The Gray Wolf (Canis lupus), also known as the timber wolf, true wolf, or western wolf is a canid native to the wilderness and remote areas of North America, Eurasia, and North Africa. It is the largest extant member of its family, with males averaging 43–45 kg (95–99 lb), and females 36–38.5 kg (79–85 lb). Like the red wolf, it is distinguished from other Canis species by its larger size and less pointed features, particularly on the ears and muzzle. Its winter fur is long and bushy, and predominantly a mottled gray in color, although nearly pure white, red, or brown to black also occur.
Compared to its closest cousins (the coyote and golden jackal), the gray wolf is larger and heavier, with a broader snout, shorter ears, a shorter torso and longer tail. It is a slender, powerfully built animal with a large, deeply descending ribcage, a sloping back and a heavily muscled neck. The wolf's legs are moderately longer than those of other canids, which enables the animal to move swiftly, and allows it to overcome the deep snow that covers most of its geographical range. Females tend to have narrower muzzles and foreheads, thinner necks, slightly shorter legs and less massive shoulders than males. The gray wolf's head is large and heavy, with a wide forehead, strong jaws and a long, blunt muzzle. The ears are relatively small and triangular. The teeth are heavy and large, being better suited to crushing bone than those of other extant canids, though not as specialised as those found in hyenas. Its molars have a flat chewing surface, but not to the same extent as the coyote, whose diet contains more vegetable matter. The gray wolf's jaws can exert a crushing pressure of perhaps 10,340 kPa (1,500 psi) compared to 5,200 kPa (750 psi) for a German shepherd.
The gray wolf was once one of the world's most widely distributed mammals, living throughout the northern hemisphere north of 15°N latitude in North America and 12°N in India. However, deliberate human persecution has reduced the species' range to about one third, due to livestock predation and fear over attacks on humans. The species is now extinct in much of Western Europe, in Mexico and much of the USA. In modern times, the gray wolf occurs mostly in wilderness and remote areas, particularly in Canada, Alaska and northern USA, Europe, and Asia from about 75°N to 12°N. Wolf population declines have been arrested since the 1970s, and have fostered recolonization and reintroduction in parts of its former range, due to legal protection, changes in land-use and rural human population shifts to cities. Competition with humans for livestock and game species, concerns over the danger posed by wolves to people, and habitat fragmentation pose a continued threat to the species. Despite these threats, because of the gray wolf's relatively widespread range and stable population, it is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN.
Wolves are highly territorial animals, and generally establish territories far larger than they require to survive in order to assure a steady supply of prey. Territory size depends largely on the amount of prey available and the age of the pack's pups, tending to increase in size in areas with low prey populations or when the pups reach the age of 6 months, thus having the same nutritional needs as adults. Wolf packs travel constantly in search of prey, covering roughly 9% of their territory per day (average 25 km/d or 15 mi/d). The core of their territory is on average 35 km2 (14 sq mi), in which they spend 50% of their time. Prey density tends to be much higher in the territory's surrounding areas, though wolves tend to avoid hunting in the fringes of their range unless desperate, due to the possibility of fatal encounters with neighboring packs. The smallest territory on record was held by a pack of six wolves in northeastern Minnesota, which occupied an estimated 33 km2 (13 sq mi), while the largest was held by an Alaskan pack of ten wolves encompassing a 6,272 km2 (2,422 sq mi) area. Wolf packs are typically settled, and usually only leave their accustomed ranges during severe food shortages.