What do they look like?
The Iberian Wolf is a brownish, large-sized canid that occurs in Spain and Portugal. Its coat varies in colour from light grey to reddish brown.
It gets its Latin name from the marks on its upper lips, tail and front legs. However, it is the size of one molar tooth that is the unique trait that makes Iberian Wolves different to other Wolves, according to its discoverer Cabrera, a 20th century zoologist. All Canis lupus subspecies exhibit similar characteristics across southern latitude countries.
Male and female differentiation
There are no major differences except for body size. Males can weigh up to 40 kg, whereas females weigh up to 35 kg.
Are there any similar species?
All free-ranging Grey Wolves belong to the same species: Canis lupus. The Iberian population, scientifically named as Canis lupus signatus, is currently geographically, but not genetically, isolated from other European Wolf populations.
What is their habitat?
Iberian Wolves strongly select rough and wooded landscapes to escape from humans. However, they could inhabit all kind of habitats, from mountainous areas to agricultural areas in central Spain.
How do they mate?
The dominant male and female are the only members of the pack that can breed. They are usually monogamous and they often form a life-long pair bond.
The female comes into oestrus once a year and mating occurs during this time. Gestation lasts between 60 and 65 days and the pups are born in a den dug by the female or in a cave or other hole.
About their offspring
Female Wolves give birth to litters of 4 or 5 pups. The pups are born with their eyes closed and they do not open them for the first 12 to 15 days of life. The female stays with them constantly for the first 3 weeks, and the male and other pack members bring her food. Pups stay in the den until they are 8 to 10 weeks old. They are fed regurgitated food by all pack members until they are about 45 days old, which is when they start to eat meat. Most young Wolves disperse from their natal packs when they are 2 or 3 years old.
Communication and the senses
Body language is an important way for individuals to communicate their rank within the pack. All Wolves may use vocalizations to communicate with one another and to tell other packs about the extent of their territory.
Wolves have a highly developed sense of smell, and they mark their territory with scats and urine to tell other individuals their status. Wolves also have excellent hearing and keen eyesight.
How many Wolves are in the Iberian population?
It is estimated that there are 297 breeding packs in Spain, and 51-63 in Portugal. This means that the Iberian Wolf’s long-term conservation depends on approximately 700 mature adults.
After a strong population bottleneck, Iberian Wolves showed a partial recovery in the 20th century. However this trend has stopped because of the lack of effective protection in Spain.
Where are they found?
Wolves were originally found across North America and Eurasia. At the present time, Canada and Russia host the majority (70%) of the world’s Wolf population.
The Iberian Wolf population was never extirpated from Iberia and it occurs mainly in north-western Spain and northern Portugal. Iberian Wolves are distributed across 135,000 km² (80% in Spain, and 20% in Portugal). Although research suggests that 55% of the Iberian Peninsula could provide suitable habitat for free roaming Wolves, they only occur in 21% of the Peninsula.
When are they active?
Wolves are mostly active at night to avoid humans. They may exhibit some diurnal and crepuscular activity when they are not highly persecuted.
What do they eat?
Wolves, as top carnivores, feed mainly on large wild ungulates, such as deer, wild boar, chamois, Iberian ibex, etc. They occasionally feed on livestock carrion or rubbish left by humans.
Do they have predators?
Wolves are predators at the top of a food chain, so they do not have natural predators and their populations are kept under control by the fact that they are highly territorial. In fact, competition between individuals is the major cause of mortality in the wild. Nowadays, humans are the main threat to Iberian Wolves everywhere.
How long do they live for?
Average lifespan in the wild is really short, about 4 years. However, they may live up to 13 years.
How do they behave?
Wolves are a highly social species, like humans, and they usually live in small packs. The Iberian Wolf pack mean size is about 3-5 individuals in winter, but this can be extremely variable depending on the time of year, ecological context, etc.
Packs usually comprise a mature adult dominant pair and their offspring, including some subadults from previous years. Unrelated immigrants may join the pack, but this usually happens when the social organisation of the pack is disrupted. There is a strong dominance hierarchy in the pack that determines which animals mate and which can eat first after a hunt.
They are territorial and packs usually defend large areas of between 100 and 500km2.
Wolves work together to hunt, raise their young and protect their territory.
Wolves enjoy playing and, for pups, play is an important way for them to learn the skills they will need to hunt and communicate.
Are they endangered?
Threats faced by Iberian Wolves include:
- Illegal persecution (snares, poison, etc.).
- Human-wildlife conflict. A lack of wild prey means Wolves prey on unguarded free-ranging livestock bringing them into conflict with farmers who may kill them.
- Mass media sensationalism.
- Human negative perception, based on misinformation.
- Traffic collisions.
- Free-ranging dogs which lack human control.
- Forest fires.
- Human infrastructure (forest tracks, housing etc.) leading to habitat loss and fragmentation.
- Large fenced hunting enclosures and landscape management in several areas of southern Spain.
- Canid diseases.
Wolves are protected in Europe by the Bern Convention and the Habitats Directive (EU 92/43/CEE). Iberian Wolves are fully protected and classified as an endangered species at national level in Portugal. In Spain, Wolves are protected by international laws, but this protection framework is not effective at national level because of the regional administration fragmentation. Only south of the Duero river territories are Iberian Wolves considered endangered and fully protected.
Evaluated by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Vulnerable (2016).
Did you know?
- The Iberian Wolf’s Latin name “signatus” means “marked” and refers to the markings on its lips, tail and front legs. However, the uniqueness of this Wolf variety is just a difference in size in a molar tooth.
- A Wolf’s hearing is 16 times more acute than that of a human.
- Wolves require about 3 kg of meat per day, but can fast for several days when food is not available.
- Wolves can occasionally run at speeds of up to 50 km per hour.
- Iberian Wolves have been isolated from mixing with other Wolf populations for over a century due to human persecution.