The Diet and Feeding Habits of the Wolverine

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"The Diet and Feeding Habits of the Wolverine"
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A 1936 juvenile fiction book by Rutherford G. Montgomery titled Carcajou' paints a malevolent picture of that short-legged bear-like animal. According to Montgomery, the carcajou was cunning and would purposefully spoil any food it could not eat by itself by secreting an ugly smelling musk on it. The human-like emotions that Montgomery attributed to the carcajou, or wolverine, have no basis in fact despite the reputation the animal has obtained over the years.

The wolverine is the biggest land animal of the weasel (Mustelidae) family which also includes the skunk and the badger. Although some sources call the wolverine an omnivore, meaning it eats both plants and animals, it belongs to the Order Carnivora. Most of these fierce animals live in the taiga biome and boreal (pine) forests of western Canada and United States and northern Europe. They may also live on mountains, brush-land, and plains.

Territory is of extreme importance to the wolverine. In fact, it will mark its property lines' with its own urine or with the musk it secretes from the anal gland just under its tail. The wolverine male has a territory that can be as big as 385 square miles while the wolverine female's territory is less than half of that. The wolverine needs all of that property' because of its feeding habits and its tendency to be a loner'. Two wolverines of the same sex will not share the land.

The wolverine is an excellent hunter but prefers, when it is able, to follow a wolf pack or a bear at a distance until they kill and prepare to eat. When the wolverine hears the death throes of an animal or smells its spilled blood, it will raise its hackles, display its sharp teeth, and advance growling toward the feeding bear, mountain lion, or wolves. Generally, the other animals retreat but sometimes the wolverine does not win the fresh kill as a prize.

Its keen sense of smell and hearing are only two of the ways in which the wolverine is adapted as a good hunter and scavenger. It is a very strong animal though it weighs at most only about 40 pounds. Its jaws are so powerful that they can crush bone or crunch through frozen meat. The wolverine is a fast runner with top speeds of 30 miles per hour. It has to be that swift to skim over deep snow and cover up to 40 miles in one day in search of food. Its foot pads are like snowshoes, keeping the wolverine atop the snow. Its large claws can rip through flesh, exposing the organs of larger animals like deer or caribou. The claws, teeth, and scent also are an excellent defense against its natural predators, mountain lions, wolves, bears, and humans.

Most of the wolverine's diet is carrion, preferably freshly killed, but it will also eat bird's eggs and young, fish, reptiles, and rodents. If necessary, it will eat berries, roots, and plants. The wolverine will pilfer animals from traps or raid a cabin or cache for food. Its teeth and jaws are tough enough to pierce a can of food.

The wolverine is known to bring down moose, wild sheep, elk, deer, and caribou by waiting for an animal to pass below its tree branch or rock perch. It then leaps onto the animal's back and hangs on, lacerating the animal with its claws and teeth until the animal is subdued. One may ask if the wolverine's appetite is so huge as to eat all of the meat it kills in this manner. The answer is no. The wolverine will store uneaten portions under the snow or ground or in the fork of a tree. The wolverine is powerful enough to be able to drag something three times its weight to a storage place. Not that any other animal will want the wolverine's food after it has stored it since it will spray its food with its telltale musk.

Because the wolverine will attack and kill weakened or snowbound animals five times its own size and store the meat, it is given the scientific name Gulo which means glutton'. Other names besides wolverine, Gulo luscus or Gulo gulo (subspecies), or the French Canadian carcajou include skunk bear and nasty cat, excellent descriptions for this very unpleasant-smelling, fierce animal


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