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Are Wolves Scavengers or Predators?

Wolves are both scavengers and predators. They typically prey on live animals, but if food is scarce, wolves will eat the meat left by other predators. 

Wolves are apex predators. They use their sharp teeth and claws, as well as their strong bite and pack tactics to hunt for prey.

All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts) x
All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts)

But, when food is scarce, they may have to eat whatever’s left from other predators in their habitat.

In this article, we’ll talk more about how wolves find food, what they’ll eat, and why they may occasionally turn to scavenge and carrion-eating.

How Do Wolves Forage?

Wolves are opportunistic feeders, which means that they will eat whatever is available to them. This usually means hunting for food, by when there are no animals around, they turn to other means.

This can include small animals such as rodents, larger prey such as elk, or even carrion (dead animals). 

If there are no dead animals around either, they may even turn to eat vegetation. They’re known to feed on berries and fruits to avoid starvation.

arctic-wolf eating

Wolf Hunting Tactics

As stated, wolves primarily hunt. They’re very skilled hunters, and apply a series of tactics when preying on animals.

Where many other predators try to ambush their prey, wolves are more inclined to chase down their prey. They have excellent stamina, meaning when their prey runs away, they can easily follow along until the animal they’re hunting gets tired.

A major component of their hunting strategies is their pack mentality. Wolves will work together as a team to take down animals much larger than themselves. [1]

When wolves hunt, they follow a series of steps:

  1. Stalking and chasing their prey.
  2. Testing for weaknesses.
  3. Figuring out the best approach for attacking.
  4. Taking down their prey with their strong bite.

Related: How wolves hunt

pack of wolves against a large prey

Do Wolves Scavenge?

Yes, wolves do scavenge at times. Scavenging is when animals eat the leftover meat from animals killed by other predators.

Wolves are carnivores, meaning they prefer to eat meat. Wolves will hunt their prey whenever possible.

However, if food is scarce and hunting is unsuccessful, wolves are known to eat carrion (dead animals) as a last resort. Carrion can be found throughout their territory, as they share their habitat with a series of other predators. [2]

Predators found in wolf habitats include animals such as: 

  • Bears
  • Mountain lions
  • Coyotes
  • Siberian tigers

While the majority of a wolf’s diet is meat, there are some circumstances where they will eat vegetation. For example, during winter when food is scarce, wolves have been known to eat cached berries and fruits.

While scavenging is not their first choice, it is important to understand those gray wolves are both scavengers and predators. They are opportunistic feeders and will take advantage of any food source that is available to them. This flexibility has helped them to thrive as a species for thousands of years.

arctic-wolves eating

How Much Do Wolves Scavenge?

This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on the circumstances and the wolf pack’s territory. In general, however, wolves are primarily predators. They prefer to eat meat from animals they kill themselves.

What Are the Benefits of Being a Scavenger?

The benefits of being a scavenger are twofold: 

  1. First, it allows the wolf pack to survive when prey is scarce.
  2. Second, it allows the wolf pack to remove any dead animals that may attract other scavengers, as well as recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem.

Scavenging plays an important part in the ecosystem. When dead animals are eaten by scavengers, the nutrients will be recycled back into nature, causing plants to grow, which will increase the food availability for herbivores.

This results in more herbivores being born, which will then be hunted by predators, repeating the cycle. [3]

wolves eating

Why Do Wolves Scavenge?

Wolves only scavenge when it’s their only option. When food is scarce, either because wolves’ prey has migrated, or simply because animals are out of range, wolves will turn to either scavenging or plants for nutrition.

Like many other predators, wolves aren’t completely carnivorous. They’ll supplement their diet, depending on available food sources.

Are Scavengers as Successful as Predators?

In general, scavengers are not as successful as predators in acquiring food because they are limited to the leftovers of other animals. 

However, there are some instances where scavengers can be more successful than predators. For example, vultures can spot dead animals from high altitudes and are extremely efficient at finding food because of their low energy output while hunting.

As wolves can both eat prey they hunt themselves, as well as leftovers from other predators, the chance of finding food is much greater than if they were to stick to a single feeding method.

wolves with their prey

What Do Wolves Scavenge?

Wolves prefer to eat ungulates, which are large, hoofed animals. These provide plenty of food for the entire pack, and will usually also be what they scavenge.

When predators take down smaller animals, they will usually eat the entire animal. These animals have smaller bones, which may also be ingested.

Large animals, on the other hand, are more difficult to clean out, meaning there’s are a higher chance for wolves to stumble across the carcass from these animals.

Related: What do wolves eat?

Do Wolves Get Scavenged On?

Yes, wolves do get scavenged on by other scavengers. While wolves won’t eat the meat of their dead packmates, other animals will, such as vultures or ravens.

Wolves may die from natural causes or while hunting. Wovles are typically not cannibals, especially when it comes to their own packmates. Instead, they’ll leave the carcass. This provides other scavengers with a meal.

Are Wolves Carnivores or Omnivores?

Wolves are, primarily, carnivores. They are meat-eaters and feed on prey animals like deer, elk, moose, caribou, etc. 

However, wolves may also be categorized as omnivores. They’re known to feed on vegetation, or even garbage if they can’t find any animals to hunt.

Related: Are wolves only carnivores?

wolves hunting as predators

Conclusion

Wolves are scavengers, but they’re primarily predators. The majority of their diet consists of animals they hunt and kill themselves, but this does depend on the situation. If food is scarce, they’ll eat whatever food they come across.

Scavenging makes up a smaller part of wolves’ diet. They will only turn to this method of feeding if their own hunting efforts are unsuccessful.

If wolves can’t find any live or dead animals, they may even turn to vegetation for nutrients. Hence, wolves may be categorized as part omnivores.

As they can rely on both predation and scavenging for acquiring food, their odds of finding food are greatly increased. They share habitats with a multitude of predators, including bears, mountain lions, and even Siberian tigers.

About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.