Wolverine Facts (or can a wolverine kill a man?)

Appearing more like a small bear, the wolverine is in fact more of a weasel on steroids. This stocky little beast is the stuff of legends. Along with a voracious appetite it has a reputation for unmatched ferocity and apparently fears nothing. Pound for pound few other animals can match the wolverine for strength or attitude. So, it is fortunate this little bundle of terror lives on the sparsely populated fringes of the Arctic Circle.

Here we’ll look at the facts about the wolverine and some of the myths. Is it true the wolverine is capable of killing animals over 10 times bigger than itself such as moose. And more importantly could a wolverine kill a human?

wolverine - gulo gulo

The wolverine – Gulo gulo

The Wolverine (Gulo gulo)

  • The Scientific name, Gulo gulo, means glutton. This comes from their reputation for having a formidable appetite.
  • Wolverines are also known as carcajou, skunk bear, stink bear, nasty cat, devil bear or quickhatch.
  • The wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family (mustelids) that lives exclusively on land. The South American giant otter and the sea otter are bigger.
  • Average males weigh 20-55 lbs (9-25 kg) but the biggest recorded weigh nearer 75 lbs (35 kg). That’s around the size of a large pit bull, but with bags more attitude!
  • Body length is up to 40 ins (110 cm) – not including tail.
  • Wolverines have a very stocky, powerful and muscular build. I read somewhere they are strong enough to move a log that would take 2 men to lift.
Wolverine skull

Wolverine skull showing powerful jaw and rotated rear molar

  • They have a broad rounded head with a short snout and very powerful jaws.
    Wolverines are sometimes called the “Hyenas of the North” due to their bone cracking jaws. Essential when their diet consists largely of frozen meat.
  • Like other mustelids they have a pair of special molar teeth at the back of mouth which are rotated 90 degrees. This makes it easier to tear off chunks of meat from prey, even if it is frozen solid.
  • The wolverine has specialised, wide, five-toed, webbed paws. These allow it to run on powdery snow as if it were wearing snowshoes.
  • Another of the wolverines weapons are its razor sharp claws. Think where the Marvel comic character idea came from. The animal’s claws are also long, curved and very strong. Ideal for grabbing onto prey and not letting go.
  • Whilst the wolverine has small beady eyes, it has a great sense of smell. It can detect prey or carrion that has been buried under heavy snow.
  • The thick, dense fur of the wolverine is highly specialised for living in the extreme cold. Not only does it repel water but it is the only fur that can be breathed on without frosting up.
    For this reason it is favoured as a trimming on the hoods of “parka” coats.
  • Wolverines live on average for around 4 to 6 years, but some have been known to reach up to 13 years

Where can I find a wolverine?

  •  Wolverines are found around the Arctic Circle; North America, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Siberia and Northern Asia.
  • Despite being the self-proclaimed “Wolverine state”, only one wolverine has been spotted in Michigan in 200 years.
  • The wolverine is fiercely territorial and males have large territories. They enjoy a solitary life and given sufficient space a male’s territory can be up to 240 miles2 (620 km2). This can encompass several female ranges, which are much smaller.
    The rule is territories of the same sex mustn’t overlap. If they do there is trouble.
  • Male wolverines like to roam. One individual in Yellowstone National Park was recorded travelling more than 500 miles (800km) in 42 days.
gulo gulo - the wolverine

Wolverine

Wolverine behaviour

  • Wolverines sleep and are active in 3 to 4 hour cycles.
  • Wolverines are known to steal and hide things they have no possible use for. 
    In the words of one author: “They will remove and hide the entire contents of uninhabited hunting lodges: guns, knives, cooking utensils and blankets… …befouling whatever is left behind“.
  • Wolverines can produce a  foul smelling yellow fluid from anal scent glands. They use this for marking their territory or as mentioned above, wanton acts of vandalism.
  • Mating occurs in summer but the female can delay pregnancy until mid-winter.
  • A successful male may have a small harem of two or three females with which he forms a lifelong relationship. These he will visit from time to time. Unfortunately this means some males have to go without.
  • Female wolverines build dens in late February. These can be dug as deep as 15 feet (5 m) into the snow.
  • Wolverines are great dads! They make regular visits to their offspring until they are weaned at 10 weeks old. The youngsters reach maturity within their first year and at around six months some of them reconnect and team up with their fathers for a while.
wolverine with moose head

Wolverine with moose head

What do wolverines eat?

  • Wolverines will eat anything they can get their paws on!
  • In order of size, favourite meals include; shrews, mice, voles, squirrels, rabbits, lemmings, marmots, porcupines, beavers, sheep, white-tailed deer, mule deer, roe deer, caribou, elk and moose.
  • Did you say moose???
    Yes, there have been cases of wolverines killing moose even though they are almost 20 times their size.That’s the equivalent of “a house cat bringing down a deer”. There seem to be other factors in these cases, e.g. the moose is injured but wolverines are exceptional hunters and will ambush large prey, even jumping out of trees.
  • Wolverines will also eat other smaller predators from time to time. These include foxes, lynx, weasels and even wolf pups.
  • Wolves will occasionally prey on wolverines.
  • They get most of their food from scavenging. Either carrion they find, animals from traps, left-overs from other predators or in some cases they will take from another predator. There is one report of a wolverine attempting to rob a black bear ten times its size and getting killed in the process!
  • Wolverines use freezers – they sometimes stash kills in icy crevices or under rocks for leaner times.
  • Wolverines commonly eat the bones along with the meat. They have even been known to eat the teeth.
  • They are highly opportunistic and are not averse to eating berries and fruit in the summer. Eggs are popular if they can find them and there are even reports of them eating plants.
Wolverine attack

You can clearly see the powerful build and huge paws here

How tough is a wolverine?

  • In one word, very. These ferocious little carnivores have no fear. Once committed they take on a win or die mentality.
  • They are infeasibly strong for their size and will successfully defend their catch from much bigger animals including bears and wolves.

  • There is a documented story of a wolverine killing a polar bear. The wolverine was put in a zoo enclosure with the bear and immediately attacked it, clamping on to the bears throat until it suffocated.

Can a wolverine kill a man?

Well, before I started researching this article I would have said there is absolutely no way a pumped up badger would have a chance at taking out a healthy human adult. Now I’m not so sure.

Let’s look at the facts. A big wolverine is around the same size as a medium sized dog, not that much smaller than a wolf. If everything that is written about theses super-weasels they are one of the strongest animals for their size, pound for pound. On top of this they are without fear, incredibly ferocious and armed with huge, sharp claws and crushing jaws.

It’s beginning to sound a little less of a fantastic idea already. Given their previous form with reports of them bringing down both predators and prey many times their size I’m beginning to side with the wolverine here.
Wolverines have one more thing in their favour, they can run on snow. In their own environment this would give them a big advantage, and there would certainly be no running away.

The good news is there has never been a documented instance of a wolverine attacking a human. So I guess we’ll never know for sure.

  • oldwhitewoman88

    I just saw a report about a man in Alaska, that fall in the ice while riding a snowmobile. He was walking home and a wolverine was attacking him, so there is your confirmed report!

    • kbbpll

      There was nothing in those reports that indicated that the wolverine actually attacked him. It was “stalking” him and he fired two warning shots. Granted, the headlines implied that he had to “fight off” the wolverine, but there was never any depiction of an attack.

      • oldwhitewoman88

        Johnson said on television , “I attempted to scare off the animal with warning shots, but the wolverine continued to attack me and I eventually resorted to defending myself with a stick. When that failed, I took shelter in a wooden box.” The article didn’t give his whole story and the truth of the matter is he got attacked, according to his statement.

        • Steve Widdicombe

          Don’t argue with folly and ignorance oldwhitewoman88, its a futile proposition with little chance of sound conclusion.Your right and that dude is dreamin, I’m surprised that guy made it back.To go out into a Wolverine domain without taking a worst case scenario as prep fodder is maddness. In the bush above the 39th your Wolverine food its that simple 🙂 let kbbpll go with his concepts and fight a Wolverine and I’ll buy the flowers.There’s one born every minute you know 🙂

          God I would not go near a tamed honey Badger let alone a Wolverine.The only way a man beats a Wolverine is with automatic 12 gauge or .308 upwards with a scope and distance just in case you just make him angry. You might take him with a side arm if your Wyatt Earp or Annie Oakley but I wouldn’t go doing that intentionally; your even money to come out as fertiliser, in fact I’d lay em against the side armed human depending on how fast his pistol cycled and how much chance he had of remembering to aim under stress. Revolver 7 to 3 Glock 5 to 4, even money powder burns on his face delivering the coup de grace as he himself also bleeds out.

          • Thomas Benton

            You think a Moss 12 Guage with slugs would do the job?

  • Ronny Lee

    Documentaries about living in remote Alaska have given the wolverine as much concern as the brown bear. As far as the wolverine is concerned you are just meat. I have seen the wolverine give the brown bear a fit by attacking his feet.

  • Charlie

    Badgers average smaller than wolverines. A strong man would be hard pressed to kill a badger bare handed. There’s a video on You Tube showing a mountain lion seizing a badger’s neck from behind. The big cat held on for a considerable time, apparently letting go to see how badly the badger was hurt. At that point the badger started biting and slashing the cat’s chest. I’m sure the badger was sore, but it was very viable and fighting mad, and the cat backed off. Those cats also have claws that would leave you spurting like a water fountain—but not the badger. A badger can easily kill a bobcat of about the same weight, and the bobcat can razor a German Shepherd to ribbons. I’m surprised anyone thinks a grown man, even a strong one, could kill a badger barehanded. It might be possible, but out of 1,000 contests (not that it will happen) I think the badger would win over 950 of them. A wolverine is an order of magnitude more unlikely to be beaten by a man, unless its a freak like Tom Topham or Maximinus Thrax.

    • Steve Widdicombe

      Dead right Chumly. Dead right. A man wouldn’t stand a chance, in fact a football team would be in dire trouble if unarmed.Most people live in a little dream world brother. Like I said on another site once, I saw a common house cat on a noose pole twist out and run up a copper like a tree and grab him by the face and that was it, he was on the ground helpless screaming and it tok 4 people to help him.I saw a medium sized Rabbit a guy thought he had shot dead, rip his arm to over 20 stitches before he threw it away for ever;he had about 15, 6 ml deep grooves in his arms 6″ long. Anyone that is ignorant of wild animal ferocity, Next time you have a wild rat in your house instead of body trapping him, use a baited cage trap to catch him alive and let me know how you go grabbing him 🙂 The last rat I caught that way to free terrified me, he was one wild customer, around the cage like a bullet, biting the steel bars so you could feel the muscle vibrations. I would not have happily put my hands in with this “specific” rat for lagers and I’ve killed boars with dogs and a knife.

  • Tk

    Wolverines are majestic yet scary animals I agree with Charlie anybody without survival and fighting skills would most likely get torn to shreds

    • Steve Widdicombe

      Survival or fighting skills nothing, it would run up your body like a tree with its 40cm claws ripping to the bone all the way to your throat. An unarmed survivalist come UFC fighter would be dead in about 20 seconds as it tore out his carotid sinus with it bare claws let alone its Femur crushing bite . Without a firearm, that animal would annihilate 4 UFC tuned humans no ifs or butts and the fifth and sixth would looking for a tree. Cranky Wolverines drop adult moose for God sake 🙂 Even a fighting man with a large knife, i’d be backing the wolverine and I’ve killed boars with just a knife and dogs. People underestimate and over estimate animals all the time.

    • Ralph Harriman

      I read an article where a Honey Badger can turn inside their skin. Another animal can have them by the back of their neck and they can turn and grab their captor by the throat. I think a Wolverine is the same way.

  • Steve Widdicombe

    A wolverine wouldn’t just kill a human it would tear them to pieces. “Could a Wolverine kill a man?” Paleeeeeeeeese :/ I’ve seen a common house cat latch onto a policemans face and he was absolutely helpless and screaming for assistance.If he was in the wilderness unarmed and the cat waited him out he’d of been food for humble Felix. I’ve seen a man go to grab a Rabbit he thought he killed (soft little bunny) and it ripped 20 stitches into him before he let it go.Most unexperienced unarmed Humans are weak creatures game to creatures that would surprise you, and there are many very small creatures experienced hunters will not go near.Try petting a wild Honey Badger for instance, one of those would kill a man if it got serious. Next time you have a wild rat in your house, instead of using a body trap catch it alive with a baited cage trap.Once you have him, let me know how keen you were to put your hand in with it giving it no room to escape 🙂

  • casper

    i think thy can kill one but you have to remember wolverines will rather stay away from humans and these may be very agressive creatures but they don’t like being seen a sight is already pretty rare an they are barely seen in the wild so even though he would be able to kill a man it stll wouldn’t be your biggest problem

  • peeet

    I’m confused about the part saying wolves eat wolverines occasionally because every video I have seen and everything I have read shows that even 2 wolves have no chance against a healthy wolvering and are only trying to escape.

    • Brad Daviet

      A pack could have a dozen or more wolves, and they often kill other predators on their territory.

      • peeet

        cool. but not tigers they don’t, wolves run for their lives from tigers because tigers don’t allow wolves to live in THEIR territory.

  • peeet

    1 wolf vs 1 male wolverine would be like 1 jack russell vs 1 male badger (not one battered with a shovel either) I doubt the jack russell’s bites would even bother the badger in the slightest.

  • K

    I had a run in experience with what I have to assume was a wolverine.
    I live in Anchorage, Alaska and a few friends and I decided to go for a hike at “the dome” I don’t know it by any other name, but its way up Stuckagain Heights. A few of us got there and started hiking, then I guess a few others wanted to come join us so 2 of us ran back to find them while the first group slowed down.
    We decided to split up in case we missed them. I made it to the parking lot and didn’t see anyone, my other friend ran into them. I started to run to meet back up with everyone, and I’m just bombing straight down through the brush, crossing the path as it switches back and forth.
    Then Literally at the exact moment my foot hits the path, at first I thought it was a big dog, but it stepped onto the path at the very same time, going up across the path, while I was going down across the path. We were probably about 20 feet apart from each other, and we both stopped dead when we saw each other. As I’m looking at it, my thought process goes something like this, “Whoa, big dog…. hold on, shit that’s a black bear….or… no… wtf is that…. oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck that’s a badger vicious wolverine oh fuck they’re vicious beasts I am so gonna die in 30 seconds.”
    And in that instant, for whatever reason my mind decided to pull a vague memory about making yourself appear larger when threatened by a wild animal. So I raised my hands high and made a loud deep yell without moving forward or backward, as if to say “I’m standing my ground, and I’m not going to be an easy meal.”
    He looked at me for a second then ran up the hill in the direction he was going before we crossed paths. Oh man. One of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced ha.

  • Rick McCallister

    The reason we never hear about it is because wolverines don’t leave survivors to tell the story.