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Do Wolves Mate for Life & Are They Loyal?

Wolves can mate for life, but will quickly move on when their mate passes away. The idea that wolves won’t find a new partner is a myth.

When wolves are sexually mature, they’ll look for a mate. Male wolves are also ready to breed, but females aren’t.

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

When they find a suitable partner, the male will mark the female as his mate.

They have a sense of affection for their mates. They will often stay with just one mate until they die. Afterward, they’ll find another.

In this article, we’ll talk about how wolves find mates, how long they stay together, and what happens if a wolf’s mate dies.

Do Wolves Mate for Life? (Myth)

Wolves do mate for life if both partners are healthy and live long enough. It’s a myth that they won’t find a new mate. Wolves tend to move on very quickly.

There are different theories about the mating of wolves. Some believe that wolves mate for life, while others believe they don’t. Most agree that it’s a mix of the two.

Wolves do, typically, stick to a single mate, as long as they’re both alive. If their mate is killed or dies otherwise, wolves quickly move on and start searching for a new one. 

Some wolves do show polygamous tendencies, meaning, they have several mates. This is mostly seen in alpha wolves. They’re the most dominant wolves in the wolf pack and will hence have plenty of options when searching for mates.

Even if they have a mate, they may breed with other wolves.

Related: Are wolves monogamous or polygamous?

Two wolves walking in the snow

What Happens When Wolf’s Mate Dies?

When wolves lose their mate they may spend some time mourning, but they eventually move on in the search for a new mate.

Wovles are social animals, forming close bonds with their packmates. It’s been observed that, when a member of the pack dies, wolves tend to mourn. They’ll lose their playfulness, and will be less energetic. [1]

This is especially true for mates, as these are wolves with a special bond.

Once wolves are done mourning, they do move on to look for a new mate. As alpha wolves are, typically, the only ones to breed during the breeding season, they’ll most often have found a new mate before this time of year comes around.

Wolves usually breed from January to March.

wolves sleep and rest during the day

When Wolves Mate for Life

When wolves mate for life, it’s because they’re both healthy, and because they have a close connection. When a mating pair is very closely connecting, and they have a strong bond, they won’t feel the need to look for other mates.

If they’re old when their mate dies, or if they’re no longer able to reproduce, they may also not look for another partner.

The main point of a mating pair is to breed, as with all animals, hence wolves without breeding capabilities may not look for a new mate.

Are Wolves Loyal to Their Mate?

Wolves are typically loyal to their mate. Most wolves are monogamous, meaning they only have a single mate. They will stay with this mate for as long as possible.

When that’s said, some wolves do show polygamous tendencies (as mentioned earlier in this article). 

In one study, they even found that monogamous wolves tend to be better parents. Their pups grow up stronger and healthier, with lower mortality rates. [2]

wolves-in-winter

How Do Wolves Find a Mate?

Wolves find a mate by smelling their genitalia. The male wolf is always ready to breed, but female wolves are not. Hence, the male wolf (when looking for a mate), can smell if female wolves are sending out sex pheromones.

Female wolves are typically sexually mature from the age of 2 to 7. This is when they’ll produce offspring, expanding the pack with new wolf babies.

To find out if a female wolf is sexually mature, the male wolf will smell her genitalia. If she’s ready to reproduce, the male will then move on to court her. He still needs to be accepted by her.

If the female wolf accepts the male, they’ll move on to breeding. The male will mark his mate, let other wolves know that she’s taken.

white wolves

Do Wolves Mark Their Mates?

Wolves are known to be territorial creatures, both in terms of territory, but also when it comes to their mate. They’ll mark their mate to make sure to other wolves know that they’re in a mating pair.

To mark their mate, wolves will both smell their genitalia (as when they’re finding a mate), and they’ll rub their scent off on them. By doing this, other wolves will know not to count them.

They don’t put a long-lasting “marker” on their mate though. This mate marking is only done once.

Related: How do wolves mark their mates?

wolves-in-nature

When Do Wolves Mate & Breed?

Wolves will breed during the breeding season. This takes place from January until March, whereafter the pups are often born either in late winter or early spring.

Male wolves are always ready to breed, but female wolves are not. They can’t reproduce until the breeding season comes around.

Female wolves also have to come of age first. When they’re around 2 years old, they’ll start to sexually mature. Their breeding capabilities often last until they’re 7 years old. [3]

wolves playing together

How Many Pups Do Wolves Get?

The size of a wolf litter is usually between 4-6 pups but may consist of up to 11 wolf pups. Some wolves also only give birth to a single pup.

The size of the litter is pretty much up to chance and varies from year to year. As said, the average amount of pups wolves get is four to six.

Related: Baby wolves (wolf pups)

Only the Alpha Pair Will Breed

The alpha mating pair is the only one that will breed. The alpha couple consists of an alpha male, and an alpha female (also called a Luna wolf).

The alpha couple is the dominant mating pair in a wolf pack. The other wolves respect them and are submissive to them. These two wolves are often more aggressive and assertive than the rest. Especially during the breeding season.

When breeding season is around the corner, the alpha wolves will be more dominant. They do this to ensure the other wolves in the pack don’t mate.

The rest of the female wolves will help the alpha female take care of her pups, to ensure they’re as healthy as possible. Offspring is important to a wolfpack, as it ensures survival through generations.

Two magnificent wolves in wolf pack in cold winter forest

Why Do Wolves Mate for Life but Not Dogs?

While many animals stick to a single mate for life, dogs do not. They’re genetically wired to mate with many different mates throughout their life. While female dogs only go into heat twice a year, male dogs are always ready to breed.

There are different theories about why dogs don’t stick to a single mate, when their ancestors, the wolf, do. One theory explains how domestic dogs no longer need to, as they’re taken care of by humans.

Wolves typically stick to a single mate, because they’re required to reproduce. When wolves are compatible, they’ll stick together. Dogs don’t have this need anymore.

Conclusion

Wolves may mate for life, but only if both individuals of the pair stay alive. If one of the wolves dies, the other one will move on and search for a new partner. The theory that wolves won’t find a new mate is a myth.

While most wolves are loyal to their mates, in the sense that they’re monogamous, some individuals show polygamous tendencies. These are often males, more specifically alphas.

Wolves breed during the breeding season, which takes place from January through March.

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.