The Red Wolf (Canis rufus) is a North American canid which once roamed throughout the Southeastern United States and is a glacial period survivor of the Late Pleistocene epoch. Its natural range extends from Texas to Florida. A population is being reintroduced to North Carolina. Scientists suggest that Red Wolf populations were extirpated from the wild and are now highly endangered.
The origins of the Red Wolf line are set at 1–2 Ma with a branching from a common ancestor, which appeared about 4.9 Ma. The current Red Wolf shared this ancestor with the Gray Wolf, the Eastern Wolf, and the Coyote. One branch remained in North America, while other branch migrated to Eurasia, giving rise to the Gray Wolf. Between 150 000–300 000 years ago, the North American branch evolved into the eastern wolf and the Coyote. Wilson et al. (2000) concluded that the Eastern Wolf and Red Wolf should be considered as sister taxa and recognized as distinct species from other North American canids. However, these conclusions have been widely disputed (for example see Koblmuller et al. 2009), and the canonical listing of mammal species lists them both as subspecies of the Gray Wolf.
The red wolf has a brownish or cinnamon pelt, with grey and black shading on the back and tail. Its muzzle is white furred around the lips. Black specimens are recorded, but these are probably extinct. It moults once annually every winter. It has large ears which help dissipate heat in the hot and humid climate of the south-eastern United States. The dental formula is:
The red wolf is generally intermediate in size between the Coyote and the Gray Wolf. Like the Gray Wolf, it has almond-shaped eyes, a broad muzzle and a wide nosepad, though like the coyote, its ears are proportionately larger. The red wolf has a deeper profile, longer and broader head than the coyote, and has a less prominent ruff than the Gray Wolf.
The red wolf is more resistant to heartworm infestations than most other canids. Restored red wolf populations in North Carolina tested positive for heartworm, though the infestation has not been shown to be a major mortality source.
The red wolf typically reaches sexual maturity at the age of 22 months, though specimens reproducing at the age of 10 months have been recorded. The mating season takes place in February and March, with a gestation period of 61–63 days. Pups are usually born in March–April, and number 1–10 per litter. The breeding pair typically produce one litter annually. Females may establish several dens during the denning season. The pups are often moved from one den to another.
The red wolf lives in an extended family unit which includes a dominant breeding pair and young from prior seasons. Offspring typically disperse before the age of 2 years. Group size in north-eastern North Carolina usually numbers from 2–12. The red wolf will scent mark territorial boundraries to deter intrusion from other packs.
The Red Wolf usually hunts at night, dawn or dusk. It usually feeds alone, though there is evidence of pack hunting behavior. It is not uncommon for pack members to partition resources. In south-east Texas, the Red Wolf primarily feeds on nutria, rabbits, Hispid Cotton Rats, Marsh Rice Rats and muskrats. The reintroduced Red Wolf population of north-eastern North Carolina feeds primarily on white-tailed deer, raccoons and rabbits. At least three livestock depredations have been recorded from this population.
Unlike the Gray Wolf, which has historically been known to become a man-eater on rare occasions, the red wolf has not been recorded to attack people, though they were reported to scavenge upon corpses on the battlefields of the Mexican-American War.
Aggressive predator control programs, hunting and agriculturalization have combined to bring the red wolf near to extinction, because it was thought to be a threat to livestock. It is now considered rare.
It is thought that its original distribution included much of eastern North America, where Red Wolves were found from New York in the east, Florida in the south, and Texas in the south-west. Records of bounty payments to Wappinger Indians in New York in the middle 1700s confirm its range at least that far north; it's possible that it could have extended as far as extreme eastern Canada. There are thought to be about 300 red wolves remaining in the world, with 207 of those in captivity. For decades, the Red Wolf has been indistinguishable genetically from either the Gray Wolf or the Coyote. The Red Wolf breeds with both species and may again be in peril as contact with other species in the wild resumes.
In 1987 approximately 100 were reintroduced into the wild as the first island propagation project in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge off the coast of North Carolina. In 1989 the second island propagation project initiated with release of a population on Horn Island off the Mississippi coast. This population was moved in 1998 because of a likelihood of encounters with humans. The third island propagation project introduced a population on St. Vincent Island, Florida offshore between Cape San Blas and Apalachicola, Florida in 1990, and in 1997 the fourth island propagation program introduced a population to Cape St. George Island, Florida south of Apalachicola, Florida. In 1991 two pairs were reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the last known red wolf was killed in 1905. Despite some early success, the wolves were relocated to North Carolina in 1998, ending the effort to reintroduce the species to the Park. Historical habitats included forests, swamps, and coastal prairies, where it was an apex predator.
Traditionally, three subspecies of Red Wolf are recognized. Two of these subspecies are extinct. Canis rufus floridanus has been extinct since 1930 and Canis rufus gregoryi was declared extinct in the wild by 1970. Canis rufus rufus, the other surviving subspecies, was extirpated in 1980, although that status was changed to "critically endangered" when 100 wolves were reintroduced in North Carolina.
On April 30, 2008, Indiana University East revealed the Red Wolves to be the new mascot for the campus.
On January 1, 2008, Arkansas State University’s Mascot Selection Steering Committee decided to use the Wolves as a mascot. The Red Wolves were officially approved by the university board of trustees on March 7, 2008. The ceremony and unveiling of the new Red Wolves logo was held on March 13, 2008.
On July 1, 1976, the Red Wolf became the official mascot of the United States Navy's premier Naval Special Warfare Support Helicopter Squadron, HAL-4. Today, they are known as HSC-84 and fly the HH-60H Rescue Hawk.
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