26 Sep 2014

Wolves Do Not Eat Mice. Seriously.

Wolves do not eat mice. Seriously.
"But Lindsey," you protest, "I've seen Never Cry Wolf six times and those wolves ate mice."
Yeah. Never Cry Wolf? Not a documentary.
Adult wolves usually weigh between 55-130 pounds - at the top end of the range, small-adult-human-sized. So picture yourself taking a nap in a less dodgy part of New York's Central Park. You wake up to discover a single potato chip in front of your nose. Assuming it's hermetically sealed and therefore sanitary, you'll eat it, right? Who wouldn't?
But the kind person who left the chip there didn't leave the rest of the bag. So you go for a walk, hunting for more chips. Then you spot one up a tree, because in this extremely strained metaphor, the chips can climb trees. You, however, not that good at it. So you sweat and struggle and pant your way up the branches until you capture the second chip. Except eating it doesn't even dent your raging hunger, because you just burned more calories climbing than are actually contained in the chip.
Now imagine that you had to share that second chip with seven of your closest friends and relatives. How long will it be before you realize that a much better strategy is to knock over a hot dog cart and be done with it?
And that is why the preferred prey of wolves is ungulates - large, hoofed mammals like elk or caribou. Because if the pack actually manages to catch one, all of its members will not only get to eat, they'll be full for a couple of days.
Scientists call this optimal foraging theory. Simply put, it's the idea that animals will focus on food items that give them the most nutrition for the least amount of effort required to catch (or graze) that particular food. And it's why wolves - unless they are old, sick, or one runs right past their noses - don't eat mice.
Thus endeth the rant of the former wolf geneticist, who read a short story this week that mentioned the whole wolf/mice thing and spontaneously combusted due to rage (again). :)
What about you? Are there any bits of persistent misinformation that make you want to set your head on fire? Have you ever seen real live wolves hunting? Are you able to eat just one potato chip? Inquiring minds want to know!

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