It looks like the Blacktails are now the largest pack on the Northern Range-
Kathie Lynch has written another report on the Yellowstone wolves (actually those on the Park’s northern range). My subhead above is just one of the many interesting facts I read in her report such as the Mollies alpha male is largest wolf in the Park.
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Yellowstone Wolf Notes. Dec. 09; Jan. 10. By Kathie Lynch
© Kathie Lynch
♦ Trips to Yellowstone in December 2009 and January 2010 provided better than expected wolf watching, considering the continuing decline in population size.
January 12, 2010, marked the fifteenth anniversary of the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park. The year 2009 ended with less than 100 wolves in Yellowstone Park, down from 124 a year ago and close to half of the 171 counted just two years ago. The number has not been this low since just a few years after 31 wolves were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996.
The biggest current challenge some wolves are dealing with is sarcoptic mange, caused by a mite. It causes terrible itching and can kill through infection or hypothermia due to hair loss. However, wolves can recover from even severe cases, as the Mollies pack did last year.
The famous Druid Peak pack is currently the most severely affected. Every Druid wolf exhibits some degree of hair loss, especially on the tail, rear, back, legs and abdomen–anywhere they can bite and scratch at the itchy mite. It is a common sight to see them trying to sleep standing up to avoid exposing their bare spots to the cold, snowy ground.
The Druids have undergone big changes since the death of alpha female 569F last fall and the subsequent dispersal of alpha male 480M. These two wolves deserve immense credit (along with Druid 529F and Leopold/Druid/Blacktail 302M) for resurrecting the Druid Peak pack after it dwindled down to only legendary alpha 21M’s last two daughters (529F and 569F) in 2004.
After 569F died, alpha male 480M was left with a pack containing only females to whom he was related. With no real opportunities for mating within his own pack in the upcoming February breeding season, he left and has been on his own for some time. We are hoping that, at almost age eight, he is able to find an unrelated female and perhaps start a new pack, as his older brother, 302M, did in founding the Blacktails.
The main group of remaining Druids now usually consists of four black females (“White Line,” “Thin Female,” 690F, and “Female Yearling”). One gray female, 691F, sometimes joins the group. Since early December 2009, a black male stranger of unknown origin has also been with them.
More recently, another new black male, perhaps a pack mate of the first male, has sometimes been with the group. The females tolerate the new males, but don’t seem particularly interested in them. None of the females has obviously stepped up to take over the vacant alpha position.
Despite their mange, the Druid girls are already attracting plenty of potential suitors. Several Mollies males have come calling, as have Wyoming 682M’s Group of two black males from outside of the Park and also at least two gray males of unknown origin. Things should really get interesting in the next few weeks as the breeding season gets underway.
Several Druid wolves are not with the main group, and their daily whereabouts are uncertain. This includes the three-year-old females 571F and “Dull Bar” and the two yearling males “Black Bar” and “Triangle Blaze.” They have been sighted intermittently, and each may be on his or her own.
The small Agate Creek pack of three has held together since last year. It is still led by long-time, coming nine-year-old alpha 472F. It will be interesting to see if she successfully bears pups this year. Despite a lot of breeding activity, she has not produced any surviving pups the past two years.
Agate alpha male “Big Blaze” is a former Druid. The only other pack member is the two-year-old gray 715F. The Agates appear pretty regularly in Little America as they make their way high up to the skyline of Specimen Ridge.
Another small group of three, the Lava Creek pack, has provided some good wolf watching lately. Although they spend a lot of time out of sight way over to the west toward Mammoth, they also seem to feel at home around Junction Butte in Little America.
The Lava Creek pack is led by Agate 472F’s daughter, 471F, and Montana 147M (born outside of YNP in Montana’s Eight Mile pack).
The third member is the very interesting “’06 Female” (originally an Agate). She is an industrious girl who is fully capable of making a kill on her own. She has a lot to offer, even if she does say so herself! She enjoys advertising how great (and available!) she is with daylong howl fests. Considering the shortage of females currently, she will surely be the center of much attention during the breeding season.
Despite the death last fall of illustrious Blacktail alpha 302M, his pack of nine, including four pups (one is the spittin’ image of dear old dad!), has carried on. They are one of only two packs on the Northern Range which successfully raised pups in 2009. (The other is the Quadrant pack of four adults and three pups.)
With new alpha male “Big Brown” (302’s former Druid nephew) and 302’s alpha female, 693F, in charge, the Blacktails roam a huge territory. On any given day, you just never know if you might get to see them only as tiny pinpoints far away on the Blacktail Plateau or maybe even closer as they travel through the Hellroaring valley or Yancey’s Hole.
The intriguing Silver pack resurfaced in December. Led by the beautiful silvery white alpha female, they had not been seen in the Park for almost a year. The Silver pack’s alpha male and two pups are all stunning grays with striking dark masks. They are a lovely pack, and it would be great for wolf watching if they took up residence in the Park.
And, finally, the Mollies pack has given wolf watchers quite a thrill several times lately with visits to Little America and Lamar Valley. The most fun was on Christmas Eve when we were searching for the three Lava Creek wolves to the north of the road in Little America and instead discovered 13 Mollies!
One after another loped into view–eight grays and five blacks–all strung out in a line. After checking off two grays and one black, we suddenly realized that these were not the Lava Creek wolves!
Getting to see the huge, black Mollies alpha male, 495M, was a treat. When he was collared a year ago, he weighed in at 143 pounds, the biggest wolf in the Park.
Mollie 641M has also turned up in the Lamar and Soda Butte valleys. One recent day he announced his arrival at the Confluence with loud, mournful howling and then watched the Druid females and waited as their two black mystery males stood guard. Eventually, 641M ran up 21’s Crossing, met an uncollared gray (perhaps a Mollies pup) near Soda Butte and then disappeared into the trees.
Even though the number of YNP wolves is down, if the Druid females keep on entertaining various visiting males in Lamar Valley, and if Little America remains a crossroads for wolves from many different packs, the February breeding season could provide a lot of action. Hopefully, it will all lead to many healthy pups and an increase in population numbers once again.