Often compared to a small bear, the wolverine is a stocky, muscular weasel known for taking on animals exponentially larger than itself. But how much do you know about this omnivorous loner?
From its incredible jaw strength to its ingenious use of a makeshift refrigerator, here are five unbelievable facts about the wolverine!
Wolverines Have an Incredible Sense of Smell
Many animals have a great sense of smell, but the wolverine's sense of smell is so powerful that it can find an animal carcass buried under twenty feet of snow. This talent is helpful for the wolverine when avalanches strike because by following its nose, the wolverine finds plenty of food in the animals trapped by snowfall.
The wolverine's sense of smell is also helpful in tracking down other animals' prey. Once it catches the scent of a potential meal, it is hot on the trace. It is not unknown for larger predators to abandon kills when the wolverine approaches simply because this tireless weasel does not back down!
The typical wolverine diet consists of rabbits, birds, voles, squirrels, berries, and bird eggs, but as opportunistic feeders, they will also take advantage of any carrion they find. The wolverine's specialized jaw makes cutting through frozen meat easier so that frozen carrion is easier to consume.
Wolverines Use Makeshift Refrigerators!
It should be no surprise that wolverines are loner animals, and the last thing they want to do is share food. While larger animals know better than to mess with a wolverine’s food supply, insects do not get the memo and regularly land on whatever they can find.
The wolverine has developed a habit of refrigerating its food to combat pesky bugs that can ruin food supplies. Wildlife conservationists have observed this big weasel using snow-covered rock crevices and mountainous areas to store food to keep away any insects.
Storing food in subzero temperatures keeps insects away, preserves food for longer, and eliminates bacteria that can cause illness or faster food decay.
Wolverines Have a Specialized Feet
Living in frozen territory can make it hard to get around, but the wolverine depends on its unique feet to travel across the snow. As the wolverine's foot comes into contact with the ground, it spreads to twice its usual size, acting like a snowshoe.
By spreading out, the wolverine's feet redistribute their weight over a larger surface area, stopping them from sinking into the snow. This helpful feature also means that wolverine paw prints are as large as four or five inches long and three to four inches wide!
Like bears, the wolverine has five toes on each paw, and each toe has a semi-retractable claw that acts like a crampon giving them more traction as they walk. These claws also prove helpful when it comes to tree climbing!
The Wolverine is Very Fragrant
If you have never smelled a wolverine, be grateful! These feisty weasels have a scent similar to a skunk, so much so that some call the wolverine a "skunk bear." This odor comes from scent glands and is called “musk.”
Interestingly, at one time, animal musk was a base ingredient in perfume and cologne. Over the years, we have created synthetic musk to achieve the same scents without killing animals.
Wolverine musk is secreted from anal glands and serves a dual purpose. Primarily, the wolverine uses its scent to mark territory, but it also uses this pungent odor to tag leftover food so they can eat it later. Lastly, like the skunk, the wolverine will spray musk to warn predators if threatened. The offensive odor is enough to send most potential predators running the other way.
Predators Prefer Not to Eat Wolverines
Active hunters of the wolverine include wolves, bears, and mountain lions. These animals prefer to select young wolverines as they pose less of a challenge. Despite having such large predators, the most significant hunter of the wolverine is man.
Although the wolverine has predators, many of these predators will avoid actively hunting an adult wolverine because of its natural aggression and tenacity. Researchers have even observed fully grown bears leaving an area on the wolverine's approach. For its part, the wolverine knows when to avoid larger predators and times its approach to carrion to avoid any dangerous interactions with bears, wolves, and mountain lions.
A bear or wolf can bring down a wolverine, but to these predators, there is still the risk of injury by tangling with a wolverine. One well-placed swipe from a wolverine can incapacitate a large predator and impact its ability to hunt or open them up to an infection which can be fatal.