The Wolf

Painting of an Iberian wolf


The last Wolf

Wolf ( Canis lupus signatus )
Paintings of wolves


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The mythical figure of the wolf

  Since ancient times, wolf portraits, paintings of wolves, mythology and folklore have represented the wolf (Canis lupus) as a diabolical entity to conjure. Remember the "luperealias", Greek and Roman deeds in which the wolf was the central motive of rites intended to promote the fecundity of livestock and at the same time to neutralize the male predatory evil power. In the Basque Country the «Otsabilko» or days dedicated to the wolf were celebrated. In Slovenia, Russia and Bulgaria, forest spirits could take on the form of a wolf and would often appear to walkers to lose them among the fronds. The wolf has been represented in painting since the beginning of humanity. Lycanthropy, a mental illness that seemed to attack human beings, converted, according to tradition, those affected into real wolves who preached on animals and people the legend of the man who, being the seventh son of a family of males was fatally destined to suffer process of transformation into a wolf, survived in eighteenth-century Spain to the point that the Inquisition prosecuted so-called lycanthropes. According to the Apiano historian, the Celtiberian tribes of northeastern Iberia had adopted as a symbol the figure of a wolf. This appears on the coins of lerda (Lleida) and likewise the heralds covered their shoulders "with a skin of the aforementioned animal. Pictures of wolves: innumerable references are found on the wolf in the painting, literature and in the popular songbook, and certainly the animal is never properly portrayed, because according to these references the wolf is a fierce enemy of man, its treacherous and petty condition must make him the object of general inquisition, its very appearance is ominous, and its dangerousness has no limits. , more or less, the image that the past generations have transmitted to us, but the scientist and the artist must make things clear.When we observe an adult wolf, our robust head, bearer of a pair of ears, draws our attention. triangular, and its amber oblique eyes.The robust neck gives a sense of hieratic, to the point that at first sight it seems that the animal can not turn its head. The skull is narrower than that of the dog, but it is covered with a formidable muscular mass in the temporal region that gives it its characteristic voluminosity; the snout is pointed, and the lips are more torn than those of the dog, the canine teeth, the flesh teeth, betray the tremendous possibilities of the mandibular box in the service of predation. In the wolf, the upper carcass molar usually exceeds the length of the tubers of the same, which does not happen in the dog. The lumbar region of the wolf, depressed, accentuates this particularity by the long, hairy tail. It remains lax during the march and the hunting actions, because in this way it does not alert its presumed prey. The tail shelters the snout of the animal when it remains lying down and constitutes a singular instrument of intraspecific communication in the confrontations by the hierarchy of the group. They weigh between 27 and 68 kg, but some specimens have exceeded the 90s as something exceptional. The weight of the Iberian wolf ranges between the minimum expressed above and a maximum of 55 kg. This is based on its smaller size and appearance more lean than its congeners in the boreal regions. To withstand the rigors of the harshest winters, the wolf has winter fur, which shelters the animal on a layer of greasy fluff. This type of seasonal adaptation, common to many other species, considerably modifies the appearance of the canine and is more accentuated in those regions where the low temperatures are more extreme. On the contrary, wolves that have evolved in regions of milder climate have not needed to resort to the incorporation of such an exuberant hair layer. In general, in Europe, the Siberian and Nordic specimens have a thicker and clearer fur coat than their European or Mediterranean center congeners. Between these and within the Iberian Peninsula, the wolves of the Cantabrian and north-eastern fringe are darker than those of Sierra Morena. When the thick fur that the wolf has worn from November to April is detached, it discovers a lean and sometimes emaciated body that betrays the hardships suffered during the harsh winter. Then, the canid shows more red tones, the grayish and dark color of winter gives way to an ambush or brown in the legs more saffron in the belly and lower end of the tail than in the rest of the body. Today there are exceptionally rare cases of melanism in European wolves. However, this phenomenon occurred with some frequency in some countries centuries ago. In Switzerland, specifically, there were black wolves in the sixteenth century in the eastern region, in Germany some specimens were located

Wolves Herd in the Mist
Wolf ( Canis lupus )


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Painting of a trio of Iberian wolves on a snowy peak. Oil painting on canvas. The specimens are based on studies of wolves in captivity of the center La Cañada Real in Escorial

Picture of a trio of Iberian wolves on a snowy peak. Oil painting on canvas. The specimens are based on studies of wolves in captivity at the La Cañada Real del Escorial center. Oil on canvas. Manuel Sosa © 2000

 AntesBefore man monopolized the different energetics of his natural environment, ungulates in a safe state were chased indiscriminately by all predatory animals, including man. The wolf found its food, then, in the immense protein reserves that would constitute the herds of herbivores that roamed the open spaces and ice-creams of the ice age: deer, elk, reindeer, fallow deer, caribou ... With the Neolithic revolution and the As a result of the process of domestication, the competition for food sources between man and other predators became more intense, and he then tried to reduce this type of competition by using all kinds of traps and ingenuity in the company. The wolf, as a counterpart, while occasionally cutting down herbivores not yet decimated by man, parasitized on it whenever possible, as it has done so far to this day. Indeed, the dramatic wolf-sheep relationship has typified like no other the oldest stories and paintings of wolves, from pre-Roman times, to being printed in the works of famous painters and writers from Plautus and Terence to the most popular fabulists like Aesop. or storytellers like Perault. But the wolf is evidently not in the nature of a boar when hunger tightens, although the price to pay for it is often too high. This is a case known, referred by a guard of the Ancares of Leon, in which a boar was attacked in the snow by three adult wolves. After a fierce fight during which the snow was beaten and filled with blood within a radius of 25 m, the attackers managed to kill their victim, but not before it hurt some of them. We will finish by referring to the danger posed to the wolf by the poisoning of animals considered harmful, and from which eventually that certain consumption is made. Indeed, it has been proven on several occasions the death of a wolf by the ingestion of carrion foxes and other animals affected by the uncontrolled use of poison. The fact that the wolf is a carrion consumer partly explains these fantastic stories that tell us about people devoured by terrible animals. The truth is that the wolf can take advantage, in effect, the corpse of a man who has died in the field, but this does not presuppose in any way an attack and death of that person in charge of the carnivores. Natural selection of herbivores The normal selective exercise carried out by the wolf populations on the traditional game species has been interfering with man since ancient times. Driven by an atavistic instinct, it has killed all kinds of animal species in all time and place and in a totally indiscriminate and abusive manner. Such uncontrolled actions - not yet stopped - have ruined the continuous and perfectly structured functioning of the existing tropical chains in the area of ​​animal communities. Deleted the wild ungulates, deforested the wooded zones, altered the most diverse habitats by means of exploitations of all type, layout of roads, degradation of the environment, humanization of the landscape ..., the predators - like the rest of the animals- had to accommodate the unnatural conditions imposed on the living environment by man. Known is the important role played by any species in the fulfillment of a specific mission without the wolf having to be -no is- no exception. The participation of the wolf in the control of herbivores is not only done in a direct way, but also the canids oblige them to move periodically, and thus avoid the degrading effects of excessive browsing that would seriously damage the vegetation cover. By themselves, the lithophagous animals would hardly maintain the balance between them and the vegetable matter to be consumed. On the other hand, a lack of large predatory animals -wolf, lynx- would effectively translate into a demographic explosion within ungulate populations with subsequent pressure on the vegetation, whereby the balance between population and natural resources would be broken and in the end that would gradually degenerate. The elimination of weaker or slower ungulates also belongs to the canid. In this regard, it can be said that about nine observations made in the northwest of the peninsula in which the wolf reached and killed as many deer, three of them were males deficient horn, a quarter franked conspicuously, and another of them had been bitten by dogs and bleeding when two wolves chased him. Certainly, the action of man, in his attempts to supplant the natural work of predators like the wolf, leaves much to be desired, to the point that the exercise of hunting. In the best case, it only serves to exercise a dubious artificial selection, guided by very particular interests and considerations. The reason for the above is very simple and is based on an ecological axiom that we could express saying that in the vital relationships existing between all the communities of the planet, the instinct, as a mechanism of conservation and improvement of said communities, many times polished by the action, a thousand times repeated over the centuries, it is above any substitute that with analogous purpose tried to put man before any intellectual process.

Painting of wolves hunting chamois

In this painting, a herd of chamois flees desperately from a charge of the Iberian wolf, its natural adversary. A scene never filmed or photographed, which I had long wanted to reenact in canvas.

Stampede - Chamois and Iberian Wolf

Chamois and wolves



Love and war

  Many zoologists consider the wolf as the direct ancestor of the dog. And among the many races of wolves, some researchers have chosen the wolf of India (Canas lupus pallipes) as the most likely ancestor, among other reasons because it barks and does not howl. Others, taking into account the diversity of dog breeds, assume that other races of wolves may have also participated in the early stages of differentiation of the dog. Be that as it may, the fact is that the dog already appears as a regular companion of the Magdalenian and protoneolithic hunters more than 10,000 years ago. Since then, this one of the nest has undoubtedly rendered great services to man. But not everything will be praise for the dog. In many places they return to a semi-wild state, becoming the so-called feral or wild dogs. These dogs are often associated in packs, fiercely tending domestic livestock and alarming public opinion that, under the cover of unfounded sensationalist news, blame the wolf for everything. The investigations carried out by J. Garzón, R. Grande and other naturalists allow us to suppose that the number of losses in livestock due to maroon dogs reached almost two million pesetas in 1975; To these losses should be added the damage inflicted on small game. The data collected in 1975 in the province of Cáceres for a pack of maroons is eloquent, accounting for 200 lambs and dead sheep. Apart from the danger posed to cattle by the existence of maroon dogs, man is also exposed to the attacks of such canids, although fortunately this does not happen often. However, according to R. Grande, there is a singular audacity in these dogs, to which the human presence does not frighten in many cases. In nature, hybrids can also sometimes occur as a result of mating between dog and wolf - more difficultly between wolf and bitch. This happens especially in those places where the density of wolves is very low. Sometimes the identification of hybrids involves great difficulty, because there is a phenomenon of genetic resorption by which hybrids tend to acquire the purest primitive characters. In spite of everything, there is never a total identification with the pure forms, for example, the presence in the hind legs of supplementary nails is an exclusive element of the domestic dog, which never appears in the wolf. The prosperity of maroons and hybrids is directly related to the destruction of the environment, undertaken with more intensity than ever in recent years, as well as the irresponsible abandonment of domestic dogs, often in the bush. The expansion of the wild dogs is slowed down by the wolves in those areas where they are still abundant. It is well known the control exercised by wolves and lynxes on the populations of other predators of smaller size, which can act as ecological competitors. Under normal circumstances, a wolf will not tolerate the presence of dogs in its vicinity, and even less if they stumble upon it in its hunting territory or during the breeding season. There are about 200 dogs killed by wolves throughout 1975 in the northwest of the Peninsular. Once again human thoughtlessness, in trying to eradicate natural predators, has caused the proliferation of these substitutes of natural balance.

Three wolves in a snowy landscape. Oil on canvas.

Painting of a trio of Northern Wolves in a snowy landscape. Oil on canvas. Manuel Sosa © 2006

Wolves of the North

Wolf ( Canis lupus )
Cuadro de lobos


  Regarding the behavior within the hunting groups, it is admissible to suppose that within them there are no more hierarchical differences than those imposed by the normal composition of the herds, keeping in mind that those adult individuals participating as "aggregates" in the expeditions do not antagonize the other dominant adults of the ruling pack. This explains why those herds that regularly consisted of four or five individuals dur- ing the spring and summer months frequently receive a considerable increase in numbers at the arrival of autumn, although this happens less and less frequently, due to the regression in the total population of wolves. In this regard, our research allows us to talk about a seasonal situation in which wolves are recreated in the Castilian-Leonese region. The wolf remains in stable conditions in an area of ​​about seven thousand square kilometers, which represent 1.3% of the peninsular territory. In the rest of Iberia, the extraordinary dispersion of the population -except in very specific points of the Sierra Morena, north of Portugal and Galicia- explains the hybridization with maroon dogs, the hunting activities in solitaire and the dissemination of scavenger habits. The excessive density of wolves in a given biotope usually triggers an aggressive reaction from the older wolves that monopolize the females, and in whose operation they usually scare off the younger individuals and even kill them if this can guarantee the hegemony of the dominant ones. The same happens between males and females. It has also been possible to verify in certain areas of the peninsular northwest that the simultaneous occupation of a biotope by several families of wolves causes terrible confrontations between them. Aggressive reactions of this type also occur in captivity. According to Gerald Menatory in this regard, young wolves have been attacked and killed by adult individuals who shared the same living space within a fence. It is admissible in general terms that this phenomenon occurs related to the deployment of the courtship by the male w to the female, as well as in the relations of both to their grown scions of just one year. Because, although these do not suppose an element of rivalry in the process of encelamiento - the sexual maturity is not reached by the wolf before the two years -, the adult male of the herd wants to be cured in health eliminating if it is possible future enemies in that terrain. We can say the same about females, which wound up hurting younger ones who could compete with them by attracting males. Anyway, this facet of the behavior of the wolves is subject to various conditions And we can assure, through the experiences accumulated in research on Iberian wolves in the wild, that although in the heat of the adult wolves leaders of the group socially are very irritable and aggressive toward their same-sex partners, tolerance is frankly good among the different components of the family and it is common to discover groups composed of individuals born of a first-time litter, their parents and with them the offspring born from a later one. Theoretically, herds of more than a dozen individuals would form, but in reality no such thing happens. We must think that a female of three or four years is not too prolific in her first births, so that in those cases where there is a union between a couple already able to reproduce but young, the total effects of the family will reach probably five or six copies. In the best of cases, in successive years the same female can get to give birth to seven or eight cubs. Be that as it may, when they reach five or six months of age, their siblings from the previous litter are already of an age to mate and the herd is reduced then, with the sub-adult's desertion, to the more typical family picture constituted at that time by the adult parent couple and the little ones born in the last spring.

Another of my paintings tribute to the Iberian Wolf .. Oil on canvas. Manuel Sosa © 2011

Wolves at dawn

Wolf (Canis lupus)
Wolves painting


  The zeal

  In winter, usually between the end of January and mid-March, the wolves proclaim their love affairs. Males and females unite in pairs, and delimit a territory marking it by droppings of excrements in visible points, so that they facilitate to other congeners the recognition of these signals. By then, the couple had expelled from the chosen territory other possible members of the group in which they were integrated. Sometimes between the males of a herd they fight for the position of sexual hegemony that are fierce, although rarely fatal for any of the contenders. In some cases - especially if the dispersion of the population is large -, the couple can remain united beyond the reproductive period. On the other hand, in other cases the coherence of the group continues to be maintained during the heat season in those regions with high population density due to the abundance of food.

Meeting an Iberian wolf in the middle of a forest is almost a dream, as is this painting. For five years I have visited this oak grove almost daily next to my house and I have never seen a single man there. So, why are there no wolves? "The last one we knocked down twenty years ago" answers Vitorio ... "This painting is an oil painting on canvas. Oil on canvas. Manuel Sosa © 1998

The Encounter

Wolf ( Canis lupus signatus )
Wolf painting


 The litter

  Births occur after sixty days of pregnancy, so that married women would usually be born at the end of April or the beginning of May, as has been proven in the midwest and northwestern quadrant of the Peninsula. The wolf will give birth, in normal conditions, of five to seven puppies. To do this, it retreats to a solitary and remote place in which a small wolfhound or terrera digs, although sometimes it uses a simple depression in the ground, or a rocky shelter, as unusual cases a litter born in a tunnel is mentioned, a few meters of the mouth, and dens in cereal fields. The cubs appear at the birth of the soft hair of a dark colored uniform, and are fed during the first three weeks with breast milk. The appearance of the first pieces of milk teething by the fourth week already allows the puppies to take advantage of the semi-digested food that the male wolf regurgitates for them, food that is also consumed by the female. In this regard, research carried out in the Iberian Peninsula indicates that the mate of the parturient female normally hunts alone, but if the density of wolves, as well as that of prey, is sufficiently high, each male can participate jointly with others. in hunting. This is less and less frequent, due to the precarious situation that the wolves go through in the peninsular area. As the puppies go gazing, the game comes to occupy a first plane in family life, as befits animals endowed with high IQ. Naturally, it is the little ones who play the ludic manifestations, and it is common to see them jumping on their parents while they nibble on their ears and stretch them out of the tail with the consent of the adult couple, which is decided from time to time. to give a snout to his playful suckers. If the mother senses that the location of the litter may have been discovered by a possible enemy - usually the man - he will try to install his children in another place, for which he takes them by the nape of the neck and transports them between his teeth. The discovery of traces of wild boar in the vicinity of certain wolf terraces destroyed in the territory of the Portuguese Beira Alta is indicative, according to the inquiries made in Portugal by the researcher Paico de Magalhâes, of a considerable incidence of said wild noises on the married Wolves. At three months of age, the wolves follow their parents assiduously in hunting actions. By then the coat had already undergone a profound change, and in short it will show the new grayish-dark shade that gives them a seal of physiological maturity. It will take a couple of months more for the animal to acquire the authentic appearance of the Cub, already provided with full dentition. In all that time, the learning of the hunting techniques constitutes a fundamental factor for the normal development of the psyche of the young wolf, in the same way as the ludic activities are also. In this respect, human persecution can lead to profound disturbances in the functioning of the mechanisms proper to the species. As far as the Iberian Peninsula is concerned, the proliferation of batters at any time of the year, as well as the anachronistic and execrable use of poison, have reduced the population of wolves to very dangerous limits. And if for this reason the parents disappear and the coordination of the family group is broken, the balance will be more dramatic, since, although some young survivors are lucky enough to be adopted by other adults, the others will see their integral development interrupted. Returning to the learning of the puppies, it should be noted that, as a preliminary phase of their authentic prefations, the puppies are launched into a series of what could be called "cinegetic essays": at the moment in which the male parent -which, as we say, hunting for the group brings a live prey, the wolves play with it, subjecting it to continuous dalliances in which they show off an unusual energy, alternating with turns and flight attempts, with what seem to reveal an attitude of strangeness mixed with the curiosity that characterizes the wolves, as one more symptom of their intelligence. Although there is a popular belief that the wolf can consume almost a whole sheep in one sitting, the fact is that its stomach capacity does not allow it to consume more than 4 or 5 kg on average, although the same wolf can vomit first part of the meat that is ingesting and then insist on the dead prey until devouring a considerable amount of it. Anyone who has observed a wolf devouring its prey will agree with us that the meat is ingested in great bites, which produces in the animal an initial access of vomit, before continuing its feast. This does not happen in well fed wolves

Iberian Wolf painting, in the classic style of chiaroscuro. An oil painting on a table. Manuel Sosa © 2000

Iberian Wolf

Iberian wolf ( Canis lupus signatus )




   There are many paintings that represent the wolf in art. It has been the case - proven several times - of wolves chasing a prey in the snow, while herds of sheep or goats remained invoked. It would seem that in the carnivore the appetizing behavior was triggered, which, as is known through the pertinent ethology studies, encourages the animal to perform a series of acts whose object is the desire to hunt more than the desire to eat. In any case, the wolf is adapted to long chases in whose competition the resistance is a quality that compensates for the relatively slow speed in the race. The cooperation in hunting actions is another constant in the wolf groups that still retain their traditional status; but this does not happen, unfortunately, in all the regions that count the wolf among its fauna, since the dismemberment of married women prevents different individuals from developing the set of activities that enable them for a beneficial community action. It is not surprising that an animal like the wolf, protagonist of so many truculent stories, center of human hatred and whose life and customs have always remained in the mystery, is today on the verge of extinction. He has endured perhaps like no other predator the persecution of man, because of the damage he inflicted on his cattle, but also because of the fear he inspired and the mythical character that was granted. It is easy to understand, then, that today the wolf is confined in small areas of certain countries. In many places the wolf has disappeared in a short time. In fact, it can be said that the numbers of their populations have begun to decrease drastically since the second half of the 20th century. Before, the species had already been extinct in France - until 1930 - and only very recently have been seen some isolated specimens in the south of the country. In England they had been quicker to exterminate them and there were no more wolves in the early sixteenth century, while in Scotland they had finished with them around 1711 and in Ireland around 1770. In Switzerland, they did not fare any better, but they still remained. in Graubünden and the Central Alps region until 1947, the year in which the last wolf was killed. Also in Germany a small population of them was located in Silegiam, in the northeast of the country, in the middle of this century, but they are now extinct. In Nordic Europe there are still some wolves in northern Sweden and Finland - the Lapland region - and in Norway. In Sweden they are protected, with the government compensating affected farmers. However, the methods that are intended to be implemented jointly by various entities of the countries mentioned and aimed at the conservation of the wolf in captivity are totally inadequate. Because although the aim pursued with this is to praise him in trying to preserve the wild life, such methods, if put into practice, would entail the forced and unnatural adaptation of the species to which one wants to protect an artificial situation that would eventually lead to a process of gradual degeneration of the status of the population of wolves in question. As a further consequence, their behavior would be altered and ultimately the result would be disapproving and counterproductive. As far as the USSR is concerned, the different populations of wolves remain in a stable situation for the moment and even in some regions of European Russia they enjoy an optimal situation, despite the persecution of the campaigns for the control of wolves. These reached high mid-twentieth century that ranged between 20,000 and 35,000 animals charged. These figures have not been matched in recent years, and while the results of the previous massacres are already being questioned, ecologists discover the importance of the wolf in the gradation of the ecological chain. Unfortunately, in the northern regions of Europe, as in the other tundra areas, a new danger has come to join that other one represented by human persecution. It is the contamination by radioactive particles from the reindeer meat that the wolf consumes and that the herbivore has accumulated in its tissues after having ingested lichens infected by radioactivity from the nuclear tests carried out by man. In Central Europe the wolf is barely kept, limited almost exclusively to the Balkan region, which runs 600 km along the borders of Albania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. The wolf is also located in the Orapatos, specifically in the border area of ​​Poland with Czechoslovakia, as well as in Romanian Transylvania. Only three countries in Western Europe still have wolves. Apart from Italy, Spain and Portugal have a small population

Iberian Wolf ( Canis lupus signatus )

The authors

Article from the encyclopedia of the Iberian fauna by Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente, illustrated with pictures of Iberian Wolves by the painter  Manuel Sosa

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