About Alberta Wolverines

Wolverines aren’t big, but they are big on attitude. It is true, they are the largest species of the weasel family, Mustelidae, that live on land. (Sea otters are the biggest weasels on the ocean). However, males weigh only about 15 kg, and females about 10 kg. Despite their size, they have been seen taking down adult caribou many times their size.

Wolverines’ scientific name is Gulo gulo, meaning “glutton”, because they have a reputation for eating large amounts of food at one sitting. Wolverines have very large, wide, heavy teeth for shearing meat, and long curved claws for tearing and digging. Wolverines prey on whatever animals they can find, including rodents, snowshoe hares, and birds. They hunt when they can, but mainly they are scavengers. In winter, the carcasses of ungulates – sheep, goats, moose, deer, and elk – are very important food sources, especially for breeding females who need to nourish their developing young.

Wolverines are generally solitary animals with very large home ranges. Still, they can be social, and have been seen visiting their grown children. Males and female territories overlap, which of course makes breeding easier. They range far and wide, so wolverines exist at very low densities – just a few animals per thousand square kilometres. They have naturally low reproductive rates and low juvenile survivorship, so populations do not increase rapidly, nor recover quickly from disturbance.

Across their range, wolverines are susceptible to human activity, such as snowmobiling and resource extraction. We don’t yet know the reasons for this vulnerability. Wolverines may require undisturbed areas to establish dens in which to birth and raise their kits. Alternatively, landscape development may increase competition or predation by other carnivores, such as wolves or bears. Much more research needs to be done to figure this out. This is particularly important in Alberta, as much of our economy relies on landscape development for energy and timber, and most of this development occurs in our wolverines’  range.

Wolverines were once distributed across boreal and deciduous forests, prairies, mountains, and tundra around the northern hemisphere, but their ranges have shrunk considerably since European occupation. In eastern Canada, the wolverine has declined dramatically, to the point of extirpation from several areas. COSEWIC listed the eastern wolverine population as Endangered. The western wolverine population has also been substantially reduced, and has been listed as a species of Special Concern.

In Alberta, wolverines still inhabit the mountains, foothills, and boreal plain, but numbers are suspected to be low. Fur trapping data suggest that wolverine harvest has steadily declined over the last two decades. The Government of Alberta has designated this species Data Deficient, acknowledging potential threats to Alberta populations, but reflecting a lack of information on Alberta wolverines. A primary goal of the AWWG is to help fill this knowledge gap by fostering research on wolverine occurrence and ecology in Alberta.

For more information about wolverines in Alberta and across Canada, check out these great websites:

Alberta’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee Fact Sheet on Wolverines (Gulo gulo)

Government of Alberta, Sustainable Resource Development – Wolverine Status Report (1997)

Alberta Heritage’s Website on Wolverines

The Wolverine Foundation’s website