Taxonomy and Species of Wolf

Wolves are part of the canine family, also known as Canidae. Within the Canidae, seven species are termed 'wolf', of which only four are considered 'true' wolves. The most threatened wolf species include the Red wolf and Ethiopian wolf.

- the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus),
- the Red Wolf (Canis rufus),
- the Eastern Wolf (Canis lycaon),
- the Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis),

There is still some uncertainty as to whether the Indian and Himalayan wolf should be considered subspecies of Canis lupus or species in their own right. The Indian wolf is very rare, and the genetics of the remaining specimens is questionable due to interbreeding with Indian feral dogs.

- the Indian Wolf (Canis indica) and
- the Himalayan Wolf (Canis himalayaensis)

Note that the Maned wolf does not belong to the same genus (Canis) as the other wolves and is therefore generally considered as being not a 'true' wolf. See also: wild canids.

- the Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus),
Grey Wolf
(Canis lupus)

Red Wolf
(Canis rufus)

Eastern Wolf
(Canis lycaon)

Wolf Breeds
(Wolf species and subspecies)
By Catherine Marien for The Canine Information Library 2003-2010 © All rights reserved by and 

Ethiopian Wolf
(Canis simensis)

Himalayan Wolf
(Canis himalayaensis)

Maned Wolf
(Chrysocyon brachyurus)

The Red Wolf, a survivor of the Late Pleistocene glaciation, descends from a common ancestor of the Coyote, the Eastern North American wolves and Grey Wolf. The branch of the Eastern North American wolves later evolved into two separate populations: the Eastern Wolf and the Red Wolf. Due to its ressemblence to the coyote it has long been considered a hybrid between the coyote and the wolf. While it is true that the Red wolf is genetically closer to the coyote than to the Grey Wolf, this is not due to recent hybridization, but rather to the fact that all three can be traced back to a single prehistoric ancestor. Some introgression of coyote genetic material from local coyote populations may occur, but the levels remain negligeable and do certainly not justify the use of the term hybridization.

The Maned wolf has the body and coat colors of a Red fox, the head and legs of a wolf, and the large ears of an African hunting dog.
A comparison of chromosomes and banding patterns suggests that the Maned wolf and Grey wolf share a common wolf-like ancestor.

The Ethiopian wolf is a medium sized canid resembling the coyote in size and appearance, but with longer legs and a narrow pointed muzzle.

The Eastern Wolf, also know as Eastern Canadian Wolf or Eastern Canadian Red Wolf, is more closerly related to the Red Wolf than to any other Wolf species and, like the Red Wolf, smaller in size as compared to the Grey wolf.

The Indian wolf and Himalayan wolf were only recently recognized as separate wolf species (see further: Wolf subspecies).

Wolf Subspecies

Many of the wolf species mentioned above have subspecies, the equivalent of what we term 'breeds' in domestic dog. Scientists have identified at least 32 different subspecies of wolves, largely based on geography and differences in morphology, even though genetic variability does not always follow geographic distribution. However, the actual number of subspecies remains subject to discussion and many authorities noted that there were probably far too many sub specific designations in use.

Historically three subspecies of the Red Wolf are recognized. Two of these subspecies, Canis rufus floridanus and Canis rufus gregoryi are now extinct. Canis rufus rufus, the only surviving subspecies, was apparently extirpated in the wild in 1980, but several wolf pairs from captive breeding colonies of red wolves were reintroduced in North Carolina beginning in 1987.

The vast majority of Wolf subspecies, however, are subspecies of Canis lupus (Grey wolf). At least a dozen of these are now probably extinct. The Grey wolf's numerous subspecies include:

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- Arabian Wolf (Canis lupus arab),
- Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos),
- Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi),
- Steppe Wolf (
Canis lupus campestris),
- Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus),
- Tibetan Wolf (Canis lupus laniger),
- Alexander Archipelago Wolf (Canis lupus ligoni),
- Eurasian Wolf (Canis lupus lupus), also known as the European Wolf, Common (Grey) Wolf or Carpathian Wolf),
- Mackenzie Valley Wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis, originally classified as Canis lupus mackenzii),
- Iranian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes),
- Alaskan Wolf (Canis lupus pambasileus),
- Iberian Wolf (Canis lupus signatus),
- Tundra wolf (Canis lupus tundrarum),

Arctic Wolf
Canis lupus arctos

Mexican Wolf
Canis lupus balleyi

Arabian Wolf
Canis lupus arabs

Mackenzie Valley Wolf
Canis Lupus Occidentalis

Tibetan Wolf
Canis lupus laniger

Steppe Wolf
Canis lupus campestris

Italian Wolf
Canis lupus italicus

Iberian Wolf
Canis lupus signatus

The Indian wolf (Canis indica) and Himalayan wolf, which were so far considered subspecies of the Grey wolf, have recently been identified as separate species, distinct from all other wolf species in the world. The Indian wolf, long thought to be a variant of the subspecies Iranian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes), was reclassified as Canis indica based on recent genetic research. Similarly, the Himalyan wolf, so far known as Canis lupus laniger, a variant of the Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco), may represent an entire new species: Canis himalayensis.

In 1993, the Smithsonian Institute and the American Society of Mammalogists reclassified the domestic dog from its separate species designation of Canis familiaris to Canis lupus familiaris, a subspecies of the grey wolf (Canis lupus). Some authorities believe that the dog should, more specifically, be referred to as a domestic variant of the gray wolf (still under the species designation of Canis lupus) rather than as a subspecies of gray wolf because of its domestic status.[1] The dingo is provisionally considered a separate entity, "artificial variants created by domestication and selective breeding".

Relation to the Dog

North American domestic dogs are believed to have originated from Eurasian wolves. The first people to colonize North America 12,000 to 14,000 years ago brought their dogs with them from Asia, and apparently did not separately domesticate the wolves they found in their new home.[2] There was no significant domestication of other wolf species elsewhere in the world. This suggests that domestic dogs came to the new, conquered areas with human migrants or invaders, instead of being domesticated from local wolf species. A clade of dog sequences unique to the New World was absent from a large sample of modern dogs, which again implies that European colonists systematically discouraged the breeding of native American dogs.[3]

Recent mithocondrial DNA examination also suggests a common origin from a single gene pool for all dog populations. The pattern of phylogeographic variation and a larger genetic variation in East Asia as compared to other regions suggest an East Asian origin for the domestic dog, about 15,000 years ago. [4]

See also:
Wolf-like dogs and wolf hybrids

1. Canid Genetics and The Wolfdog
2. Spotlight on Zoo Science (October 8, 2003) - Spotlight on science, a weekly electronic newsletter featuring Science at the Smithsonian.
3. Ancient DNA Evidence for Old World Origin of New World Dogs by Jennifer A. Leonard, Robert K. Wayne, Jane Wheeler, Raúl Valadez, Sonia Guillén, Carles Vilà, Science 22 November 2002:Vol. 298. no. 5598, pp. 1613 - 1616
4. Genetic Evidence for an East Asian Origin of Domestic Dogs by Peter Savolainen, Ya-ping Zhang, Jing Luo, Joakim Lundeberg, Thomas Leitner, Science 22 November 2002:Vol. 298. no. 5598, pp. 1610 - 1613

Further reading:
American Society of Mammologists
The Wolves of Algonquin Park

Wolf Almanac
Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation
The Wolf Almanac,
New and Revised:
A Celebration of Wolves and Their World
by Robert H. Busch
Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation
by L. David Mech (Editor), Luigi Boitani (Editor)
THE Wolf bible and must-have for every wolf biology student and wolf enthusiast.
Biology and Conservation of Wild Canids
.The Biology and Conservation of Wild Canids
by David W. Macdonald  (Editor), Claudio Sillero-Zubiri (Editor)
More information:

The Last Wild Wolves:
Ghosts of the Rain Forest (Hardcover)
by Ian McAllister
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