What is a Wolverine?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A wolverine is an animal in the weasel family native to the cold mountain forests of the Northern Hemisphere. Two distinct subspecies of the wolverine are recognized, the New World wolverine and the Old World version. These animals are the largest land-dwelling members of the weasel family, and they are infamous for their ferocity: wolverines are incredibly strong and extremely savage.

The fur from a wolverine can sometimes be used to line the hood of a parka.
The fur from a wolverine can sometimes be used to line the hood of a parka.

An adult wolverine can weigh as much as 70 pounds (32 kilograms), and it may range as much as 15 miles (24 kilometers) a day in search of food. Wolverines are primarily carnivorous, although they will sometimes supplement their diets with plant material, and they have a set of bone-cracking teeth which allows them to pursue and consume prey much larger than they are.

At first glance, a wolverine looks sort of like a miniature bear. These animals are very heavyset, with fluffy tails, short legs, and dark fur marked with white stripes. Their thick coats are adapted for snowy, cold environments, which once made them a popular target for hunters and trappers, who sold the fur to line parkas and other fur garments. Wolverines also have a distinctive strong odor, which they use to mark their territories.

Wolverines are solitary animals, meeting up only briefly every one to two years to mate. Females can bear litters of up to six young, and their young may not all have the same father; wolverines can store fertilized embryos in the uterus for several months, picking an optimal time to actually start gestating. This trait allows them to be fertilized by several males independently. In the wild, a wolverine will generally live no more than 10 years, although captives can live to almost 18 years.

The wolverine is considered threatened in some areas of the world, for a variety of reasons. Wolverines suffer from the consequences of overhunting, both of prey and of wolverines themselves. The animals are also victims of the global warming trend, as their habitats shrink, and they experience further habitat pressure as a result of human encroachment. In some nations, concerns about the plight of the wolverine have resulted in conservation programs and captive breeding initiatives, in an attempt to preserve the genetic diversity of the wolverine so that these animals will continue to survive.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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