Everyone, we have an important announcement to make.
Wolves like blueberries.
It’s true. Some field biologists in northern Minnesota’s Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem caught them on film.
See? They’re hog-wild about these li’l blue boys.
Scientists have known that wolves love them some berries since 2015, but this is the first time they’ve gotten video evidence. It’s all thanks to Tom Gable and his colleagues in the Voyageurs Wolf Project, who got this footage while spying on wolves in the summer of 2017.
The Wolf Project is a collaboration between Voyageurs National Park and the University of Minnesota, where Gable is a Ph.D. student. His ultimate goal is to figure out how wolves live—including what they eat—in the summer. It turns out, it’s a lot of weird stuff.
“I’ve seen a pack of wolves figure out how to hunt spawning [fish] in the spring,” he says. “That was the first time wolves have been filmed hunting and killing freshwater fish.”
Depending on what’s around year to year, wolves will end up eating pretty much anything they can get their teeth into: fish, beavers, bear bait piles, bear gut piles discarded after a hunter has her way with said bear, compost, the works.
This new footage suggests blueberries may be a more important part of their diet than we originally thought—maybe even a potential “starvation food” for when times are lean and choice prey is hard to catch. After all, a blueberry is lower in calories than a hunk of organ meat, but it's found in abundance and generally puts up less of a fight.
Gable and his colleagues presented this important research in the journal Wildlife Society Bulletin, under—we shit you not—this title:
“Berry important? Wolf Provisions Pups with Berries in Northern Minnesota.”
Gable admits the pun was his idea.
“I thought it was just so clever,” he says a little sheepishly. Some of his teammates thought it was actually “pretty dumb,” but when they put the article out for review, nobody had a problem with it. The name stuck.
The findings get weirder. Thanks to that paper, we also know that adult wolves will feed blueberries to their pups. Whatever you’re picturing, it’s grosser than that. Think birds.
According to this incredibly detailed account, a fellow researcher, Austin Homkes, witnessed five pups gathering around an adult wolf, licking its mouth. After about 30 seconds, the adult began to puke up some dinner.
“Some of the pups ate the regurgitated food directly from the adult wolf’s mouth as the adult slowly walked around, while other pups followed behind the adult wolf consuming the regurgitated food that fell to the ground.”
This happened about three times over the course of a minute. About a half-hour after the wolves left, the researcher “investigated” the area and found “several small piles of chewed and whole wild blueberries mixed with a foamy liquid on top of the matted grass.”
“The foamy liquid was presumably stomach fluids,” the paper helpfully adds.
What does this mean? Gable says it’s difficult to tell yet. For one thing, we have no idea how common this behavior is, or their exact reasons for doing it. Given the choice, will wolves eat berries instead of chasing prey, or merely in addition? Are wolf pups better or worse off on a diet that includes regurgitated fruit? How does this impact the wolves’ prey population?
Gable is hoping to find out.
“I think that’s the thing I learn as I do this year after year,” he says. “Every year, there’s something surprising.”