Wolves hold a special and fearful place in the human imagination. After all, the idea of the werewolf has terrified us for almost two millennia. A form of the werewolf appears in ancient Greek sources, although the concept began truly flourishing in European myths from the fifteenth century onwards. It soon spread to America, and even led to so-called werewolves being persecuted and killed as part of the international witch trials. It’s hard to imagine another animal creating quite the same kind of fear – weremooses, weresheep and even werefoxes just don’t feel quite as chilling.
But when it comes to actual wolves, rather than the supernatural kind, are they really as terrifying as you might think? What would happen if you put them against, say, a cougar? Or a bear? Let’s find out. But before proceeding, we should remind ourselves of the very good reasons why wolves have been feared by humans (and most other creatures) over the years. While habitat changes have in most cases placed large distances between us and them, they certainly used to be a clear and present threat to humans. In rural areas where children were often shepherds (think of that foolish boy who cried wolf) they were a true danger, and many people were attacked and killed. When wolves and rabies combine, the danger is still enormous, as proven when one rabid wolf in India attacked twelve people in a single day and left three of them dead.
A wolf on the attack, whether hungry or crazed with rabies, is indeed a fearsome creature, as the largest of the canine family. A gray wolf can measure 6 and half feet in length and weigh 182 pounds, making them bigger and heavier than the average human. They are very fast, able to reach speeds of 40 miles per hour, and have excellent endurance. In almost all the environments in which they can be found, wolves are considered apex predators, sitting at the top of the food chain.
However, one of the main reasons wolves are considered untouchable is because they are pack creatures, and there is both safety and danger in numbers. When they are in that vulnerable state we call “lone wolf” things can be very different.
WOLF vs BEAR
|Bite Force:||950 psi|
|Diet:||nuts, fruit, leaves, roots, fungi, insects, and a variety of animals including salmon and other fish, rodents, sheep, and elk.|
|Lifespan:||20 – 25 years|
First up in this imaginary animal death match, we’ll pitch our wolf against another strong and savage mammal that often shares the same terrain – the bear. For the sake of fairness, we’ll make the wolf’s opponent a grizzly or brown bear, rather than its bigger and stronger brother, the polar bear. Not that it makes much difference because in almost any circumstance the bear would rip a lone wolf to shreds.
Why? Well, firstly there’s the sheer difference in size and weight, making this a David versus Goliath match-up. A large brown bear would outweigh a large wolf by a factor of four, since they weigh in at around 800 pounds. Even if a wolf was able to surprise a bear and fasten its jaws on it, bears are both tough and agile, and it would be able to quickly roll itself into a position where the wolf would be crushed by its weight.
On top of having an incredibly power bite force, the bear hs two extra weapons – two front paws which are devastatingly strong and sharp, so much so that bears have been known to decapitate large moose with one swipe. While it’s not impossible that a wolf which managed to blind a bear or sever an artery, they’d be exceptionally foolish to try.
WOLF vs COUGAR
|Weight:||117 to 220 pounds|
|Speed:||40 – 50 mph|
|Bite Force:||350 psi|
|Predators:||None, however, Grizzly Bears and Gray Wolves often compete for the same resources|
|Diet:||large mamm.als, especially deer, coyotes, beavers, porcupines, mice, marmots, raccoons, hares, and birds,|
|Lifespan:||8 – 13 years|
For our next fight, we’ll try something easier and send our wolf into battle against a cougar. This one isn’t wildly unlikely, as the two predators often share the same terrain. While they normally avoid each other carefully they have been known to come to blows competing over a food source or just through forced geographical proximity. When weighing up this fight, don’t be fooled by images of domestic dogs chasing domestic cats – in the wild this would almost certainly be reversed. If a cougar fought a lone wolf, the cougar would probably win, something that has even been observed – if you don’t believe us, you can check out this extraordinary footage.
Why? For one thing a male cougar would very likely be stronger and heavier than the wolf, reaching up to 220 pounds. They’re also that little bit faster, able to reach 50 miles per hour in a sprint, and far more flexible and agile. What’s more, although the wolf’s bite could crush a cougar’s skull, it would be very unlikely to get the chance. The cougar has vicious claws to defend itself as well as terrifying jaws of its own, making a direct attack a difficult prospect. The cougar, on the other hand, could surprise attack the wolf using its sudden bursts of speed, and if it successfully pulled off its favourite predatorial trick by fastening its jaws on the wolf’s throat and gripping its body with those claws, the wolf would likely be doomed.
WOLF vs HYENA
|Bite Force:||1000 psi|
|Predators:||Lion, Leopard, Crocodile|
|Diet:||Antelope, wildebeest, lizards, birds, snakes and insects|
After faring so badly against the ursine and the feline, perhaps a fairer match up is canine versus canine. How would a wolf do in battle against that other most ferocious of canines, a hyena? This is where things would certainly get interesting since they are so nearly equal. Both are normally pack hunters, and therefore each would feel the psychological discomfort of being alone. They have very similar bite forces and while the very largest grey wolf would be bigger than the very largest spotted hyena, there wouldn’t be a great deal of difference between an average specimen of each.
Wolves are reported to be faster and to have greater endurance, so this would appear to give the advantage to them in a battle. However, hyenas have a psychological advantage, which is that they are used to attacking much larger and more fearsome prey than wolves typically do. Wolves generally attack herbivorous creatures like moose and deer, while hyenas will attack more fearsome and aggressive foes like lions. Admittedly, this is always in packs, but the skills and fortitude gained in such terrifying battles would be powerful assets when taking on a wolf. Nonetheless, either one could win in different circumstances: a hyena would likely win on a sun-baked plain in Africa, while a wolf would probably triumph in a snowy landscape near the Arctic. For that reason, this one really cannot be called.
WOLF vs HYENA Rematch: Pack vs Clan
We should point out that all of the above battles would have very different outcomes if a wolf was allowed to fight in the way it is most comfortable, as part of a pack. Even the fastest and most savage cougar wouldn’t stand a chance against a well co-ordinated wolf pack attack, while a strong grizzly bear might stand a chance against a smaller wolf pack but would be bewildered, outmaneuvered and overwhelmed by an assault by a pack of ten or more.
But what about a hyena clan versus a wolf pack? First, let’s presume they are evenly matched, since hyena clans can often number 80 and would decimate a wolf pack, which usually don’t grow any larger than 15. If on a par, however, the two groups would have very different strategies. Wolves are careful and cautious ambush attackers who plan their attacks carefully, while hyenas take a far more aggressive, full-on assault approach, scattering their prey in order to pick off the weakest members.
If a wolf pack was able to co-ordinate its attack perfectly, it might succeed in killing enough hyenas fast enough that it would be able to corral and kill the remainder with their speed and strength. But if the majority of the hyenas survived the first assault, their greater levels of aggression and courage (bordering on insanity) would likely mean they would be able to fight back. Wolves are known to be more protective of each other and more willing to retreat for the good of the pack, so it would be difficult to see this scenario ending with anything but wolves running. Similarly, if the hyenas were to launch the attack first, it’s extremely likely that the wolves would turn to their superior speed and flee. Ultimately, it would the hyenas who would have the last laugh.
WINNER: HYENA CLAN
The wolf can be a fearsome predator alone, and it is this image which has inspired the werewolf myth – but in the natural world a lone wolf would often find itself outmatched by other creatures which are more used to being solitary predators. There is a reason wolves prefer to hunt in packs, and when they do they are likely able to defeat and kill any solitary creature alive. Only those animals which also know how to work together are able to defeat them, such as wolves and – fortunately for us – humans.