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What Is a Black Wolf?

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  • Written By: A. Delgado
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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A black wolf is a member of the Canis lupus, or gray wolf, species. Gray wolves typically have gray or white fur, but some in North America have inherited black fur due to matings between wolves and dogs with black coats that have taken place for thousands of years. The black coat coloring for wolves has been a beneficial development for those in certain habitats. Aside from their fur color, black wolves share the same physical characteristics as gray or white wolves.

Biologists have recently discovered that black wolves are not a separate species or a subspecies of Canis lupus in North America. Their coloring evolved over the years from a genetic mutation as wild wolves bred with black dogs. Although scientists haven't determined exactly when this change took place, they believe it originally started with dogs that belonged to the first humans to set foot in North America roughly 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.

Another notable discovery was that the black wolf only developed from domestic dogs in North America. Gray wolves in Europe and Asia have not shown this same genetic transfer. They remain predominantly gray or white, while black wolves have become more common in North America.

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Black wolves are mainly found in woodland habitats, while wolves with lighter fur tend to live in the open tundra or arctic regions of northern Canada. Having darker colored fur allows the black wolf to blend in with its surroundings better in order to hide or hunt. Scientists believe that the growing population of black wolves could be related to the fact that icy or snowy regions are becoming more scarce. Another possible benefit of wolves inheriting black fur is that the gene that causes this might be linked to an increased ability to fight infections.

The black wolf might have gained an advantage or two over gray and white wolves, but the mutation hasn't affected their size. Adult black wolves have the same measurements as other members of Canis lupus. They typically weigh between 50 to 176 pounds (23 to 80 kg) and measure between 34 to 51 inches (87 to 130 cm) in length. Like their lighter colored kin, black wolves have a thick layer of underfur that helps keep them warm in frigid temperatures.

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