Wolf packs take their territory very seriously. That point is illustrated in incredible, colorful, squiggly detail via a new data map from Voyageurs Wolf Project.
Researchers at VWP -- a collab between the University of Minnesota and Voyageurs National Park -- charted the locations of seven northern Minnesota wolf packs 68,000 times throughout the summer. The findings, pictured above, show how rigidly wolves stick to their own turf.
"The image basically speaks for itself -- it shows how the woods are partitioned by wolves," says Tom Gable, a U of M Ph.D. student with VWP. "There’s something wolves have, it’s fascinating, where they know where those boundaries are. It’s scent, right? You’re using just your nose; there are no geographical markers. That’s a really cool part of it."
The map also helps researchers learn what, exactly, Voyageurs' 30-40 wolves are up to in the summer. The forest canopy hid wolves from older detection methods like radios and planes, Gable explains, but data from GPS collars provide detailed accounts of pack movements.
That's allowing researchers to better understand how wolves eat during warmer months. VWP members hiked nearly 5,000 miles to examine potential kill sites -- places where the packs stopped for more than 20 minutes. "We don’t know, on average, how many beavers or deer wolves kill in the summer, because people haven't been able to quantify this," Gable says.
The emerging science delights the team at VWP, though the data map has attracted almost 50,000 Reddit users by dynamically highlighting an old fact: Wolves are territorial beasts.
"It’s been kind of amazing, honestly," Gable says. "It’s kind of gone viral."