What do Wolves Eat? and How Much Do They Eat?

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Grey wolves, red wolves, maned wolves, and Ethiopian wolves – they are all wolves that belong to the same family. But do they all have a similar diet? What do grey wolves eat? What do the other species of wolves eat? Below, you’ll find a detailed breakdown of each species of wolves’ diet and a quick list of what each wolf species eats. 

What Do They Eat?

Timber wolves are larger carnivores (in comparison to red and maned wolves) which gives them access to hunting larger prey both in terms of size and potential. Since wolves hunt in packs, they can easily take down large animals such as caribou and elk.

However, a wolf’s diet varies regionally since wolves are not fussy eaters and eat anything that is worth hunting down. But before we get to the regional differences that change a wolf’s palate, it would be safe to say that the basic palate of a wolf, irrespective of their region, consists of wild hoofed herbivores, known as ungulates.

Further down in the post, we’ve broken down what ungulates wolves feed on based on their size (large and medium), but if we are to give a short answer, their diet mostly comprises ungulates such as moose and elk.

They also eat rodents such as rabbits and mice – animals that are easily available across all regions. Wolves also feast on small carnivores, insects, birds, and insectivores in general. Wolves are cannibalistic animals that would kill and feast on the injured, sick, or weak members of either their own or other’s pack. 

Wolves, however, are not complete carnivores, and they do feed on fruits and plants occasionally, depending on the season and the region. They may eat grass from time to time – however, this is just a dietary tactic that induces them to vomit and get rid of intestinal parasites or long hairs of the prey that they are unable to digest.  

When there is a huge scarcity of food, leading to famine or similar circumstances, wolves resort to eating carrion and carcasses of animals hunted down by other packs or by larger animals such as grizzly bears or lions. 

Now, what do wolves eat based on the regions they are found in, i.e., North America, Europe, Asia, Eurasia, and Coastal regions?

In North America, a grey wolf’s diet mostly comprises large and medium-sized ungulates such as elk, roe deer, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, and reindeers. They also feed on medium to small-sized mammals such as beavers and rabbits. In plant-based foods, wolves in North America eat blueberries, cowberries, bilberries, and raspberries. They are known to munch on the berries of mountain-ash and lily of the valley, shoots of reeds, grain crops, and European black nightshade.

In coastal regions of Northern Minnesota and Alaska, wolves tend to rely on marine sources as their main food source, such as northern pike from freshwater streams, salmon, etc. Wolves living on islands close to the coasts of British Columbia are largely dependent on marine sources for food which comprise about 75% of the whole diet. Wolves in British Columbia coastal regions have a diet that is dominated by marine animals by 25%. 

Unlike North America, where human density is low and prey abundant, wolves in Eurasia subsist mostly on garbage and livestock around them. Eurasia has a high human density which leaves fewer options of food for wolves, therefore pushing wolves towards incorporating a diet that closely resembles that of the urban nuisances such as coyotes. 

Apart from large to medium-sized ungulates such as bison, elks, and moose, wolves in Europe eat a number of plant-based foods. These include apples, berries, cherries, and melons. Wolves also eat figs and pears, and other fruits that are abundantly available in European forests and grasslands.

Quick List of What Wolves (Grey) Eat:

  • Moose
  • Roe Deer
  • Wild Boar
  • Elk
  • Caribou
  • Bidon
  • Musk Oxen
  • Reindeer
  • Pronghorn Antelope
  • White-tailed deer
  • Sheep
  • Mule deer
  • Beavers
  • Mice
  • Nutria
  • Certain birds
  • Rabbits
  • Hares
  • Waterfowl
  • Waterfowl eggs
  • Lizards
  • Snakes
  • Frogs
  • Large Insects such as Dragonfly and Cicada
  • Northern Pike
  • Salmon
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Figs
  • Melons
  • Cherries
  • Berries such as Blueberries, Cowberries, Bilberries, and Raspberries
  • Grass
  • Mountain-ash berries
  • Lily of Valley berries
  • Grain Crops
  • European Black Nightshade
  • Shoots of reeds
  • Livestock and Garbage in urban areas
  • Weak or Injured Wolves
  • Cracasses
  • Carrion

Breaking down a wolf’s diet:

Large Ungulates

Hooved or the large ungulates are the primary prey that the wolves feed on, especially the grey wolves. These ungulates mainly include moose, elk, bidon, musk oxen and reindeer in large numbers. From a myriad species of large ungulates predominantly of the size 240-650 kg available in their natural habitat, wolves prefer to feast on elks that make up about 88% of their biomass consumed annually. 

Apart from elk, wild boars and red deer are the second and third most consumed large ungulates in a wolf’s prey’s list. A wolf can consume up to 15-20 adult-sized deer on an average per year. And based on this average, about 36,000 – 48,000 adult deers are consumed by 2,400 per year.

Since wolves hunt in packs, all the large ungulates listed above are mostly hunted by a pack of wolves instead of a single wolf. A pack of 15 wolves are able to bring down an adult moose. A single wolf may be able to take down a sick or injured large ungulate.

Medium Ungulates

Medium ungulates are killed by a pack or a single grey wolf, but occasionally it isn’t a primary source of their diet. Medium ungulates like pronghorn antelope, white-tailed deer, mule deer, roe deer and sheep, are the important dietary items of the young grey wolves.

Small Mammals

Small Mammals like beavers, rabbits, rodents, birds and some other smaller mammals are consumed occasionally by the wolves as they are not a primary part of their diet. All these mammals are not the primary food source of wolves, but only the supplementation to the large ungulates consumed by the wolves.

Domestic Animals

Domestic animals don’t form a large portion of the wolves diet, and they are consumed very occasionally in a productive habitat of the wolves. In a study, it was found that domestic livestock only represents 8 percent of the diet of a great wolf when there is natural prey available in large numbers. But the domestic animals can be consumed for up to 38 percent of the biomass consumed by the wolves when there is a scarcity of natural prey in the habitat.

Carrion

When there is a scarcity of prey in their habitats, the wolves scavenge on leftover portions of their own kill. They efficiently scare off other predators like grizzly bears and mountain lions with the use of their numbers. Once the bear and the mountain lions have left, the wolves start scavenging on the abandoned carcasses.

Opportunistic Items

Wolves are intelligent animals and opportunists who take advantage of unusual opportunities. They are found feeding on fish, reptiles and even fruits whenever there is an opportunity. They also consume food sources provided by humans and feed on garbage and refuse.

 

What do Red Wolves Eat?

The red wolves, as they suggest, are not particularly red, but they have a variety of coat colour, including yellow, black, brown, grey and red. Most of the red wolves have a reddish tint behind their legs and ears. They are generally similar to the size of a German Shepard dog and are smaller than the grey wolves. 

Since they are smaller than the grey wolves, they find it difficult to capture deer without the help of other wolves. They prey extensively on smaller mammals like rabbits, raccoons, mice, rats, and other small creatures. They also tend to prey on the white-tailed deer very often, but there is no other prey available. 

An average-sized red wolf can walk up to more than 20 miles in search of food and can take in almost five pounds of food. Winter is the time of the year during which preying and finding food is the easiest for the red wolves. 

During the spring season, red wolves tend to prepare for the upcoming pups and collect food sources. Summer is the time when there is concealing vegetation and a number of movements of prey, and during this time, red wolves need more energy to hunt and search for food in the heat.

Quick List of What Red Wolves Eat:

  • Rabbits
  • Racoons
  • Insects 
  • Fruits
  • Small rodents: Rats, Mice, Nutria, Beavers

 

What do Maned Wolves Eat?

Maned wolves are omnivores, feeding on both plants and animals whatever they find in their habitat. They feed on most of the small and medium-sized animals like rodents, rabbits, birds and even fishes. 

Vegetation, including sugarcane, tubers, and fruit, form more than 50 per cent of the maned wolves diet. In a study, it was found that about 21% of hunts of the maned wolves are successful; they hunt by chasing their prey, digging holes and jumping to catch birds in flight. They can also be found feeding on carcasses of run-down animals, giant anteaters, bush dogs and collared peccary.

A tomato-like fruit called wolf apple is one of the most common food items of maned wolves, and these fruits can form almost 40-90% of their diet with some exceptions. This fruit is available throughout the year, and the maned wolves can consume them throughout the year, unlike the other fruits that are in abundance only during the rainy season. 

Maned wolves rarely feed on ungulates prey, and they specialize in small prey like rodents, hares and birds, foraging for prey during the night. The maned wolves that were previously kept in captivity or in zoos were fed with mostly meat-heavy diets, which resulted in kidney stones and bladder stones. 

Now in zoos, maned wolves are given a formulated meal that contains fruits, vegetables and meat. Mane wolves inhabit the high grasses of the savanna, and they have thick red coats, long black legs and tall, erect ears, which help them to survive in these habitats.

Maned wolves can be found in central and eastern South America in the wet and dry forests, grasslands, savannas, marshes and wetlands.

 

What do Baby Wolves Eat?

The pack of wolves is mainly made of a male parent, a female parent and their pups. About 4-6 pups are born in a litter, and the pups in the litter are called littermates. The young pups feed only on their mother’s milk, about 4-6 times a day, in order to get proper nutrition for growth and development. 

Within two weeks, they have their first milk teeth and start feeding on regurgitated meat which is brought to them by the adult wolves of the pack. They keep feeding on their mother’s milk until they are 8-10 weeks old. 

The pups lick the mouths of the adult wolves when they have returned from a hunt. This makes the adult wolves regurgitate the meat they have eaten recently. Wolf pups eat this regurgitated meat until they are old enough to make their own kills. 

The aggressive pups get more food than the less aggressive pups. The wolves also growl to warm the pups when they are too persistent in begging for food. When the pups are eight weeks old, they are brought to the rendezvous site where they sleep, play, eat and hang out under the supervision of the adult pups. Once they are old enough, they go out with the adults on hunting.

 

How much do Wolves eat?

How much wolves eat depends on the amount of food available. Wolves follow a feast or famine lifestyle, which means wolves gorge and devour on food as much as they can (upto a certain limit) when the prey is easily available, or the food is abundant in general. After eating large amounts of food at one feeding time, wolves rest until the food is digested and till they can find their next catch.

The next catch may not be available for over a week or two, during which the wolves sustain on the fat and energy stored from their last kill when the food was available. Wolves have developed their metabolism in a way that helps them store energy and fat over long periods of time to cope up when food is scarce.  

All species of wolves, including the red wolf, maned wolf and the obvious timber wolf, follow the feast or famine dietary tactic to survive and sustain.

The Western Wildlife Outreach reports that a timber or grey wolf eats an average of 5 to 14 pounds of meat per day. There is a huge gap between the lower and upper limit of the daily intake average owing to the feast or famine lifestyle of the wolves. According to wildlife experts, a grey wolf requires a minimum of 2.5 pounds of meat per day to be able to continue normal functioning. 

However, in order to reproduce or breed successfully and continue their race, grey wolves would require 2-3 times more energy (hence more food) than the minimum intake of 2.5 pounds. This means that wolves require about 7 pounds of meat per day on average to breed and raise their young ones. It is also estimated that an average wolf, living in conditions with just enough food available, eats about 10 pounds of meat per day.

Raising wolf pups requires the parent wolves to travel long distances in search of food or prey. This is because keeping the baby wolves devoid of regular nourishment will prevent them from being strong and ‘grown’ enough to be able to hunt with the adults. 

Not only will weak wolf pups be killed by predators if undernourished, but they might also die of famine since their metabolism isn’t developed enough as the large wolves to keep them going even when there is no food for a week or two. Thus, keeping the wolf pup healthy is laborious but important, which is why parent wolves require more food on average to sustain themselves. 

Since red wolves are comparatively smaller than grey wolves in terms of size, they require less food to keep functioning. When prey is abundant, red wolves eat about 15-18 pounds of meat on average which is less than their cousin owing to the small size. On average, a red wolf eats about 2 to 5 pounds of meat per day.

 

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