After posting to this blog recently in regards to red wolf identification and my inability to confidently discern our young wolves from one another here at the museum “…whatever differences the two pups had which distinguished them from one another have disappeared, at least to my eyes. I can no longer tell one from the other,” and experiencing a bit of ribbing and ridicule (light-hearted, of course) from fellow staff and volunteers about my observational failings, I decided to set the record straight.
Firstly, as most of you know, the wolves do not have names but are consecutively numbered. Our adult male’s number is 1803 and he is 8 years old. Our adult female’s number is 2062 and she is 4 years old. The two pups, which should no longer be called pups but juveniles, are numbered 2246 and 2247 and were born a little over six months ago.
The following is a group of photos of the four wolves pointing to characteristics which help me, and hopefully you, to identify them should you so desire. We’ll save the top photo for later.
The adult male wolf is larger than all the other wolves in the enclosure, at least at the present time (one of the juveniles may someday overtake him in size). He has a broad face, thick neck and is more robust overall than the others. There’s nothing remarkable about his pelage, his fur has no unusual or distinctive markings.
The male ID is easy, a big robust animal. He’s also relatively calm in most situations, he likes to relax but is often seen following F2062 around the enclosure.
Speaking of F2062, there are many things worth pointing out about both her pelage and overall appearance and demeanor. To start, the tip of her left ear flops over. The right ear is a bit loose, but not nearly so as her left. She has a round or oval-shaped white spot on each cheek. There are black markings on her back which while not unique among the red wolf population in general are certainly exclusive among her present company. The markings consist of a diagonal line and six or seven bands going across her back. Strangely, the black markings on her back seem to be more obvious on her right side.
Let’s take a look at the top (banner) photo for a second. That’s F2062 leading the pack, as she frequently does. She is showing her left side. Notice that you can see one black mark, the diagonal line, but not the cross bands.
Now the juveniles. Juvenile 2246 is a bit larger than J2247 but that’s not helpful in most situations. The juveniles have to be standing in immediate proximity to see their size difference, and it’s not obvious then. However, J2247 is darker overall and has more red, or rufus, in his fur. This rufus is most outstanding on his legs and the back side of his ears.
Some folks tell me they see a difference in the fur around the juveniles’ eyes, there’s a light-colored “eye-ring” around J2247’s eyes. I’ve found this reliable in some situations, particularly when both juveniles are standing together looking directly at you.
There are other more subtle field marks. Like his mother, J2246 has just a hint of a white spot on his cheek, but it’s not at all obvious and may only be seen in optimum conditions. I find the reddish legs (J2247) the most reliable and consistent field mark in distinguishing the juvenile wolves from one another. By the way, red-legged J2247, is the least skittish of the two juveniles.
Light quality, as in many things visual, has much to do with what you can see and how well you can see it. Early morning and evening light throws a reddish cast on everything. Mid-day sun creates harsh shadows. Moist overcast days (my favorite) saturate colors and evens out the scene’s brightness, no harsh shadows. Keep all this in mind when judging color differences in the wolves, especially when a direct comparison is not possible.
So, if you’re standing at the Red Wolf Overlook watching the four wolves walk up and down the hill and along the fence and you’re scratching your head wondering who’s who, here’s the safest bet for figuring it out.
- Mom (F2062) – Floppy left ear, unique black markings on back, white spot on cheek, restless leader of the pack.
- Dad (M1803) – Largest of the four, thick neck and broad head, even colored fur, less reactive to noises than others.
- Juvenile (J2246) – Lighter overall of two juveniles, skittish, hint of white spot on cheek.
- Juvenile (J2247) – Darker overall with much rufus on legs and back of ears, less high-strung, fur around eyes may appear lighter than surrounding fur.
Take a look at the photos below. Try to determine which wolf you’re looking at before reading the captions.
Back to the top photo. Can you name the wolves? I’ve already mentioned who was leading the pack.
From left to right: Leading pack – floppy left ear, white spot on cheek (F2062), Second in line – faint white spot on cheek (J2246), Third – large chest and neck, even coat (M1803), Bringing up the rear – by default (J2247).