Wolverine (Gulo gulo)

Thanks to a lovely three-day migraine, today’s post will be a guest post, on the magnificent wolverine. Enjoy:

To be a good guest blogger, you have to get in the spirit of things, and it all starts with picking the right animal to write about. You can’t go wrong if your animal meets any of the following three criteria: a) it’s cute; b) it’s weird, strange and odd; or c) it’s seriously bad-ass. Go through every post and you’ll see that they all meet this test. Of course the best animal would meet all three, but you can’t write about the Bicranial Toxic Cuddlewump, because there’s another requirement – the animal has to actually exist.

Today’s animal, the wolverine, does exist, and it falls into the “seriously bad-ass” category.

The wolverine, being the largest species of the family Mustelidae (weasels), could be called the Giant Weasel, or even the Giant Killer Weasel, but “wolverine” is pretty good too. Any animal that has a Marvel character named after it is right up there in the name department.

A nice shot of a wolverine crouching for an attack. Image source: http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/wolverine/#wolverine-crouching.jpg

A nice shot of a wolverine crouching for an attack.
Image source: http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/wolverine/#wolverine-crouching.jpg

Wolverines are found in northern hemispheric boreal forests and tundra, mostly in northern Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia, western Russia and Siberia. Habitat reduction and trapping has reduced wolverine populations over the past 150 years, but they are not yet endangered.

According to Wikipedia, the adult wolverine is about the size of a medium dog, which is comparable to the classic explanation that the eohippus was the size of a fox terrier. Fortunately we have some hard figures as well – wolverines vary from around 60 to 100 cm in length, plus a tail of maybe 20 cm, and they way from 10 to 25 kg, although big guys can get up to 30 kg. Males are significantly bigger and heavier than females.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  Wolverines are the largest land-dwelling members of the weasel family, although the sea otter and the giant otter of the Amazon are bigger.

But it’s not size that gives the wolverine its claim to fame.

Nor is it the wolverines’ thick, oily fur which is hydrophobic and therefore frost resistant, its stripe, or its pungent anal scent grands, used for marking territory and sexual advances. Nor is it the wolverine’s bizarre twisted molar that lets it tear apart frozen corpses, although we’re getting closer.

By now you’ve guessed it – it is the savage ferocity of the wolverine that got it into the Marvel Universe. Wolverines are predators, and their list of victims is almost endless.  Some of the highlights are beavers (fine), deer (impressive), elk (whoa) and moose (that’s moose, not mice – they are huge).

But there’s more.  Wolverines also prey on other predators, which sort of breaks the unwritten code.  Screw the unwritten code – wolverines will also attack other predators and take their prey if they can. Wolverines have apparently taken on black bears (the bear winning a Pyrrhic victory) and polar bears (according to Wikipedia – so it must be true – the wolverine won because it “clung to [the polar bear’s] throat until the bear suffocated.”).

Fighting above its weight class is the wolverine’s defining trait. Fierce and voracious (the Latin gulo in the wolverine’s scientific name means “glutton”), the wolverine seems invulnerable, but it isn’t so.  The most significant natural predator of the wolverine is the wolf, not only because they have sharp, pointy teeth, but because they travel in packs and they are smart.  An interesting match up.

Even so, wolverines are mean sons-of-bitches.

Such a fearsome beast.  Image source: Wikipedia

Such a fearsome beast.
Image source: Wikipedia

Several bitches (if that’s not technically the term for a female wolverine, it should be) will form lasting relationships with a male, leaving other males out in the cold.  This may partly account for the wolverines’ notorious ill temper.  In any case, some male wolverines get lucky and a month or so later adorably cute litters of several “kits” come in the world.  Within a year, these little guys have developed into fully growth homicidal maniacs, and they continue to practice their trade for between five and more than ten years.

So there you have it.  If you see a wolverine in your back yard, don’t feed it, pet it or adopt it.  Don’t even try to pretend you’re a bear. Call a wolf pack or go inside.

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