Red wolves have a distinct reddish tinge to their coat, particularly on the ears, head and legs. Adult red wolves tend to resemble their cousins, the gray wolves, but are usually smaller, and with longer, lankier legs, taller ears and a thinner body. They are often described as resembling a mix between a gray wolf and a coyote.
Despite the name, their coats can vary quite a bit in color. Some have tawny or cinnamon-colored fur, while others have more gray and black tones mixed into their coats. Their undersides are usually colored white or pinkish-red.
Red wolves use a wide variety of vocalizations to communicate with each other, including barks, growls and yaps. Like other wolves, they can communicate over long distance through their howl—these howls are used as a social rally call, a hail to hunt or as a territorial expression. A wolf’s howl can be heard from several miles away.
They also communicate through physical gestures, such as swishing their tails and twitching their noses, or by scent marking their territory with urine and gland secretions.
Red wolves are carnivores, eating up to five pounds of meat a day. In the wild, they hunt in packs, ranging up to 20 miles a day within their home territories to find prey. Capable of running up to 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) and swimming for long periods of time, they can move quickly throughout their territories, which range up to 30,000 square miles (75,000 square kilometers) in size.
As apex predators, they help maintain the population levels of the other animals within their native habitat, which in turn keeps the local ecosystem in balance. Common prey animals include white-tailed deer, raccoons, turkeys, opossums, nutria, and smaller animals like rabbits, birds and mice. They will also eat carrion and have been known to eat insects, berries and some plant materials.
Red wolves are highly social animals. In the wild, they live in family groups, or packs, that can number between two to ten individuals. These packs usually include a pair of breeding adults and their offspring, who travel with the pack while young and leave to form their own packs once they reach adulthood. They are very territorial and will defend their established range from other animals, but they are quite shy around humans.
American red wolves used to be found across the eastern United States, but in 1980, after decades of habitat loss and hunting, America’s only endemic wolf was declared extinct in the wild. The current wild population is found only in coastal North Carolina and is the result of a careful captive breeding and reintroduction program supported by zoos and wildlife conservation organizations.