Once found across all of northern Eurasia and North America, the grey wolf (Canis lupus) was one of the most widely distributed mammals on Earth. The current range of the species is largely restricted to sparsely populated habitats in northern latitudes, where it hunts large prey such as moose, deer and elk. Highly social by nature, grey wolves live in packs of related individuals, typically consisting of a dominant pair and several of their adult offspring.
The Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis) is specialised hunter of rodents, native to the alpine grasslands and highlands of northeast Africa. Like many other wolf species, Ethiopian wolves live in packs, but they tend to hunt alone—foraging for prey in high-elevation heathlands above the tree line. The species is currently listed as Endangered, with populations confined to seven isolated mountain ranges in Ethiopia.
With the longest legs in the canid family, the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is well adapted to the tall grasslands and scrublands of central South America. Maned wolves do not form packs like other wolf species—preferring to hunt and forage alone after sundown.
Sometimes called the Mississippi Valley wolf, the red wolf (Canis rufus) is a critically endangered canine species native to the southeastern United States. Smaller than the grey wolf, and slighter in build, red wolves face a significant threat from hybridisation with coyotes. Wild populations were exterminated from the wild during the early 20th century, but a successful reintroduction effort has established a growing population in the U.S. state of North Carolina.
The Dhole (Cuon alpinus), also known as the Asiatic wild dog or mountain wolf, is an endangered canid species found throughout South, Southeast and Central Asia. Dholes are highly social animals, and live in clans rather than packs, lacking the strict dominance hierarchy common in other wolf species.
Earlier this year, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute sequenced the full genome of what they assumed to be an African population of golden jackals (Canis aureus). To their surprise, the genetic tests revealed these African ‘jackals’ to be more closely related to grey wolves, signalling the need for reclassification of these canids as a new species: the Golden wolf (Canis anthus). Despite its similar appearance to the golden jackal, golden wolves are genetically distinct, and have likely been evolving independently for over a million years. This is the first new species of canid to be described in more than a century—bringing one more wolf into the world.
Humans share a long history with wolves. As some of the most iconic and successful predators on the planet, large canids feature prominently in many cultures, and in the case of domestic dogs—many households. Due to their huge territories and social behaviours, it was thought that people were aware of all species of wolf living today. However, some great discoveries hide in plain sight. Newly published research has revealed the presence of a new species, the Golden Wolf, living throughout East and North Africa. To celebrate this discovery, we’ve put together a list of six of the world’s most amazing wolf species, from grey to gold.