How does a wolf spend its summer days? A typical day might be spent hunting small prey, taking long naps, and even fishing, according to never-before-seen footage from a collar camera fastened to wolf in Minnesota.
The find was part of a research effort called the Voyageurs Wolf Project, where scientists hope to learn more about what wolves kill during the summer months and find out where wolf dens are located within Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota.
During the frigid winter months, wolves tend to hunt in packs and kill large prey, such as deer or the occassional moose. Come spring—when food is plentiful and after wolf pups are born—the wolf pack disbands, and they each become more solitary. When wolves split off on their own in the summer, researchers find it harder to track individual wolves' activities in the dense forest vegetation of their ecosystem, reports Ed Cara for Gizmodo.
To uncover the wolves' secretive summer lives, University of Minnesota researchers outfitted one wolf, dubbed V089, with a camera collar developed by the company, Vectronic-Aerospace, reports Gizmodo. The collars, designed for wildlife studies, feature GPS tracking abilities and an internal drop-off feature that allows the collar to automatically pop off the animal after a set time so researchers can safely retrieve it.
For a span of six weeks last spring, the camera collar captured footage throughout the day for 30 seconds at a time, accumulating a total of 7 minutes per day, reports Elizabeth Lopatto for the Verge. Researchers found the wolf slept for long periods. In between naps, V089 also frequented the Ash River to hunt for fish, reports the Star Tribune. In one scene, the wolf waited near a beaver dam for fish that got trapped, successfully gobbling up three fish using this method.
Previously researchers did collect evidence of wolves hunting for fish in the area, but they assumed it was only an anomaly that occurred when the parents of one pack discovered how to fish, reports the Star Tribune. Other scientists have observed wolves fishing when salmon spawn in places like Alaska and Canada, but they thought it was only a regional occurrence, Gizmodo reports. However, this new footage suggests that wolves everywhere can learn to fish regardless of location, and the behavior may not be pack specific. The University of Minnesota researchers suspect that fishing is both learnable and teachable among wolf packs.
"The fishing behavior just shows how adaptable wolves are and how they're really good at finding unique food sources," study author Thomas Gable, a conservation scientist at the University of Minnesota, tells Gizmodo. "There's this idea that wolves will only go after large prey, just moose and deer and things like that. But they also are really good opportunists, and they'll take advantage of all sorts of different food sources that are available to them."
After the collar successfully captured this new footage, the researchers plan on placing three more collar cameras on three new wolves this summer. They hope to gain a detailed understanding of what ecological factors are needed to conserve and manage wolves' ecosystems successfully.
Because a lot of their footage is obscured by V089's shaggy fur, the team also plans on giving the wolves a haircut before they are set loose, reports Gizmodo.
"We'll probably trim the hair back just a little bit so that it's not in the field of view," Gable says. "There's a certain amount of interference that you're never going to get away from, just because of how wolves walk and hold their head—you're always going to see their chin. But hopefully, there won't be hair taking up the whole frame."