Arctic wolves (Canis lupus arctos) are a subspecies of grey wolf (Canis lupus) that occur on Canada's arctic islands and the eastern and northern shores of Greenland. They are similar in appearance to other wolves, but are typically white or cream coloured and have very long, thick fur. They may have some darker coloured hairs on their backs. Arctic wolves are stockier in appearance than other subspecies of wolves and have shorter ears, legs and muzzles. These traits make arctic wolves well adapted to the cold, snowy environment they live in, where temperatures can drop as low as -60o F. Their long, white fur camouflages them against the snow and their shorter ears and snouts help prevent them from losing heat.
White wolves have been spotted in areas other than the high arctic. They occur in Alaska and northern Canada and have even been seen as far south as Minnesota. However, most wolves south of the High Arctic are grey or black. Other than their coat colour and somewhat stocky build, arctic wolves are physically similar to other wolf subspecies.
Prey is scarce in the Arctic regions so the wolves there often must travel twenty or more miles per day in search of food. The home range of a pack of arctic wolves can be up to 1000 square miles. The land that arctic wolves live on is covered in snow for most of the year with the exception of mid June to August when ithe snow melts and the land can support a variety of small plant and lichen species that are eaten by the animals the wolves prey upon
In terms of their behaviour, arctic wolves are very similar to wolves that live at lower latitudes. Like other wolf subspecies, arctic wolves live and hunt in packs that have a social hierarchy. The typical arctic wolf pack is a family that consists of a breeding pair and its offspring. Arctic wolves usually give birth in late May to early June, which is roughly a month later than the time mosst southern subspecies give birth. This is because the winters in the arctic regions last very long and it is best for the mother wolf to give birth during the spring when temperatures are milder. The mother wolf will give birth to only 2-3 puppies, which is lower than the number generally produced by wolves at lower latitudes. Although they are white or cream coloured when they are grown, arctic wolf pups are born a dark brown colour and they gradually become lighter as they mature. Once they mature at one to two years, arctic wolves often disperse from their natal pack to find mates of their own and produce new packs.
Unlike other wolf subspecies, arctic wolves have not been heavily hunted by human beings because they occur in largely uninhabited areas. As a result they do not fear humans to the degree that other wolves do and will often stand and observe any people they see rather than flee from them. This makes arctic wolves ideal for studies on wild wolf behaviour. Wolf researcher Dr. L.D. Mech has spent several summers studying arctic wolves and has written about his experiences in a number of books and articles including The Arctic Wolf: Living With the Pack (1988. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, Inc.) and Wolves of the High Arctic (1992. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, Inc.).