Wolves Do Not Eat Mice. Seriously.

September 22, 2014

“But Lindsey,” you protest, “I’ve seen Never Cry Wolf six times and those wolves ate mice.”

Yeah. Never Cry Wolf? Not a documentary.

Adult wolves usually weigh between 55-130 pounds – at the top end of the range, small-adult-human-sized. So picture yourself taking a nap in a less dodgy part of New York’s Central Park. You wake up to discover a single potato chip in front of your nose. Assuming it’s hermetically sealed and therefore sanitary, you’ll eat it, right? Who wouldn’t?

But the kind person who left the chip there didn’t leave the rest of the bag. So you go for a walk, hunting for more chips. Then you spot one up a tree, because in this extremely strained metaphor, the chips can climb trees. You, however, not that good at it. So you sweat and struggle and pant your way up the branches until you capture the second chip. Except eating it doesn’t even dent your raging hunger, because you just burned more calories climbing than are actually contained in the chip.

Now imagine that you had to share that second chip with seven of your closest friends and relatives. How long will it be before you realize that a much better strategy is to knock over a hot dog cart and be done with it?

And that is why the preferred prey of wolves is ungulates – large, hoofed mammals like elk or caribou. Because if the pack actually manages to catch one, all of its members will not only get to eat, they’ll be full for a couple of days.

Scientists call this optimal foraging theory. Simply put, it’s the idea that animals will focus on food items that give them the most nutrition for the least amount of effort required to catch (or graze) that particular food. And it’s why wolves – unless they are old, sick, or one runs right past their noses – don’t eat mice.

Thus endeth the rant of the former wolf geneticist, who read a short story this week that mentioned the whole wolf/mice thing and spontaneously combusted due to rage (again). 🙂

What about you? Are there any bits of persistent misinformation that make you want to set your head on fire? Have you ever seen real live wolves hunting? Are you able to eat just one potato chip? Inquiring minds want to know!




8 Comments on ‘Wolves Do Not Eat Mice. Seriously.’

  1. Lindsey,
    Have you heard about these guys?
    They keep zoo rescues and movie retirees.

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    1. I’ve actually been to that facility! And when the interpreter asked what we thought wolves ate and the girl next to me chimed in with “Mice!” I almost cried.

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  2. I had to comment on this one, Lindsey. The one persistent piece of misinformation that goads me to distraction is when people who purport to like opera, bring up Andrew Lloyd Webber as their example.

    I don’t care how well you argue your point. PHANTOM OF THE OPERA IS NOT OPERA.

    Now back to foxes…

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    1. Phantom of the Opera is in no way opera. In my opinion, it’s not even a good musical. Susan Kay’s Phantom forever!

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  3. “Turkeys can’t fly” or “Turkeys are flightless birds.”

    Wild turkeys do fly; I’ve seen them fly on multiple occasions…when I tried to get close to a group of them feeding on the ground, for instance. Loud clapping of wings and they were gone. Also saw a big tom fly across I-35 between Austin and San Antonio back in the mid-1970s. Not high–almost not high enough, as only the windstream saved him and the 18-wheeler cab he almost hit, but he was that far off the ground and making good time. It’s something to see a bird that size bludgeoning its way through the air. In their natural habitat, their takeoff is very steep and their intent is usually a perch in a limb overhead.

    Domestic turkeys may not be able to fly (never allowed to learn–wing-clipped and confined) but domestic chickens are another bird people think can’t fly. Ha! Like turkeys, they aren’t great distance flyers, but they can fly high enough and fast enough to escape the person who didn’t get those primary feathers clipped in time.

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    1. I’ve seen Texas turkeys fly, too. They’re not graceful, but they manage. 🙂 Thanks for visiting my blog!

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  4. Not to contradict any kind of wolf geneticist, former or current … though I never saw wolves on my Alberta farm, I saw coyotes, foxes, and terrier dogs catching mice, voles, and Richardson’s ground squirrels. It always seemed to be an opportunistic thing, as in the canine was walking across a field, glimpsed a mouse, sometimes popped up on her/his hind legs to see where it was going, then pounce! Maybe the canines went to our fields on purpose hunting mice, but except for the terrier dogs I think the canines would be walking through our field because they were tired of mouse & gopher and they had decided to come see if they could get into my garden for a take-out chicken.
    I know these smaller canines are not wolves, and would never want to make you cry 🙂
    Oh, and domestic turkeys can fly too, if their yard has a tree with branches, but they grow so heavy that they can’t fly well. If they can get onto a branch, they hop to higher branches and roost there for the night. In the morning, they plummet squawking to the ground flapping desperately.

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    1. Foxes totally hunt small mammals – but like you said, they’re smaller, so the risk-reward equation is a bit different. 🙂 Coyotes will go for small prey if they’re hunting alone, but usually prefer large prey if they’ve got a pack. Coyotes and foxes are much more opportunistic than wolves, though, which tend to be specialist hunters.

      Your turkey flight description was completely awesome, by the way!

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