Wolf mating season on the greatly reconfigured Yellowstone northern range

The Druids are the only northern range pack still intact. New packs and groups abound-

Due to the complexity of the changes on the northern range, I know it took Kathie several weeks to write this. Ralph Maughan

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Yellowstone wolf report. Feb. 15-22, 2009. By © Kathie Lynch.

A week in Yellowstone, Feb. 15-22, 2009, during the height of the wolf breeding season, provided plenty of action and lots of surprises.

The Druid Peak pack actually was not the main attraction, as they were way up the Lamar River and out of sight most of the time.

However, the Druid’s many dispersers have contributed to the formation and gene pool of quite a few other packs or groups, including: the newly named Blacktail Pack (started by former Druid beta 302M and five Druid male yearlings-grandchildren of the great Druid alpha 21M); 694F’s Group (which includes the two Druid two-year-old females 694F/”High Sides” and “Dull Bar”-both also 21M’s grandchildren); the newly named Cottonwood Group (started by 527F, who was born to 21M and 42F, but dispersed to the Slough Creek pack and then dispersed to form her own pack in 2007); and even the Agate Creek pack (whose long-time alpha female, 472F, was also the offspring of 21M and 42F). The blood of 21M still runs strong.

The Druid’s 13 regular members currently include alpha male 480M, alpha female 569F, four two-year old females (571F, “White Line,” “Bright Bar,” and newly collared 691F-formerly known as “Low Sides”), two yearling females (645F and a black), and five pups (newly collared black 690F, another black female and three males, two black and one gray).

The blood sample taken during collaring from 690F, who is one of five survivors of as many as 18 ’08 Druid pups, may give some clues as to whether a disease caused the severe loss of pups in 2008.

In the Northern Range, only the Druid and Everts packs are known to have surviving pups. The Slough Creek, Agate Creek, Oxbow Creek, and Leopold packs all had no surviving pups. Without pups to hold them together, all four of those packs have fragmented. The Oxbows and Leopolds appear to have few survivors.

The breeding season is always full of unexpected surprises as long-lost wolves materialize briefly, only to disappear again. The reappearance of Agate alpha male 383M was cause for celebration! He had not been located since last fall because his collar does not work. The fact that he surfaced in the company of four long-lost Slough females (including the last Slough alpha, “Hook” and three black yearlings) only added to the miracle!

The Slough females had not been seen since late fall. The whereabouts of two other Slough female yearlings who had also been present last fall is unknown. The last Slough alpha male, 590M, is no longer with his pack. He is thought to be with other wolves to the north.

The only other surviving Slough male, a black yearling, has landed a position as the alpha male of 694F (the Druid formerly known as “High Sides”). Those two, along with another former Druid, the female “Dull Bar,” make up “694F’s Group.”

“Dull Bar” won my heart last July when she single-handedly shepherded 13 Druid pups across the raging Soda Butte Creek en route to the rendezvous. She is an amazing wolf!

Another famous former Druid (who is also a former Slough!), 527F, now heads the Cottonwood Group. She is a clever one and keeps her pack hidden high up on the slopes of Hellroaring Mountain. Usually viewed from about 2-3 miles distance, only recently have we even been able to determine that her group includes a big, tan-gray alpha male, another gray male, a black male, and, surprise, surprise–another long-lost Slough, “The Dark Female”!

It wasn’t until the morning we saw her captured for collaring (she is now 716F) that we recognized “The Dark Female’s” distinctive, sleek, jet-black body. This girl can run like the wind and is a great hunter. She is one of the three Slough survivors of the ’05 disease epidemic (along with “Hook” and the now deceased “Slant”).

The Agates have split into four pieces. Former alpha 383M is with the Slough females. Agate alpha 472F now has her own new group. Agate 471F shows up with various wolves. And, three Agate females joined Druid 302M and the five Druid males to form the Blacktail Group.

472F attracted a lot of attention this breeding season. Just from what we saw, she bred with at least three males, including an unidentified black, the Blacktail (former Druid) “High-sided Gray Yearling” (not to be confused with the former Druid “High Sides”/now 694F!), and the Blacktail “Big Blaze” black yearling. Not bad for an old girl–472F will be nine in April!

She also spent time with another Blacktail gray yearling male, “Big Brown.” As they sat together on Mom’s Ridge in Little America, she howled to the east, and he howled to the west. Then they would turn and howl their hearts out directly to each other. It was a thing of beauty.

Of all the suitors, “Big Blaze” was the one who must have won 472F’s heart. One day when he was afraid to cross the road to go to a carcass, I saw her carry a meaty prize back and proudly present it to him. She had chosen the next alpha male to follow in the footsteps of 383M and his father, the legendary 113M.

Her current group also includes her daughter or niece, the small, gray yearling 715F. Recently, 472F’s two-year-old daughter, 692F, has also returned to her mother. She had been at loose ends since being driven out of the Blacktail Group by her sister, the alpha female (newly collared as 693F). The silvery black 692F is nicknamed “The Old Lady” for the silver in her light black coat, but she’s not over the hill. She had the first observed tie of the breeding season–and with 302M, no less!

Sometimes one of 472F’s two-year-old gray Agate daughters is in her group (the other one is 693F), but she is very independent. Sometimes she is alone, sometimes with 471F, and sometimes she is in the vicinity of the Blacktail wolves.

This two-year-old gray Agate female is a real firecracker and has even made kills on her own. She was a very popular girl during the breeding season. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the gray females at a distance, so we aren’t always exactly sure, but she may have bred with at least four males: the “High Sided Gray Yearling,” plus the unidentified black male (who had also bred with 472F), plus the “Big Blaze” black (who ended up becoming 472F’s alpha), plus “Medium Gray” Blacktail yearling!

Another wolf sometimes with 472F is the infamous Blacktail/Druid “High Sided Gray Yearling.” This fellow had been splitting his time between mom and pop’s main Druid pack and his uncle 302M’s Blacktail Group. On his many trips between the two (shades of Uncle 302’s exploits years ago!), he often wooed the afore-mentioned two-year-old gray Agate female and also bred with her mother!

Ever since breeding with the Leopold alpha male (534M, now dead) a year ago, Agate 471F has mostly been away from the Agate pack. She spent a lot of time on the Blacktail Plateau last fall and in the Mammoth area this winter. She appears in the company of various wolves, some of them possibly former Leopolds and some former Agates. She also spent time with a mysterious collared black male who has eluded identification since his collar doesn’t work.

The Canyon Pack continues to thrill watchers with their occasional visits to Mammoth. They really put on a show one morning with a kill in campsite #3 in the Mammoth campground. The pack includes the small, very light gray alpha female (the former Hayden wolf and mother of the famous “Black Pup”) and three males: a dark black (newly collared as 712M), an uncollared gray, and the gray Mollie’s wolf 587M.

The big debate has been whether 712M or the uncollared gray is the alpha male. Both bred with the alpha female. On the day the gray male seized his opportunity, the black 712M found himself on the outside (of a chain link fence) looking in and could do nothing about it. But, the other two males are usually submissive to 712M, so he is probably the alpha.

No Yellowstone wolf story would be complete without an update on the legendary 302M. The old boy (soon to be nine) is still the undisputed ruler of his group and the wolf that every watcher wants to see.

One day, we had the extremely good fortune to spend an entire day with him. At first light and right next to the road at Wrecker pullout, 302M was busy keeping three of his Blacktail nephews (“Big Brown,” “Small Blaze” black, and “Medium Gray”) away from one of the gray Agate females. She was a whirling dervish as she sat and snapped and yelped and lunged at the males circling her. I even saw the black fur fly as she nipped a chunk out of “Small Blaze’s” face!

With the group bedded directly across from Wrecker grade, we were able to get close up views of 302M all afternoon. When the other males got too close to the female, he would stand, put his head over her back, and raise his lips in a snarl-we could even hear him growl! When he faced directly toward us, the view was so good I could see that he is missing a top front tooth!

But, winter is hard on old animals, and 302 is stiff in the rear. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t 302, but instead “Medium Gray,” who finally won the female that day. Although he tried to break the tie, all 302 could do was lie down and watch a younger male take what had always before been his rightful place. Hope springs eternal. But, for 302, spring can’t come too soon.


  1. Virginia Avatar

    Once again, Kathy, you have come through for those of us who hear nothing but bad news all day long! It is so incredible to read your accurate identification of everyone in these packs. Your writings are among the reasons I come to this blog and the information gives me hope for the survival of the wolves of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Thank you.

  2. jdubya Avatar

    This is wonderful. Virginia is right on! Thanks Kathie! Poor 302, I can identify. Where is spring?

  3. Laura Avatar

    Thank you Kathy! I had been anxiously waiting for one of your updates and this is a great one! Like Virginia said, we need good news and this is so much better than I anticipated after my trip at Thanksgiving.

    My next planned trip to YNP is in June and I cannot wait. Hope to see you there again sometime.

  4. teklanikaphotos Avatar

    Thanks once again for bringing us up to speed Kathie! There are so many of us that wait for your updates to find out what’s really going on with our Yellowstone wolves, I hope you know how much we sincerely appreciate your time and energy.

  5. Camille Avatar

    Wonderful report, Kathie! Since I can’t be there myself, reading your expert reports are the next best thing. I appreciate you documenting everything so well. Now, we all watch and wait for puppies and try to keep up with who is with what group/pack, and you make that so much easier! Thanks so much!

  6. John d. Avatar
    John d.

    Love is such a complicated and cruel thing.
    Kudos to you Kathie, much appreciated.

  7. Izabela Matej Avatar
    Izabela Matej

    As always I say Thank You!!!
    302- you are the dog..hmmmmmmm ..top wolf..

    Ralph and all good epople on this blog: Thank your for your support of wolves!!!

  8. contner Avatar

    Thanks for the great report. Can’t wait for my July visit.

  9. lh Avatar

    Kathie, I don’t know how you can keep them all straight, especially with all the movement this winter season, but thanks so much for your dedicated and descriptive reports.

  10. Dave Collins Avatar
    Dave Collins

    Great report Kathie! Im glad to be able to remember every detail about the time I was there. Thanks for taking the time to write it all down.

  11. Terry Nissen Avatar
    Terry Nissen

    Thanks Kathie…that was a great update. I’ve been waiting for it very patiently. I was in the park for 2 weeks, in late January and early February. Was priviledged to see quite a bit of action from the Canyon pack. I have never seen wolves in the park this close before and it was truly an awesome experience. I had, at that time, thought that 712, the beautiful black wolf, was the alpha male. He seemed to be in charge. I did see a gray male try to mount the alpha female. They were up on the hillside just west of the Mammoth high bridge. The black male didn’t seem bothered by this or try to prevent it, so it had me wondering who the alpha male was. I guess all’s fair in love. Very glad to hear 302 is out there still, taking control. I know it must be hard for him now that he’s pushing 9…..older and bolder. Again, thanks for all you do to keep everyong informed of the wolf action. It’s almost like being there. Going back to the park the first week in June and hope to get a glimpse of some pups.

  12. Layton Avatar

    Seems like a lot of “coupling, mounting, tying, etc” for just the alpha pair of each pack doing the mating. 8)

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      The reality of wolf mating, which would probably have only been discovered with a restoration of wolves to Yellowstone, is that it is just not true that only the alpha pair mates or has pups. The old wolf “literature” was just plain wrong when it said only the alpha pair mates.

      This not mean a wolf population explosion, however. For example, in Yellowstone last spring there were many multiple litters of pups in the various wolf packs. Almost none survived. Pup survival was so poor that the Park population of wolves dropped substantially.

      1. Jon Way Avatar

        Dave Mech, world reknowned wolf researcher, doesn’t even like the term alpha since most packs are simply an unrelated pair and their offspring of various years. Yellowstone is one of the only places where this doesn’t apply b.c of what Kathie writes about…

  13. mac nelson Avatar
    mac nelson

    Kathie: a wonderful report, and what an amazing untangling of all these breeding complexities. Thank you SO MUCH! This old alpha male can’t wait for Spring either. See you in the Lamar in June, Mac

  14. Alice Counts Avatar
    Alice Counts

    Each trip I take to Yellowstone to watch the wolves I think it can’t get any better – and it does! I was in the park Feb. 15-20 and also had the good fortune to observe the interaction on the 18th with 302 and his pack. During one of 302’s snarls I wondered if he had a space between his front teeth, and now I know that he has a tooth missing. The previous day we also watched 472F bedded down at the top of a hill seeming not to be bothered by the breeding activity around her. It is good news to hear of her and her pack as when I left there seemed to be some uncertainty of her future. Thank you for your report as you always provide not only an account of the status of the wolves on the northern range but also a visualization. I’ll look forward to when you retire from teaching and presumably spend more time in Yellowstone and hopefully are able to share more frequent reports.

  15. Jim Avatar

    I am looking forward to seeing the new map of how the packs are distributed. Should be interesting.

  16. Jim Y Avatar
    Jim Y

    Hi, I was intrigued at the comment that the alpha Male does not mate with his own first generation progeny. Is this true, and if so how does he know, and are there other examples in nature apart from us. ?


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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