experts decided to reclassify Wolf subspecies into seven species. This new system of classification has yet to catch on. These 'new' species were decided as follows:

  • Canis arctos: The Arctic islands and Greenland species: arctos, bernardi and orion.
  • Canis baileyi: The Mexico and the extreme southwestern United States species: baileyi, mogollonensis,and monstrabilis.
  • Canis dingo: the Austrailian wild dog.
  • Canis familiaris: the domestic canine.
  • Canis lycaon: The southeastern Canadian and northeastern United States species: lycaon (except for those in Minnesota).
  • Canis nubilus: The SE Alaskan, central and northeastern Canadian and western United States species: beothucus, crassodon, fuscus, hudsonicus, irremotus, labradorius, ligoni, lycaon (those in Minnesota), manningi, nubilus and youngi.
  • Canis occidentalis: The Alaskan and western Canadian species: alces, columbianus, griseoalbus, mackenzii, occidentalis, pambasileus and tundrarum.

There seems to be some confusion that has led to some people referring to Canis lupus and Canus lupus interchangeably. This is my thoughts about why this might be. Canis means dog in Latin, canus means gray, and lupus means Wolf. Some confusion in these Latin words has likely led Canis lupus and Canus lupus as both referring to the Gray Wolf species

There are 35 subspecies of canis lupus described here (44 named), 13 of which are probably gone forever. Of these 34, one is the domestic dog and another is the dingo of Australia. I have no information regarding Wolves who may live, or may now be dead, in South America, Africa, or The United Kingdom. I would appreciate information about such Wolves, living or dead, and would update this page accordingly. What follows is some information about each subspecies I know of. NOTE: Those having red text are considered extinct.

Subspecies Map of North America

Click subspecies for more information. Bold enteries are considered extinct.
North America
Canis lupus...
  1. alces
  2. arctos
  3. baileyi
  4. beothucus
  5. bernardi
  6. columbianus
  7. crassodon
  8. fuscus
  9. hudsonicus
10. griseoalbus
11. irremotus
12. labradorius
13. ligoni
14. lycaon
15. mackenzii
16. manningi
17. mogollonensis
18. monstrablis
19. nubilus
20. occidentalis
21. orion
22. pambasileus
23. tundrarum
24. youngi
Canis lupus...
25. albus
26. arabs
27. campestris
28. hattai
29. hodophilax
30. laniger
31. lupus and signatus
32. pallipes

Other Subspecies
dingo (Australia)

Subspecies Map of Eurasia

Wolves of North America

Canis lupus alces: The Kenai Peninsula Wolf

Habitat: The Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.

Characteristics: Among the largest of North American Wolves and named after the moose (Alces alces) on which it fed. This Wolf was driven to extinction by 1925.

Canis lupus arctos: The Arctic Wolf

Habitat: The arctic region of North America.

Characteristics: The arctic Wolf is the largest subspecies of Wolf. They are born beige and usually turn pure white as they mature with some having light gray timber-Wolf markings. This Wolf matures the latest at around 3 years of age. Their breeding season starts in late spring, when the weather warms up. The number of young born is typically less than the gray Wolf, usually averaging from two to four pups.

Canis lupus baileyi: The Mexican Wolf

Habitat: These Wolves at one time lived in eastern and central Arizona, the Mogollon Plateau, southern New Mexico, western and central Texas and the Sierra Madre. Habitat types were primarily evergreen forests and woodlands, including pine, oak woodlands, pinyon-juniper forests, riparian areas, and grasslands above 4500 feet.

Characteristics: Mexican gray Wolves begin mating between late winter and early spring. Dens are located in enlarged badger holes or high up on hillsides. After a 60-63 day gestation period, a litter of as many as six pups are whelped. All members of the pack help to care for and feed the pups.

Currently fewer than 200 Mexican Wolves are known to exist, all of them born in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries in the United States and Mexico. Reintroduced Mexican Wolves are designated as a nonessential experimental population under the Endangered Species Act, which allows these Wolves to be killed more easily to serve ranching interests than would be possible if Wolves were classified as fully endangered.

Canis lupus beothucus: The Newfoundland Wolf

Habitat: Once lived on the island of Newfoundland.

Characteristics: Supposed to have been almost pure white. This Wolf has been hunted to extinction.

Canis lupus bernardi: Bernard's Wolf

Habitat: Once lived on the Banks of Victoria Islands in the arctic.

Characteristics: This Wolf had white fur with black-tipped guard-fur along the spine. This Wolf was hunted to extinction between 1918 and 1952.

Canis lupus columbianus: British Columbia Wolf

Habitat: Once found in the Yukon, British Columbia and Alberta Canada.

Characteristics: A large Wolf and hunted to extinction.

Canis lupus crassodon: Vancouver Island Wolf

Habitat: Found on Vancouver Island.

Characteristics: A medium sized Wolf with grey-black fur.

Canis lupus fuscus: Cascade Mountain Wolf

Habitat: The Cascade Mountains.

Characteristics: A brown-colored Wolf hunted to extinction by 1940.

Canis lupus hudsonicus: Hudson Bay Wolf

Habitat: Alaska, central and northeastern Canada, and the western United States. Migrates south with the caribou.

Characteristics: With light-colored coat, this medium sized Wolf is nearly white. This Wolf is sometimes called a 'tundra Wolf.'

Canis lupus griseoalbus: Manitoba Wolf

Habitat: Central Manitoba and northern Saskatchewan.

Characteristics: This subspecies is believed to be extinct. There is controversy over whether this Wolf actually existed.

Canis lupus irremotus: Northern Rocky Mountains Wolf

Habitat: From the northern Rocky Mountains to Southern Alberta in Canada.

Characteristics: In the United States this subspecies is thought to be extinct. There are, however, a few reports of sightings in the Glacier National Park and Montana.

Canis lupus labradorius: The Labrador Wolf

Habitat: Northern Quebec and Labrador.

Characteristics: Fur color is dark grey to almost white.

Canis lupus ligoni: Alexander Archipelago Wolf

Habitat: Alexander Archipelago Islands in the Arctic.

Characteristics: A small, short furred, dark colored (often black-phase) Wolf.

Canis lupus lycaon: The Eastern Timber Wolf

Note: Lycaon was a king in Greek myth who fed his son to Zeus. As a punishment Zeus transformed him into a Wolf who retained his former mind. This supposedly drove him insane as if he were not insane to begin with.

Habitat: Eastern Canada and the U.S. At one time found as far south as Florida and west as Minnesota.

Characteristics: This is the first subspecies to be recognized in North America in 1775. These Wolves are found in many colors from white through gray and brown to black.

Canis lupus mackenzii: Northwest Territories Wolf

Reclassified as Canis lupus occidentalis in 1992.

Habitat: Along the arctic coast and in the northwest territories east of the Mackenzie River and south to Great Bear Lake.

Characteristics: Fur color is black to almost white.

Canis lupus manningi: Baffin Island Wolf

Habitat: The Baffin Islands.

Characteristics: The smallest the arctic Wolves. This Wolf was not recognized as a subspecies until 1943.

Canis lupus mogollonensis: Southwestern Wolf or Mogollon Mountain Wolf

Habitat: Arizona and New Mexico.

Characteristics: A medium-sized Wolf. The coloration was usually dark, sometimes white. This Wolf was hunted to extinction by 1935.

Canis lupus monstrablis: The Texas Wolf

Habitat: Once found in Texas and New Mexico.

Characteristics: Usually small and dark, occasionally white. This Wolf was purposefully driven to extinction by 1942. Way to go Texas!

Canis lupus nubilus: The Great Plains Wolf

Habitat: Southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada, to Northern Texas.

Characteristics: A medium sized Wolf, typically a light brown color. This Wolf assumed to be extinct by 1926 but possibly existent in Minnesota.

Canis lupus occidentalis: The Mackenzie Valley Wolf

Habitat: The upper Mackenzie River Valley and as far south as Alberta.

Characteristics: One of the largest Wolves of North America. The fur color can vary from almost black to pure white.

Canis lupus orion: The Greenland Wolf

Habitat: Greenland.

Characteristics: Many scientists doubt that this is/was a distinct subspecies of Wolf and feel it's likely Canis lupus arctos. If it is an actual subspecies it's now likely extinct.

Canis lupus pambasileus: The Alaskan Wolf

Habitat: Alaska and western Canada.

Characteristics: Among the largest Wolves in North America.

Canis lupus tundrarum: The Alaskan Tundra Wolf

Habitat: The tundra region of Alaska's arctic coast.

Characteristics: A large Wolf with light colored fur.

Canis lupus youngi: Southern Rocky Mountains Wolf

Habitat: Lived along the southern Rocky Mountains of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming.

Characteristics: A light buff colored Wolf. This Wolf was hunted to extinction by 1935.

Wolves of Eurasia

Canis lupus albus: The White Tundra Wolf

Habitat: The Eurasian tundra and forest-tundra of Finland to the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Characteristics: A Large Wolf with long, light colored fur.

Canis lupus arabs (includes lupaster; Egypt): The Arabian Wolf

Habitat: The desert of Saudi Arabia.

Characteristics: The Arabian Wolf is the smallest subspecies of Wolf, weighing 18 kg (40 pounds) and standing 66 cm (26 inches) at the shoulder. Their fur is short and of a pale beige color. Their ears are large in comparison to their body size. An Arabian Wolf's eyes are bright yellow. Because of the harsh conditions under which they live they are opportunistic feeders. They eat wild rabbits, rodents, small ungulates, road kill, and other carrion. They primarily hunt at night and will dig burrows in the sand to protect themselves from the heat of the sun. Arabian Wolves do not live in large packs like their many other Wolves do being primarily a solitary animal, joining with others of their kind at mating time and occasionally to hunt. They're total population is 600 to 700 individuals.

Canis lupus campestris: The Steppe Wolf

Habitat: The deserts and steppes of central Asia.

Characteristics: A small Wolf with a rough, short, grey colored fur.

Canis lupus hattai (or rex): The Hokkaido (or Kishida) Wolf

Habitat: Hokkaido, Japan.

Characteristics: This Wolf once lived around Hokkaido Japan and is now considered extinct. Note that how the taxidermy of these extinct Wolves denote them as snarling and mean. I suppose this is one way people justified killing them.

Canis lupus hodophilax: Honshu Wolf (or Hondo) Wolf

Habitat: Honshu, Japan.

Characteristics: This was likely the smallest Wolf in the world and lived on the Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu primarily living in remote mountain areas. Although the Wolf was small, typical human fear had granted this Wolf a divine standing. Both feared and revered, they were given many names, like okami; which means the great god, magami; the true god, yama no kami; two gods who rule over mountains and are respected by hunters (as if that helped them), and also the howling god. This Wolf is now extinct.

Canis lupus laniger (includes chanku and cubanensis): The Tibetan Wolf

Habitat: The Cold desert areas of China, Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet, and Southwestern Russia.

Characteristics: This is a medium to large-sized Wolf having a dark, almost black, pelt. This Wolf is nomadic, migrating from place to place.

Canis lupus lupus: The Common Grey Wolf
(includes communis; Russia, deitanus; Spain, italicus; Italy, and minor; Austria and Hungary... see also signatus)

Habitat: Europe and the forests of Russia.

Characteristics: A medium sized Wolf having coarse, dark fur.

Canis lupus pallipes (or desertorum): Iranian (or Indian) Wolf

Habitat: Iran and India and places in between.

Characteristics: This Wolf measures 18-30 inches in height and weighs 55-70 pounds. The fur is short and brown colored and the ears are large. This Wolf is threatened by interbreeding of domestic dogs, habitat loss, and the depredation of human beings.

Canis lupus signatus: The Iberian Wolf (see lupus)

Habitat: Portugal and Spain.

Characteristics: A medium sized Wolf having coarse, dark fur with red/brown highlights. This Wolf is critically endangered.


Canis lupus dingo: Dingoes

Habitat: Australia.

Characteristics: Dingoes are believed to be descended from Canis lupus pallipes, the Indian Wolf, which may have been introduced by Asian traders who regularly visited northern Australia between 3,000 and 11,000 years ago. An adult dingo may reach a length of 120 cm (47 inches) and their bushy tails may be 38 cm (15 inches) long. They weigh 10-24 kg (22-53 pounds) and stand 44-63 cm (17-25 inches) tall. Dingoes are usually ginger-brown, however black and white or tan dingoes are occasionally found as well. White markings on the Dingo's feet, the tip of their tail and on their chest is common. A dingo rarely barks but may emit short yaps or a long, high-pitched howl. In most notable ways feeding, social, reproductive, and pack behavior of the dingo are the same as that of other typical Wolves.

 General Anatomy      Pseudo-Wolves (almost Wolves) 

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