Book Recollection: Wolves

Time to get back at this blog thingy. I’ve been spending most of my open nights on Operation Aunnauld and I must say, it is coming along quite nicely. Check back around June and I will hopefully be about done with that endeavor. For now, back to task at hand and that task is getting those keys pressed. Today’s offering is a Book Recollection. For starters, I have a read a book or two on wolves… ummm okay, maybe more than one… well, actually I have read a LOT of books on wolves. I am pretty much to the point where I’m working on the reinforcement principle since there usually is not a lot of new material but I figure a nice base of wolf knowledge will eventually make it into long term memory. Besides, I enjoy looking at the perty pictures. Then along comes this book by Shaun Ellis called Wolves: Capturing the Natural Spirit of these Incredible Animals. Apologetically, I have to admit that I can’t remember where this came from but definitely a gift from someone (guessing my brother, Linda or maybe one of my nephews/nieces – in all cases thank you thank you). This book was originally published back in 2006, however this particular edition came out in 2011. Now every once in awhile I’ll read a new nugget of information that may be an interesting nuance to a common fact or a possibly even an advancement of a previous theory. Shaun on the other hand managed to provide a wealth of new knowledge. So much so, that I even began to wonder if he might be taking some liberties. His bio indicates a significant amount of time observing wild wolves and even tried to join a pack (the book really did not elaborate on how successful that was). He also partnered with the Nez Perce tribe to learn from them and gain their perspective of their revered spirit. Probably the biggest takeaway from the book is the concept of the Beta wolves in the social hierarchy. This is a first awareness of this level and quite intriguing. They are actually the largest wolves in the pack (even larger than the Alphas) and are the enforcers. They are even allowed choice cuts of the kill to keep their strength. Seems like this would pose a significant risk to the Alphas since that means they would be less intimidated. It may be the special treatment they receive that keeps them in line, but some further investigation is required. Shaun also made the connection to how you can tell the Alphas and why. I have always known that their muzzle coloring seem to be bolder than the rest of the pack but nothing really explained how that results since it would seem it is a birth trait and not something that happens because they take control of the pack – there is not a concept of per-ordained Alphas so that reasoning for the color difference doesn’t come into play. Turns out the Alphas actually have a much darker and continuous defined line on the center of their backs from their neck to the tip of their tail (Betas also have a dark like but is not continuous). Shaun makes an astute observation that this is a byproduct of the choice cuts they get from the kill… and since Betas also get some of the choice cuts they also have bolder lines. I can actually buy that and I find myself looking for that line in every wolf picture I come across these days. The discussion on Alphas instructing their pack on what to hunt through reference body parts and holding training runs to point out the dangers and set the approach was also fascinating. If you want a pretty fast but informative read, I recommend getting your hands on this book as soon as possible.

Additionally, if you like looking at wildlife pictures and especially wolves do not hesitate to pick this up – trust me, just buy it and you will not be disappointed. The photographer for this book is actually Monty Sloan who spend a lot of time photographing at Wolf Park near Battle Ground, Indiana. I doubt all of these images came from there based on the diversity of landscapes and number of different wolves photographed. My hats are off to Monty, one bang up job behind the shutter. Having had the opportunity to get my own shots out in Yellowstone (and clearly lacking in execution) quickly demonstrated just how hard it is to get decent shots of these majestic creatures. I was not familiar with Sloan’s work before reading this book, but without hesitation, he is now up there with Joel Sartore (link here), Scott Linstead (link here) and Moose Peterson in my favorite wildlife photographers category. His work is so good that I am actually tracking down one of the pictures in this book to purchase (pg 72 if you are curious).

Unfortunately, there is one downside to this particular book and probably no fault of the authors. Blame probably belongs to the publisher who chose to be a crap binding on the book. At first I was liking the softer (semi-stiff) binding since it gave it a field reference journal feel. That is until the binding rip off the back after a mere ten pages in. This is very disappointing since it is one of the few books I’d likely just grab off the coffee table to peruse during TV commercials. With the fragile state of the binding I am too scared to do that.

Hit the link to see a picture of the torn binding and view my takeaways.


  • Shaun was under the guidance of Nez Perce tribe
  • Tried to join a wild pack as low ranking member – actually there is a fantastic picture of being nuzzled by wolves while taking a photograph on the ground
  • Shaun is now at Wolf Pack Management in Devon England
  • More likely to be killed by a toaster than a wolf
  • Native Americans believe white wolves are sent to protect you
  • Shoshone tribe believe coyotes and wolves created the world and the wolves guard the path of the dead – seems quite similar to the Egyptian beliefs in Anubis
  • Something that I totally missed – “were”  is old English for man
  • Dire wolves were the largest of the wolves and lived in the last ice age – immediately thought of Game of Thrones
  • Alphas have bolder lined muzzles and coloring making them easier to identify inter and intra pack
  • Rank can also be determined by how bold and continuous the marking line is on their backs from neck to end of tail
  • Ranking determines what part of the kill each wolf is entitled to – which leads to each rank having a different smell – higher ranks get better parts heart, kidneys, liver etc.
  • Only Alpha wolves lift leg to urinate allowing higher scents to mark territory
  • Betas are the biggest wolves of the pack and are the enforces – identified by bold lines that are broken
  • Mid-ranking wolves responsible for teaching and disciplining subordinates – vary their scent to imply bigger packs
  • Specialists – The hunters are typically females due to their speed (smaller), Nannies and Omegas who are accountable for reducing tension on the pack – jesters immediately came to mind (sure enough, what author later refers to them as) – they restore calm between quarreling pack mates – Betas will actually save them some of the choice kill cuts
  • I have always wondered what drives my dogs to roll in any nasty scent they find – apparently this allows them to maintain their high status in the pack – wolves apparently like to use dead fish as a source – needless to say, this raises my ire when our poodles get into the roll posture
  • Alphas have a lower howl tone
  • Wolf eye sight is supposedly poor which results in their holding “gaze”
  • Wolf in crouch image on page 72 is absolutely amazing – I must try to purchase it
  • Lone wolves will actually urinate in water to remain undetected from rival territories
  • Wolves are  good swimmers and can feed on fish in shallow water, but as we personally saw in our last Yellowstone trip, they rarely follow big prey into the water
  • Wolves can hit max speed between 30 and 40 mph and hold it up to an hour – prefer to trot ~5mph capable of 100 mi days
  • Have 30% larger brains than dogs
  • Alphas will direct the hunters from the side and prep with practice runs – even shows them what type of animal to kill through past kill body parts and demonstrates the dangers involved
  • Alphas decide when and how much each wolf eats
  • If threatened can regurgitate food to improve speed (also preventing twisted gut a fatal condition)
  • The shot of the wolf between the bison legs is stunning (pg 126)
  • Wolves will hold snow in their mouths to eliminate breathe vapors so as not to tip off their prey – genius
  • Awesome shot of wolf waiting for a vole to come down into his mouth on page 158/9
  • Wolf bites – 1500lb/1sq inch
  • Coyote is an Aztec word for barking dog
  • Eagles will actually feed on wolf kills (once the wolves leave of course)
  • Grizzlies snuggling on page 179 excellent
  • Wolves rarely live beyond 6-7 years in the wild
  • Young join in the hunt after 6 to 7 months
  • Wolves are born blind and deaf,  after 10-13 days open their blue eyes (which eventually turn golden brown)
  • There are 2700 wolves in lower 48 states and between 6K-8K in Alaska
  • Alpha male will deliberately produce pups to occupy vacant territories and start new packs to cut off escape routes for prey

4 thoughts on “Book Recollection: Wolves”

  1. So if their eyes turn golden brown, why does the one on the cover have green eyes? Blue in the process of turning to brown? When do they turn brown?

    I saw that wolves are killers of humans in the movie “The Grey”, so this book must be wrong about them.

    For the record, I knew that about the word “were”, which I feel is important to point out to everyone.

    The structure of the pack is amazing to read about! Thanks for the review.



  2. I can’t answer to the green tinting on the cover shot. My guess is the cover artist was more interested in something eye catching and amped the vibrance too far or was playing around with the tint controls – actually I went back and looked at the cover and there is clearly a green overlay tint on the entire cover clearly seen in the white highlighting areas (that look greenish).
    UPD: I did some research and there appears to be differing opinions on the eye color – one thing for sure there are no adult wolves with blue eyes (signifies a hybrid if you do see that). There was a reference that stated around six to eight weeks of age the pups eyes will turn green before turning the adult color which can be anything from pale yellow, to amber or even orange or brown … but again, the cover wolf is older than that timeframe.

    You know how to touch my buttons with the reference to the “The Grey”. The only good thing is we didn’t see anyone going to that movie last night (as opposed to the packed house for Star Wars 3D) so hopefully this stupid myth of wolves attacking humans will not be propagated to many people. I see the poodle lobby has successfully prevented the Vampire Poodle movies from making it to screen.

    Everyone I meet comments on how impressed they are about my brother’s knowledge and the were tidbit is simply the cherry on top

    Let’s simply go with the author’s view of the pack structure is amazing. It still concerns me a little that he has a few layers in there that isn’t widespread in literature. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way implying he isn’t truthful (and clearly he has excellent credentials), it is just something new at this point.


  3. I don’t know why wolves wouldn’t attack humans—why not?

    I wasn’t the one who got you the wolves book, but here’s a far cuter animal picture I got for you:

    “Everyone I meet comments on how impressed they are about my brother’s knowledge and the were tidbit is simply the cherry on top”

    Um, right. 🙂



  4. because they are AFRAID of humans and they are not STUPID.

    That was an extremely cruel prank you just played on me … my free time for the next two weeks will be spent plotting my revenge (will it be stealing your iPad and putting my name on all the Flower high scores, maybe a putting your name in for a re-elect Obama campaign manager.. what to do, what to do..

    so you agree (ha!)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s