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Wolves patiently wait to sneak attack poor-sighted prey
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Wolves patiently wait to sneak attack poor-sighted prey

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Sneaky wolves

Wolves eat many different types of food. In northern Minnesota the Voyageurs Wolf Project used trail cameras to film wolves eating blueberries and even capturing trout in small streams.

The group’s recent research revealed how wolves sneak up on beavers.

Beavers are most active in the evenings and mornings. They can grow up to 3 ½-feet long and weigh up to 60 pounds. They live together in family groups in lodges they build out of trees and branches, sometimes burrowing into the stream banks to create their dens.

Although they are great swimmers, with broad tails to help propel them, beavers have to come onto land to gather the trees they eat and to make their lodges and dams.

Once these beaver lodges are located, the Voyageurs Wolf Project found some wolves would wait for hours to try and ambush the prey. One wolf waited for 30 hours, others spent eight to 12 hours waiting to sneak up on one of the animals. Their average wait time was four hours. That’s a long time to wait for a meal, or to not get a meal if they are unsuccessful.

Beavers don’t have great eyesight. To prove this the researchers put a life-sized photo cutout of a wolf near a beaver lodge and filmed the animals’ reaction. Most of the beavers showed little interest in the photograph. One knocked it over as he dragged his branch past the photo.

Beavers rely on their sense of smell to warn them when a predator is nearby. The Minnesota wolves have learned this and found places downwind from the beaver’s chosen route on land to wait for a chance to attack.

The research in Minnesota is showing just how crafty wolves have to be to get a meal. While they may chase deer or moose to catch them, they use much different moves for a meal of beaver.

To figure out how wolves were capturing beavers, the scientists had to be very patient as well. They spent more than 15,000 hours searching almost 12,000 locations during the five years of research. By doing this, they identified more than 700 places where wolves had waited to ambush a beaver but were unsuccessful. They also found more than 200 places where the wolves were successful.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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