Dances With Druids
Mating season for wolves, which might be better called "wolf dating season," was in full swing this winter in Yellowstone National Park.
Wolf gestation is 58 to about 65 days. The Yellowstone pups are born from early April through the end of the month. Yellowstone National Park wolf interpreter Rick McIntyre noted several brief associations between male-female pairs or small groups of younger wolves in the Lamar Valley and Little America areas. He likened it to the courting ritual at a dance.
Though it is difficult to keep track of all the wolves in the moving mating picture, McIntyre said one trio seemed to have formed, providing wildlife observers with a particularly sweet love story.
As observer Norma Farmer tells it, a young black wolf was trying to entice a young female from the Druid wolf pack to dance with him.
"[We] sighted wolves at 7 a.m. on a Friday morning. There were seven on first count laying up under the trees. We heard howling by an alpha female and then the rest of the pack started in.
"We were so blessed just to spot them as we had heard they had been in another area for the last couple of days prior. Then the unexpected happened.
"As we watched, a lone black male [appeared]. He was trying to entice a female member of the [Druid] pack to come with him. We watched as she would start toward him, then lay in wait and just watch him. He was doing the same, sometimes sitting up and perking his ears up and forward.
"She would advance towards him and constantly look behind her, where we observed a huge gray and a black from the pack just waiting and watching her movements and the young black male loner. This behavior went on for about 20 to 30 minutes. "Then she made her move and went to him, alert tails wagging and [lots of] prancing and dancing around each other. He started to lead her away from the pack location and she started with him. (We thought we were seeing a start of a new pack.) Then she stopped and turned around and went back toward the pack.
"The big gray from the main pack advanced on the black touching noses as they circled each other. Then the gray ran back toward the pack and the female went part way down the hill with her suitor toward the road where a small group of bison were minding their own business as usual.
"All of a sudden the huge gray and black from the pack came running down the hill, and the gray ran literally over the young black suitor, tumbling him head over heels. The two wolves from the pack stood in the stance of challenge. Then they and the female started back up the hill.
"After another attempt by the young black, he was driven down the hill with his tail between his legs, and the female was driven back to the pack by the two ensuing wolves from the pack." The huge gray was 21 M, the Druid alpha male. The black might have been the alpha female, 42E. For the next several days, the young black male seemed to change tactics. Some thought he was trying to join the Druid pack, typically short of males, rather than coax away a mate.
McIntyre later observed that an uncollared Druid female, nicknamed the "Ublack" for the U-shaped gray mark on her chest, was with the young black male and another similar black. Moreover, many of the younger Druids came and joined them until the Druid alphas appeared and howled.
All but one of the Druids returned. "U-black" ran off with the two black males.
Ralph Maughan is an advisory board member of WWP. He lives in Pocatello, Idaho, and teaches political science at Idaho State University.