By © Kathie Lynch. March 16, 2012

With eligible wolf bachelors and bachelorettes looking for love (and one alpha male caught in the act of roaming!), the February breeding season was a howling success in Yellowstone’s Northern Range.

During the last half of February, watchers observed 13 ties (matings) involving wolves from the Blacktail Plateau, Agate Creek, and Lamar Canyon packs, plus one hot to trot female from parts unknown.

Four Blacktail males mounted the strongest campaign. Beta 838M (“Big Blaze”) and three gray yearlings (“Puff,” 777M, and a mangy male) put in a lot of effort trying to spread their valuable treasure trove of old Druid Peak pack genes.

Formerly devoted to illustrious Blacktail founder 302M’s black two-year-old daughter 830F, 838M must have seen the handwriting on the wall when she bred this year with his brother, current Blacktail alpha 778M, instead.

So, 838M and the three Blacktail yearling males hit the road. They found what they were looking for in two Agate females (alpha 471F and a black yearling) and at least one interloping unknown gray female, possibly from the Mollie’s pack.

Over the course of six days, we observed seven ties involving the Blacktail males, including 838M with 471F and the Agate black yearling; “Puff” with 471F and the Agate black yearling; 777M with the possible Mollie’s female; and the mangy male with 471F and the possible Mollie’s female.

Each day brought new combinations of those seven wolves, with the pairings constantly changing. One day in Little America, 838M relentlessly pinned “Puff” to keep him from breeding with the Agate black yearling, who wanted nothing to do with either of them.

Meanwhile, the opportunistic mangy gray male grabbed the chance to breed with 471F. And then, to our complete surprise, 471F bred with 838M less than an hour later! Nearly nine years old and her gray coat faded to white, 471F is obviously still going strong.

The very next day on top of Junction Butte, “Puff’s” fortunes changed as he bred 471F (making “Puff” her third Blacktail beau) and 838M finally got the black yearling to accept his advances.

While all of that was going on with the Agate females, the possible Mollie’s female provided an interesting distraction. She was definitely looking for love and did everything possible to kindle the flames, including standing over the head of each bedded potential suitor and averting her tail in his face, usually to no avail.

She did eventually manage to lure Blacktail 777M and the Blacktail mangy male into ties. But, if no male stays with her, she will have to return to her own pack to have her pups. It is usually too difficult for a lone female to raise pups without a pack to support her.

We are hoping that 838M and at least one of the Blacktail yearling males will stay with the Agate females to resurrect the Agate pack, as their Leopold forebears (480M and 302M) did in resurrecting the Druid Peak pack years ago with the last two Druid females (529F and 569F).

The fledgling Agate group got a boost with the recent return of the Agate gray female yearling, who had been away during the breeding season. Along with alpha 471F and the black female yearling, that could mean three litters for the rejuvenated Agates.

So far, it looks like 838M and “Puff” are ready to step up as the new Agate family men. Actually, 838M has already been there, done that, as the Agate alpha two years ago, before he was vanquished by Mollie’s 641M. Perhaps not quite ready to forsake the security of the Blacktail pack again, 838M continues to visit them, but he will have to make a choice.

The Blacktail pack is often split these days. The make up of the subgroups constantly shifts, but, if 838M and “Puff” stay away, the remaining Blacktails will number 12. Alphas 778M and 693F still lead the pack, which also includes two 2-year-old females (black 830F and gray “Cut Tail”), three yearlings (777M, gray female “Light Tail,” and the mangy gray male), and five of last year’s pups (black 829F, another black and three grays).

Besides ruling their vast Blacktail Plateau territory, various Blacktails often visit the Hellroaring area. One day, as we watched from the overlook, we saw some clever hunting expertise by one black pup. As a second wolf drove a cow elk in his direction, the pup saw it coming, planned an ambush and made a run for it from the perpendicular, bent on intersecting the elk’s line of travel. Although unsuccessful, the pup’s strategy was impressive.

Hunting was the last thing on the Lamar Canyon adults’ minds during the breeding season. Alpha male 755M stayed firmly glued to his illustrious alpha 832F (“The ‘06 Female”) so that his brother, 754M, wouldn’t have a chance with her. Over four days, we saw the alphas tie five times–and who knows what went on when we weren’t looking!

Not one to let the season pass him by, 754M made repeated attempts to breed with his niece, gray yearling 776F. She would, however, have none of it. Clever girl, she kept her tail firmly plastered between her legs and perfected a technique to snap him away by snarling, lunging and grabbing a mouthful of his cheek fur and yanking until he backed off yelping.

Alpha male 755M also was not in the mood for the good times to end. Just three days after we noticed that alpha 832F (“’06”) had lost her allure, we were shocked to discover 755M away from his pack and consorting with the possible Mollie’s gray female, way to the west of Lamar Valley on Mom’s Ridge!

Although we did not see a tie (she was snapping him away, and 755M was back with his own pack the next day), this was a huge surprise to see an alpha male leave his own pack (and “The ’06 Female,” at that!) for additional breeding opportunities. The only other time we could remember seeing that happen was in 2008 when Leopold alpha 534M bred with our old friend, Agate 471F.

The Lamar Canyon pack currently numbers 10, including alphas 755M and 832F, 754M, two female yearlings (776F and “Middle Gray”) and all five of last year’s pups (gray 820F, another gray female, and three black pups, one of which is a male). The light gray male yearling has been away during the breeding season.

We had plenty of opportunities to watch the Lamar Canyon pack as they dined on a road-killed bison near the old picnic area in Lamar Valley for six days. At first they were very hesitant to approach the carcass, perhaps because they had not killed it themselves or perhaps due to the human scent on it from the rangers who had dragged it off the road.

Once they settled down, it looked like the best family picnic ever as they lounged nearby, grabbing a bite to eat whenever they wanted and generally having fun. While the alphas and 754M were absorbed with “adult” entertainment, the ever playful pups put on hilarious hole digging demonstrations and played tug-o-war with a long strip of bison hide.

Way to the west, the Canyon pack continued to journey north from Yellowstone’s interior to make occasional winter visits to the Mammoth area. After the loss of one of last year’s black pups in December, the pack now numbers seven, including the white alpha female, alpha 712M, three yearlings (one black, two gray), and two pups (black 831F and one gray).

Hopefully, the Canyon alpha female will once again den in the Hayden Valley this spring to produce her sixth litter. This pack is a favorite for summertime wolf watchers in the southern part of Yellowstone.

And, hopefully, Lamar Canyon alpha 832F will choose to den in Lamar Valley for the second year in a row, which will make Northern Range wolf watchers very happy.

And, maybe, just maybe, the renewed Agate pack will be able to carve out a territory free of conflict with neighboring packs and find a home where they can carry on the legacy of their illustrious ancestors.

With the Blacktail males contributing valuable foundation stock Druid and Leopold pack genes to the “new” Agates and the Agate females passing down the genes of legendary Agate alphas 113M and 472F (with some mighty Mollie’s genes thrown in for good measure), there is definitely reason for hope!

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About The Author

Kathie Lynch

Kathie Lynch’s passion is watching wolves in Yellowstone National Park. She enjoys helping park visitors learn about the wolves, especially their behavior and individual life stories. Kathie is on the Board of the Wolf Recovery Foundation.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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