Gray Wolf Subspecies

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Timber wolf. Arctic wolf. Mackenzie Valley wolf. Buffalo wolf... How many different kinds of wolves are there? This is a question that biologists continue to debate. They must also decide the difference between a species and a subspecies (subgroup within a species). Most scientists believe that there are two species of wolves in the world: the gray wolf and the red wolf.

For many years, most thought there were 32 subspecies of gray wolf in North America. However, with recent genetic studies, today most biologists believe there are just four types or subspecies of gray wolf: arctic, great plains, Mexican, and northwestern. Another possible subspecies called the eastern wolf is still under debate by the scientific community.

Some subspecies are often difficult to distinguish from one another. This is because they can breed with one another where their ranges overlap so that their populations tend to blend together rather than form distinctive boundaries. The different traits we see in subspecies are likely the result of geographic range, available habitat, and prey base. Skull dimensions, overall size, fur color, and the length of appendages are some of the characteristics that differ between subspecies of gray wolf.

Gray Wolf

  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae (This family includes all of the "dog-like" animals (wolves, coyotes, fox, jackals, dingos, and others - even man's best friend, the domestic dog).
  • Genus and Species: Canis lupus

Learn More

For more information about gray wolves and other wolves of the world, please visit the International Wolf Center at