The Wolverine



The wolverine is the largest land-dwelling species of the family Mustelidae. It is a stocky and muscular carnivore, more closely resembling a small bear than other mustelids. The wolverine, a solitary animal, has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size, with the documented ability to kill prey many times larger than itself.

The wolverine is found primarily in remote reaches of the Northern boreal forests and subarctic and alpine tundra of the Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest numbers in northern Canada, the US state of Alaska, the mainland Nordic countries of Europe, and throughout western Russia and Siberia. Its population has steadily declined since the 19th century owing to trapping, range reduction and habitat fragmentation. The wolverine is now essentially absent from the southern end of its European range.

Wolverines are considered to be primarily scavengers. A majority of the wolverine's sustenance is derived from carrion, on which they depend almost exclusively in winter and early spring. Wolverines may find carrion themselves, feed on it after the predator is done feeding (especially wolf packs) or simply take it from another predator. Wolverines are also known to follow wolf and lynx trails, purportedly with the intent of scavenging the remains of their kills. Whether eating live prey or carrion, the wolverine's feeding style appears voracious, leading to the nickname of "glutton" (also the basis of the scientific name). However, this feeding style is believed to be an adaptation to food scarcity, especially in winter.

The wolverine is also a powerful and versatile predator. Prey mainly consists of small to medium-sized mammals, but the wolverine has been recorded killing prey such as adult deer that are many times larger than itself. Prey species include porcupines, squirrels, chipmunks, beavers, marmots, moles, gophers, rabbits, voles, mice, rats, shrews, lemmings, caribou, roe deer, white-tailed deer, mule deer, sheep, goats, cattle, bison, moose, and elk. Smaller predators are occasionally preyed on, including martens, mink, foxes, Eurasian lynx, weasels, and coyote and wolf pups. Wolverines have also been known to kill Canadian lynx in the Yukon of Canada. Wolverines often pursue live prey that are relatively easy to obtain, including animals caught in traps, newborn mammals, and deer (including adult moose and elk) when they are weakened by winter or immobilized by heavy snow. Their diets are sometimes supplemented by birds' eggs, birds (especially geese), roots, seeds, insect larvae, and berries.

Wolverines inhabiting the Old World (specifically, Fennoscandia) hunt more actively than their North American relatives. This may be because competing predator populations in Eurasia are not as dense, making it more practical for the wolverine to hunt for itself than to wait for another animal to make a kill and then try to snatch it. They often feed on carrion left by wolves, so changes in wolf populations may affect the population of wolverines. They are also known on occasion to eat plant material.

Wolverines frequently cache their food during times of plenty. This is of particular importance to lactating females in the winter and early spring, a time when food is scarce.

Successful males will form lifetime relationships with two or three females, which they will visit occasionally, while other males are left without a mate. Mating season is in the summer, but the actual implantation of the embryo (blastocyst) in the uterus is stayed until early winter, delaying the development of the fetus. Females will often not produce young if food is scarce. The gestation period is 30–50 days, and litters of typically two or three young ("kits") are born in the spring. Kits develop rapidly, reaching adult size within the first year. The typical longevity of a wolverine in captivity is around 15 to 17 years, but in the wild the average lifespan is more likely between 8 and 10 years. Fathers make visits to their offspring until they are weaned at 10 weeks of age; also, once the young are about six months old, some reconnect with their fathers and travel together for a time.

Many cities, teams, and organizations use the wolverine as a mascot. For example, the US state of Michigan is, by tradition, known as "the Wolverine State", and the University of Michigan takes the animal as their mascot. The association is well and long established: for example, many Detroiters volunteered to fight during the American Civil War and George Armstrong Custer, who led the Michigan Brigade, called them the "Wolverines". The origins of this association are obscure; it may derive from a busy trade in wolverine furs in Sault Ste. Marie in the 18th century or may recall a disparagement intended to compare early settlers in Michigan with the vicious mammal. Wolverines are, however, extremely rare in Michigan. A sighting in February 2004 near Ubly was the first confirmed sighting in Michigan in 200 years. The animal was found dead in 2010.

The wolverine figures prominently in the mythology of the Innu people of eastern Qu├ębec and Labrador. In at least one Innu myth, it is the creator of the world.

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