Somehow it’s already April. Which means that March is officially over. And we all know what that means:
The winner of this year’s March Mammal Madness has been decided! All hail the wolverine!
For those who don’t know, March Mammal Madness is “an annual tournament of *simulated* combat competition among animals.” After weeks of battling, the final match-up came down to the okapi and the wolverine, with the wolverine pulling away with the win!
To celebrate, let’s take a closer look at this year’s winner.
Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are part of the family Mustelidae, the same family that includes badgers, weasels, and otters. In fact, they’re one of the largest mustelids out there. An adult wolverine clocks in between 2 and 3 feet long, with a body weight between 24 and 40 pounds.
Wolverines are northern creatures, finding their home in the boreal forests, tundras, and taiga of northern Europe, Asia, Canada, and Alaska. Their diet shifts depending on food availability, with fruit supplementing their diet in the summer. However, meat is the primary source of food! Wolverines aren’t picky – they’re scavengers in addition to hunters, so they’re perfectly happy eating carrion if they find some.
Made for snow
Wolverines have many adaptions that help them thrive in cold habitats. To start with, they have huge paws! These big feet double in size when they hit the ground, acting as snowshoes that help a wolverine cross snow drifts efficiently.
Wolverines also have a very good sense of smell. This lets them smell prey that’s hidden under 20 feet of snow! Wolverines have even been known to find and attack animals hibernating under the snow.
Sometimes, wolverines have to deal with frozen meat – either from carcasses they find, or from meat they’ve stored in their snowbank refrigerator for later (I’m serious! Wolverines will bury leftovers in the snow to eat later!). Wolverines have evolved powerful jaws to chew through frozen flesh or bone. They also have a molar that is rotated 90 degrees; this helps them better tear frozen meat.
One last adaptation wolverines have for the cold is their fur. Their thick fur coat is oily, which repels water very well, making wolverines resistant to frost and snow. That’s one reason why hunters prized wolverines – their winterproof fur made great coats for us humans!
Wolverines are known for being fierce and aggressive. While they typically prey on creatures like squirrels, rabbits, and birds, they will go after larger mammals like moose and deer if the opportunity arises. If a deer is injured or stuck in a snow drift, it’s fair game for a wolverine.
And their aggressiveness doesn’t stop at hunting prey – wolverines will also face down other large carnivores like bears, cougars, and wolves.
But while you may have heard that wolverines are pound-for-pound the strongest animals out there, this isn’t true! Wolverines have a bite force of 224 Newtons, while polar bears rank at the top with a bite force of 1646.7 Newtons. And when you take in a wolverine’s size, their bite is even less impressive. Wolverines have a pretty average “bite force quotient” of 105. In contrast, the animal with the largest bite force quotient is the Tasmanian Devil, coming in at 181.
Just like the superhero, wolverines are pretty solitary creatures. Males will guard large territories against rival males, and males and females typically only meet up when it’s time for mating.
However, recent research shows that wolverines aren’t quite as solitary as we once thought! Kits (baby wolverines) will stay with their mothers for at least a year after they’re born. The dad will sometimes pop in to see how the kits are doing and even help around the burrow.
Looks like this fierce creature has a heart after all!
Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife
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