Originally the red wolf (Canis rufus) roamed as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as central Texas. Like its relative the gray wolf, the red wolf was extirpated from its former range by large-scale predator control programs. By the late 1930's, only two populations are believed to have remained; one in the Ozark/Quachita Mountain region of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, and the other in southern Louisiana and southeastern Texas. Nearly extinct only a few decades ago, the red wolf has begun to recover with the help of captive breeding and reintroduction programs.
The red wolf derived its name from the reddish color of the head, ears, and legs. However, its coloring can range from very light tan to black. Weighing 45 to 80 pounds, the red wolf is smaller than the gray wolf and larger than the coyote. Also, the head is broader than the coyote's but narrower than the gray wolf's. The red wolf's most distinguishing features are the long ears and legs.
The exact identity of the red wolf has been debated for decades, with some authorities considering it a species, some considering it a subspecies of the gray wolf, and some considering it a hybrid, or cross-breed, of the coyote and the gray wolf.
In the wild, red wolves normally establish life-long mates. They reach breeding maturity in their second or third year, and breed in February or March of each year. The female wolf, sometimes assisted by the male, finds or digs a suitable den in areas such as hollow logs, ditch banks, or under rock outcrops. Two to six pups are born in April or May. The pups are born with their eyes closed and are completely dependent on their mother for about two months. They usually remain with the parents until reaching breeding maturity, forming small family groups, or packs. Red wolf packs generally use 10 to 100 square miles of habitat.
Red wolf packs are smaller than those of the gray wolf, and consist of an adult pair and young of the current and previous years. Similar to gray wolves, red wolves are very social and territorial, with aggression among pack members sometimes resulting in death.
White-tailed deer and raccoon are the most important part of the red wolf's diet, but smaller animals, such as rabbit and nutria, are eaten when available. Red wolves will prey on small livestock in certain situations, but proper livestock husbandry can greatly reduce or eliminate these losses. With large livestock such as cattle, it is normally only the very young calves that are vulnerable.