Wolverine State


[wool-vuh-reen, wool-vuh-reen]
The wolverine (Gulo gulo) is the largest land-dwelling species of the Mustelidae or weasel family (the Giant Otter is largest overall) in the genus Gulo (meaning "glutton"). It is also called the Glutton or Carcajou. Some authors recognize two subspecies: the Old World form Gulo gulo gulo and the New World form G. g. luscus. A third subspecies limited to Vancouver Island (G. g. vancouverensis) is also occasionally described; however, craniomorphic evidence suggests that the Vancouver Island wolverines are properly included within G. g. luscus.


Anatomically, the wolverine is a stocky and muscular animal. It has brown hair with stripes of dull yellow along the sides. Its fur is long and dense and does not retain much water, making it very resistant to frost, which is common in the wolverine's cold habitat. (For these reasons, the fur has been traditionally popular among hunters and trappers as a lining in jackets and parkas, especially for wear in Arctic conditions). The adult wolverine is about the size of a medium dog, with a length usually ranging from 65-87 cm (25-34 inches), a tail of 17-26 cm (7-10 inches), and weight of 9-17 kg (22-36 lb). The males are as much as 30 percent larger than the females. In appearance, the wolverine resembles a small bear with a long tail. It has been known to give off a very strong, extremely unpleasant odor, giving rise to the nicknames "skunk bear" and "nasty cat." Wolverines, as other mustelids, possess a special upper molar in the back of the mouth that is rotated 90 degrees, or sideways, towards the inside of the mouth. This special characteristic allows wolverines to tear off meat from prey or carrion that has been frozen solid and also to crush bones, which enables the wolverine to extract marrow.


The wolverine is, like most mustelids, remarkably strong for its size. It has been known to kill prey as large as moose, although most typically when these are weakened by winter or caught in snowbanks. Wolverines inhabiting the Old World (specifically, Fennoscandia) are more active hunters than their North American cousins. This may be because competing predator populations are not as dense, making it more practical for the wolverine to hunt for itself than to wait for another animal to make a kill and then try to snatch it. They often feed on carrion left by wolves, so that changes in the population of wolves may affect the population of wolverines. Wolverines are also known on occasion to eat plant material.

Armed with powerful jaws, sharp claws, and a thick hide, wolverines may defend kills against larger or more numerous predators. There is at least one published account of a 27-pound wolverine's attempt to steal a kill from a black bear (adult males weigh 400 to 500 pounds). Unfortunately for the mustelid, the bear won what was ultimately a fatal contest. Mating season is in the summer, but the actual implantation of the embryo (blastocyst) in the uterus is stayed until early winter, delaying the development of the fetus. Females will often not produce young if food is scarce. Litters of typically two or three young ("kits") are born in the spring. Kits develop rapidly, reaching adult size within the first year of a lifespan that may reach anywhere from five to (in exceptional individuals) thirteen years.

Adult wolverines have no natural predators, though they do come into conflict with (and may be killed by) other large predators over territory and food. Juveniles are of course more vulnerable; infants (kits) have been known on occasion to be taken by predatory birds such as eagles.


The wolverine lives primarily in isolated northern areas, for example the arctic and alpine regions of Alaska, northern Canada, Siberia and Scandinavia; they are also native to Russia and the Baltic countries. The wolverine is arguably found as far south as the Sierra Nevada in California, and a few remain in the Rocky Mountains and northern Cascades of the United States. However most of the Wolverines live in Canada.

The world's total wolverine population is unknown. The animal exhibits a low population density and requires a very large home range. The range of a male wolverine can be more than 620 km² (240 sq mi) while encompassing the ranges of several females (with smaller home ranges of roughly 130-260 km² (50-100 sq mi). Adult wolverines try for the most part to keep non-overlapping ranges with adults of the same sex. Radio tracking suggests an animal can range hundreds of miles in only a few months.

Country Population Area Year State of Population
Sweden 265+ Norrbotten 1995-97 Stable
Norway 150+ Snøhetta plateau and North 1995-97 Decline
Finland 115 Karelia and North 1997 Stable
Russia 1500 Taiga 1970, 1990, Decline
Russia - Komi 885 - 1990 -
Russia - Archangelsk Oblast 410 Nenetsky Autonomous Area 1990 Limited
Russia - Kola Peninsula 160 Hunting Districts 1990 Decline
USA - Alaska unknown Kobuk Valley National Park, Selawik National Wildlife Refuge 1998 Decline
USA - Alaska 3.0 (± 0.4 SE) wolverines/1,000 km2 Turnagain Arm and the Kenai Mountains 2004 -
USA - California Unknown Tahoe National Forest 2008 Unknown
Canada - Yukon 9.7 (± 0.6 SE) wolverines/1,000 km2 Old Crow Flats 2004 -
Canada - Ontario unclear Red Lake – Sioux Lookout to Fort Severn – Peawanuck 2004 Stable to Expanding
Canada - Overall 15000 to 19000 Overall - Stable

This requirement for large territories brings wolverines into conflict with human development, and hunting and trapping further reduce their numbers, causing them to disappear from large parts of their former range; attempts to have them declared an endangered species have met with little success.


The wolverine's (questionable) reputation as an insatiable glutton may be in part due to a false etymology. The animal's name in old Swedish, Fjellfräs, meaning "fell (mountain) cat", worked its way into German as Vielfraß, which means roughly "devours much". Its name in other West Germanic languages is similar (e.g. Dutch Veelvraat). The name in Old Norse, Jarfr, lives on in the regular Icelandic name jarfi, regular Norwegian name jerv, regular Swedish name järv and regular Danish name jærv. The Finnish name is Ahma, which is derived from "ahmia" which also is roughly translated as "devours much".

As a symbol

The Norwegian municipality of Bardu and Finnish municipality of Kittilä have a wolverine in their coats-of-arms.

The U.S. state of Michigan is, by tradition, known as "The Wolverine State," and the University of Michigan takes the wolverine as its mascot. Many other educational institutions utilized the wolverine as an athletic mascot (e.g., Bronx High School of Science and Utah Valley University). A major league baseball team from the 1880s was also popularly known as the "Detroit Wolverines". The association is well and long established: for example, many Detroiters volunteered to fight during the American Civil War and George Armstrong Custer, who led the Michigan Brigade, called them the "Wolverines." The origins of this association are obscure: it may derive from a busy trade in wolverine furs in Sault Ste. Marie in the 18th century or may recall a disparagement intended to compare early settlers in Michigan with the vicious mammal. In any event, the animal appears no longer to be indigenous to the state (and in fact may never have been). It is, at the very least, an uncommon sight there: for example, when one was observed in February 2004 by hunters and biologists near Ubly, it was the first confirmed sighting of a wolverine in Michigan in about two centuries. It is unknown whether that particular animal was a state native or if it migrated or had been released by humans.

The European Football League (playing American football in Europe) includes the Helsinki Wolverines, founded in 1995. The team plays in the Maple League, the Finnish top level. The wolverine figures prominently in the mythology of the Innu people of eastern Québec and Labrador. In at least one Innu myth, it is the creator of the world.

In the Central Interior Hockey League, founded in 1996, in British Columbia, Canada, an ice hockey team team based in Hazelton, British Columbia is named the Hazelton Wolverines.


External links


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