Kathie Lynch reports on the wolf dating scene in Yellowstone Park

Here is another of Kathie’s Yellowstone wolf reports. For me these are a great antidote for all the bad news outside the Park.

The wolves’ season of romance (excuse me, “mating season”) is much more complex and extravagant than biologists used to think.

Ralph Maughan


YNP WOLF Field Notes, Feb. 16-24, 2008
By © Kathie Lynch

Two hundred and twenty six wolves in nine days—that’s an average of 25 wolves per day! From February 16-24, 2008, Yellowstone treated wolf watchers to a veritable bonanza of wolves—I saw an incredible 44 on my best day! Nowhere else in the world offers such a fantastic opportunity to share the lives of wolves in the wild.

The breeding season in February draws wolves from near and far. It always amazes me how they just seem to appear and then disappear. Interloping males materialize to try to lure females out of their packs, and females try to sneak away to rendezvous for a day or two. New groups may form for a few days and then just dissolve away.

We even had a mysterious group of eight (five grays and three blacks) appear in Oxbow Creek pack territory and then in Little America. The group had too many blacks to be the Oxbows, which only have one black. There was some conjecture as to whether it might be the former Buffalo Fork pack, which left the Park years ago. Or, perhaps it was part of the Unknown Group, which cost the Sloughs so dearly when they held them under siege two years ago. Regardless, we were glad to see these mystery wolves disappear to the north up Slough Creek soon after they appeared.

Former Slough 527F and her group (fellow Slough disperser “The Dark Female” and an unidentified gray male) frequented Little America, usually sleeping the day away. Unfortunately, the other Slough female, “Sharp Right,” who had also been driven out of the Slough pack by alpha 380F, has disappeared from 527F’s group. We can only hope that “Sharp Right” has found a mate of her own.

The main Slough pack stayed mostly out of sight, except for an especially memorable visit to Slough Creek. We had left them bedded around noon, and when I returned to check on them four hours later, it looked like nobody had moved a muscle. I went on to the west to look for 527F’s group in the Peregrine Hills; while scoping for them, I heard a mighty chorus of howls rise from Slough Creek. I headed back and found the Sloughs on a march to the southwest. All 14 surrounded a bull elk, but he stamped his feet at them and they went on their way. What an impressive sight they made strung out in single file, the 12 blacks contrasting boldly in the shining white light.

The sight made me think of the Hayden Valley pack and its shining white light, the late alpha, 540F. I did not hear of any sightings of what remains of her pack (an adult female, the newly collared black pup 638M, two gray pups, and the newly collared gray male 639M, who has joined them). Everyone hopes that they have found a new home in the Swan Lake flats territory left vacant by the disappearance of the Swan Lake and Gardiners Hole packs.

The breeding season seemed to get off to a slower than usual start this year, but, surprisingly, it was still going strong into late February. By February 22, at least 20 good ties had been observed. Evidently, the mating pair must stay coupled together for at least 10 minutes to maximize the chances that the breeding will be a success.

The most surprising tie occurred near Elk Creek between the Leopold pack alpha male, 534M, and the Agate Creek pack beta female, 471F. Everyone was shocked that 534M had left his own alpha female (Leopold 209F) and traveled over to woo an Agate. Things must have gone well, because 471F then spent some time over in “Leopold Land” on the Blacktail Plateau with some other Leopolds. I wonder what kind of reaction 534M got from 209F when his girlfriend came to visit!

Other Agates were busy breeding too. Alpha 383M got together with a gray yearling; alpha 472F bred with a black interloper; a black yearling female bred with a (different?) black interloper; and our wayward girl, 471F, found yet another black interloper beau.

One gray Agate pup has a severely damaged, perhaps broken, rear leg. A driver reported accidentally hitting a wolf, but wolf project personnel were unable to find its body. Soon after, the Agate pup showed up with the bad leg, so it may have actually survived being run over. The leg is completely useless, but the pup seems to get around just fine on its three good legs and doesn’t appear to be in any pain. It runs and plays with the others and even made it up to the top of Specimen Ridge and then back down and over to Elk Creek.

One day we saw an amazing sight way up on top of Specimen Ridge above Little America. An interloper black male repeatedly mounted Agate alpha 472F, while wandering Druid 302M and the Idaho wolf B271M hovered nearby. It was finally all too much for Agate alpha 383M, who rushed in to break up the party.

All eyes were on the Druid Peak pack too, of course. The alphas, 480M and 569F, had bred earlier (on 2/3/08); pups are expected about 4/6/08, after a 63-day gestation period.

The Druid’s six highly eligible yearling females, who came into estrus for the first time, seemed to enjoy playing the field. Their two suitors, the “Light Gray” male and the “Dark Gray” male, had both been hanging around the Druid pack since last November. Poor old 302M has had a constant challenge trying to chase those two guys away from his nieces and daughters for three months!

The long suffering interlopers’ big chance finally came when the soon to be eight years old proverbial favorite 302M left for six days on a little scouting trip of his own. His travels took him at least as far away as Elk Creek and the Agates–where he spent an entire afternoon lying around in the warm sun with a lovely gray yearling female!

While 302M was away, “Dark Gray” managed to abscond with five of the six Druid yearling females! For four glorious days, the blacks “Bright Bar,” “Dull Bar,” and “White Line” and the grays 571F and “Low Sides” stuck with their guy. At various times, he bred with all except “White Line” and 571F. Sadly for him (but probably best for them in terms of raising pups), the females all finally returned to their natal pack, leaving “Dark Gray” lonely once again in Lamar.

Not to be outdone, the “Light Gray” male was observed breeding three times with “Bright Bar.” Of the two interlopers, he is the one who has usually been most well received by the pack (except by 302M, of course), and he has been the most persistent. No matter where we found the Druids each day, “Light Gray” was sure to be around, seated patiently nearby howling his heart out or traveling the length of Lamar Valley scavenging for food on old carcasses.

The saga of these two persistent gray interlopers’ attempts to join the Druids is a constant reminder of the events three and four years ago when a certain very persistent black interloper (302M) and his sidekick (the future 480M) endured constant persecution from the late, great Druid alpha 21M. After 21M’s death in 2004, those two Leopold brothers became the new Druid alpha (480M) and beta (302M) and went on to save the Druid pack from dissolution (along with 21M’s last two daughters, 529F and 569F). Time will tell if “Light Gray” and “Dark Gray” leave a similar legacy. But, for now, one thing looks likely—the two gray interlopers will probably be the fathers of some Druid pups. And that’s a legacy to which 302M can relate!



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  1. Dave Collins Avatar
    Dave Collins

    Great report! I wished I could of stayed around a few more days. Sounds like the action was still going strong. Thanks again for your reports.

  2. Maska Avatar

    Great story, Kathie! It certainly casts a new light on wolf behavior and makes each individual come alive as a personality. Thank you.

  3. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Reads like a cross between medieval romance and Flashman.

  4. Ruthie Rader Avatar

    Move over, Meerkats! The wolves have got it goin’ on!

    I love the wolves! And while I am a transplant to this area, I am living very near the Idaho border.

    The wolves in Alaska are awesome. I’m sure that the wolves in Idaho are beautiful, too.

    Bring on the puppies! 🙂

  5. Kim Bean Avatar
    Kim Bean

    Thank you Kathie, your reports help me get through the “work” season until I am able to get back to the park. My thoughts and hopes are with the Hayden pack.. Hope to hear more “possitive” information on them!

  6. Amy Devine Avatar
    Amy Devine

    Thanks Kathie, for your great reports! Living in Cincinnati, we don’t always get to enjoy the park like you all do, except for twice a year. So we do alot of reading to try to keep educated on the packs. Tonight starts the beginning of some potentially unfortunate news. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. Thanks again!

  7. Cindy Avatar

    Thanks again for the reports Kathie. I’m sure I speak for others when I say your descriptions are so good that it sure makes me feel like I was there with you.

  8. Don Riley Avatar
    Don Riley

    Your reports are always the highlights of my day. Your report, some of the comments and a recent post on the YNET page expressing surprise at the mating of “non-alpha” members of the YNP community stirred my old memory and older bones to dig out my copy of Barry Lopez’ OF WOLVES AND MEN.

    On page 72 he writes…”In a paper presented at a conference on wolves held in Maryland in 1966, it was suggested that more could be learned about the origins of man as a social animal by studying the social structure of wolf packs than could be learned by studying primates. The suggestion is prophetic. As I write now in a country and at a time when man’s own brutal nature is cause for concern and when the wolf, whom man has historically accused of craven savagery, has begun to emerge as a benign creature.”

    Perhaps that suggestion is more prophetic than even Mr. Lopez could imagine in 1979 when he wrote the book.

    Certainly the word benign will bring a hue & cry from some, but those with a full compliment of functioning neuronsunderstand the importance of top of the line predators to a healthy ecosystem.

    The reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone Ecosystem may be one of the greatest advancements in understanding the wolf, right up there with Murie & Mech. Modern science, modern technology, the astonishing growth of knowledgeable citizen wolf watchers and protected status under the National Park umbrella have been made possible and enhanced by reintroduction in the wide open West.

    Mech admits to seeing less than a dozen wild wolves in all the time he spent in the thick Minnesota woods, yet he is the acknowledged expert. His work can only be improved and expanded by the young, knowledgeable and committed scientists and technicians, one or more of whom who will someday become “The Man” on wolves who are growing up with the Yellowstone wolves.

    Their efforts and achievements have been and will continue to be enhanced significantly by the simple fact that they can see what they are researching, the good, the raw, the intimate and the foibles.

    Kathie, where ever you are tonight, I hope you can sit back, enjoy a good wine and experience a deep, warm and happy chuckle that wolves, not unlike humans, some times play around. I will certainly be joining you.

    Don Riley

  9. Catbestland Avatar


    I concur with your sentiments. We should all rais a glass in an internet connected toast to Kathie’s updates, so welcome now with the threat of delisting. Your comments on Mech’s writing reminded me of another book comparing the good qualities that men should share with wolves. “The Wisdom of Wolves” by Twyman. L. Towery. We have so much to learn and they have so much to teach us.

  10. Douglass, NC Avatar
    Douglass, NC

    Kathie, you wrote with such enjoyment. Your reports fuel me until the next time I am in Yellowstone. I truly miss the experience.

  11. Izabelam Avatar

    Thank you.
    What a joy to read your post.
    I hope more is coming…

  12. Don Riley Avatar
    Don Riley


    Thanks for the lead on Mr. Towery. It is on Amazon’s delivery schedule.


  13. RavenWatcher Avatar

    Good stuff! Hoping will for my favorite Haydens. Here’s what I do know about in the park, if anyone’s interested.

    Canyon had been full of wolf activity about a week ago. Wolf sign was everywhere, and I heard from the interp ranger there that they were hearing wolves howling every night.

    2/22 – Fresh tracks covered the west end of Cascade meadow. They criscrossed the roads everywhere, as well as tracks and marks down the road itself.

    2/25 – Tracks all over the north end of hayden valley. Probably the Mollies. Could they have been the ones in Cascade Meadow? A lone grey, who has been seen multiple times and multiple days, was hanging out around Alum Creek. I also heard of an attack on a bison the day prior.

    2/27. Gibbons are sighted in Elk Park. An elk carcass is found just south of Gibbon Meadows next to the road. Can’t tell if it is a wolf kill, but there are large trails leading to it from the west. The coyote I saw on it today was very wary of noises coming from those trails, moreso than he was wary of me. I also had someone tell me they saw two wolves near what has to be Ice Lake. She said it was a grey wolf on the road who was howling for the black wolf who was in the trees. She said they knew where the black wolf was because there was a pair of ravens following. The wolves met up and left together. Don’t know if it was the Haydens or the Gibbons.

    I haven’t seen any tracks up north. This whole season, almost every other day, there has been fresh tracks along the roads from the Snowmobile hut through Swan lake. For the last two weeks, not so. Hoping to hear from the Haydens before our roads close on 3/2. I’ll be out the next two days, so wish me luck!
    – – – – –

    RavenWatcher. Thanks for all this additional information!
    Ralph Maughan

  14. Heather Avatar

    Yes thanks Catbestland, I will be ordering the same book for my “treat” at bedtime!
    What a bunch of ‘Hams’! I just saw them last weekend in GY, and they are just a bunch of nuts! I love them so!

  15. Catbestland Avatar

    It’s perfect for bedtime reading. I read the whole thing (it’s not long) in bed.

  16. Kathie Lynch Avatar
    Kathie Lynch

    Thank you for the positive feedback!

    I think that Ralph’s observation in his intro is the most important part of the whole story: the wolves’ mating season is “much more complex and extravagant than biologists used to think.”

    The old notion that only the alphas mate (and mate for life) has been soundly thumped by the Yellowstone wolves. The ability to observe them so closely over these 13 years has completely revolutionized what is known about wolves in the wild and has underscored how vastly different their behavior is compared to that of wolves in captivity.

    I totally agree with Don Riley when he says, “The reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem may be one of the greatest advancements in understanding the wolf.” The key is just what Don says: the scientists “can see what they are researching.” Literally, the whole world is watching.

    Hopefully the knowledge gained through years of careful and continuing detailed observation of the Yellowstone wolves will make a difference for the future of wolves everywhere. Certainly the similarities to human society can not be missed–in fact, I think it is exactly those similarities that make studying wolves so fascinating.

    The Yellowstone wolves have given us a golden opportunity to help people feel more connected to wild nature. Every person who gets enthused about wolves by seeing them, reading about them, and getting to know and care about them as individuals is one more on our side.

    Now for that glass of wine!

  17. SmalltownID Avatar

    That is a neat story. I love Yellowstone, don’t get me wrong. But it is even better when you have those types of experiences on Public lands!!! That is why I love Idaho. I had an amazing encounter with a pack of wolves in South-central Idaho that had chased two elk off of a cliff earlier this month! It was a little surreal.

  18. Jon Way Avatar

    As much as the Yellowstone wolves have been (incredibly) visible… is the incredible persistence and dedication that folks like Rick McIntyre and others, doing most of their spotting/research under their own dime. Wolves have to be watched by people whether visible or not and many people have provided previously unprecendented dedication to the species. Kudos to them as well for providing us the opportunity to be able to watch the wolves during our short stays in the park.

  19. John Avatar


    Can you tell us a little more about where you saw that wolf/elk encounter and what exactly happened?

  20. Izabelam Avatar

    SmallTownID – thank you.You are in Idaho and you love wolves. Be careful with your opinions..heheheheh….. just kidding…
    I am part time resident of Idaho and I hope to see wolves before the worst happens..

  21. SmalltownID Avatar

    Being in SmalltownID I am fully aware. I appreciate the perspective I get from being on both sides of the fence though. For those reasons I am a little hesitant to give full details because of what I do. Long story short I was out at night (everything was legal I promise) and I cut some wolf tracks. As I pointed them out to my brother he said, “Oh look, there is some elk tracks right next to it and it happens to be running”. 🙂 So we follwed them down the ridge one track became three tracks, then another elk, and two more sets of wolf tracks. They pushed the two elk right into the same spot. The first one stopped about 20 yards from the cliff to fend them off, but was taking too many shots and they essentially backed it off the cliff. The second elk must have seen the first go off the cliff as it was coming down the ridge because the 2nd elk had bounded right off the cliff. As we were looking down below to see if the story that the tracks told us was true we heard a “hoot” that sounded avian, we looked up along the creek where the elk were dead and within our headlamps was a wolf!

    Pretty neat experience and it is funny to hear some of the reactions ppl have to the story. I am not stretching it in the least bit. That is the short story.

  22. Chuck Avatar

    Yes living in Idaho you have to be aware, I live in Idaho and have yet to see an Idaho wolf.

  23. Izabelam Avatar

    I heard that they are killing elk and cattle and spreading everywhere so we need to distroy them all…..and you can’t find one…:)
    Sorry, for being sarcastic…:) you know I am joking.
    Sorry you have not seen them..really..
    I bought a place in Idaho close to Yellowstone so I can be around the wildlife..inlcuding wolves.
    I enjoy reading all the post here by Ms. Lynch.
    And hope there will be a lot of healthy puppies this spring…

  24. HAL 9000 Avatar
    HAL 9000

    Ah, the saga of the horny wolves! A good story with lots of insight into wolf behaivor. Thanks for posting it.

  25. debbie Avatar

    thanks for such a complete report
    i am counting the days until i return to lamar


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan