Red Wolf
© Corbis

Red Wolf

Basic Facts

The red wolf is a smaller, thinner cousin of the gray wolf. It is gray-black in color, but has a distinctive reddish cast for which it is named.

The red wolf is the world's most endangered canid, and the Southeast’s native wolf. Uniquely "All-American," the red wolf's entire historical range is confined within what is now the United States. Once roaming as far west as Texas, down into Florida, and up into the Midwest, the red wolf now persists in only a fraction of its range. It has lost more of its historical territory—99.7 percent—than any other large carnivore, including lions, tigers and snow leopards.


The red wolf’s diet primarily consists of deer and small mammals such as rabbits and rodents; however, they have been known to eat insects and berries.


Hunted to the brink of extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rounded up fewer than 20 red wolves to be bred in captivity in 1980. In 1987, the FWS reintroduced red wolves into the wild, but years of political attacks, popular misconceptions and insufficient recovery plans continue to plague recovery efforts. As a result, their numbers continue to decline and red wolves are once again facing extinction in the wild. 


Historically, red wolves ranged throughout the southeastern U.S. from Pennsylvania to Florida and as far west as Texas. Today, wild populations roam just over 1.7 million acres throughout northeastern North Carolina, including Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.


Red wolves are primarily nocturnal and communicate by scent marking, vocalizations (including howling), facial expressions and body postures.

Shy and secretive, red wolves hunt alone or in small packs – complex social structures that include the breeding adult pair (the alpha male and female) and their offspring. Red wolves tend to form pair-bonds for life.

Pack size varies with the size of available prey populations. A hierarchy of dominant and subordinate animals within the pack helps it to function as a unit. 


Only the alpha male and female in the pack mate. Other pack members will help care for the young and bring food to the breeding female. Red wolf dens are often located in hollow trees, stream banks and sand knolls. 

Mating season: Late winter. 

Gestation: 60-63 days.

Litter size: 2-8 pups.

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The red wolf (currently recognized as a different species than the gray wolf) once ranged as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as central Texas. Because of its wide distribution, the red wolf played an important role in a variety of ecosystems, from pocosin lowlands to forested mountains.