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 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.

46 thoughts on “Wolverine Facts (or can a wolverine kill a man?)”

  1. We live on a river flood plane of the snake river in southeast Idaho. In all, our property is about 17 acres. We have an island on the river which comprises of about 3 1/2 acres. We have seen moose, coyotes, rabbits, bald eagles, golden eagles, etc. around our island. One day I was walking along the river out toward our barn. Suddenly I saw a dark brown long-haired creature running away from the barn area toward the river. Out in the barn we had a rooster and two ducks. I had never seen a wolverine, but I can’t think of any other kind of animal with dark hair and some blonde stripes – that seemed to be about 2 1/2 feet long and lower to the ground. Having ran away from my barn, I feared that my animals were probably destined to be attacked. I was right. Systematically, first, one duck disappeared. Then a few days later, another was gone. Finally about three days later we found some rooster feathers out by our cattle trough. Now, I am a little concerned about my five red Angus cows out in the barn and the pasture. Also, my wife asked me to pull up the sound of a wolverine on YouTube. She said that one day she had the window open in the back of the house by the river. She heard that exact strange, growling and clicking sound. At the time she did not know what it was. I’m not sure a wolverine has been cited in this area before. We live between rigby and Ririe Idaho, which is about 60 miles from the grand Tetons , but we are right on the south fork of the snake river area. Anyone had similar experiences? I’m thinking maybe I will try to put a trap out. I’m not sure a live trap would contain this animal. Thank you, Martin.

  2. We’ve had several sightings where we live in Minnesota. I saw a wolverines in the ditch eating road kill near our home a few years ago. My husband came across a wolverines in our woods when he was riding the four wheeler to put mosquito dunks in a pond back there just last spring. It was not afraid of the noise. We saw wolverine tracks in the snow just a week ago -looks like it’s checking the cattail areas for food. They are very distinctive looking with the lighter band of fur in their coats. My sons also saw a wolverine in our woods I reported my road side sighting by email to the local DNR. They told me I saw a Fischer. So that’s probably why you can’t find that they have been sighted in Mn. They are here.

    • Heidi, I live in Shakopee,Mn. and on Dec. 19, 2022 at about 2am I sighted a Wolverine outside my window, since It was dark out side I first assumed it was a stray cat, coming back for more food. Because The day before I had set out Some left over turkey, anyways, I wanted to get a closer look and started to press my face to the window, which was ground level, when suddenly this animal turn towards me, which by now I thought might be a big rabbit, suddenly charged at the window, then turned sideways ,clearly stunned by the impact of the window, now I was able to see it more clearly since it had stepped out of the darken area from our deck, that’s when I saw it was neither cat nor rabbit, Nor was it a raccoon, Possum, badger or anything else I’ve ever seen in the area, it totally freaked me out, it then walked next door to the neighbors drive way, I was now able to see its full body, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it was indeed a Wolverine. Which is unusual for this area, It has since left tracks in my yard, and pretty sure it’s still around,
      Apparently they are making a come back.
      I tried contacting the local zoo, but they never replied.

  3. There’s only been one confirmed siting of a wolverine in California in 100 years. But I live in far northern California in very remote and heavily forested mountains, right in between 2 wilderness areas, the Marble Mountains and the Russian Wilderness. Each are just a few miles away. A good friend of mine saw a wolverine here in the late 70s, although there are no photos to prove it, so it’s not recorded. But this man knows his animals, and a wolverine is unmistakable. How silly that some people here are arguing about whether one could kill a human. It’s a rare and beautiful animal that belongs on earth as much as we do.

  4. I am in Sutton, Quebec On the skirt of the village and just saw what I think is a wolverine in the wood on a hill behind our building. I was about the size of a big bear cub, dark colour, short legs and lost track of it as it seem to disappear. Might have gone in the ground. It looked a lot like the picture here. I have a young cat (11 months) who wants to go out but noway now. I just came in from a walk with her on a leash. We are 10 minutes from the Vermont border. Do you know if wolverines are familiar in this area?

    • I am like 30 min east of Montreal 10 years ago seen 2 and they were stalking me. One was in the front yard ignored me sniffing at branch and knew i was there i made enough noise it was obvious the other was sneaking around the other side of the house, only noticed it when a twig snapped behind me I looked around to see it creeping towards me slowly. Normally I would put out the dogs but they did not want to go out. More recently Jan 1st there were tracks thru the backyard, we had ample fireworks in the area and the tracks happened a few hours afterward. 2 nights ago it was on the road as a neighbor was walking her dog and it ran into the woods. Last night the dog was outside for a few min and started to bark, I rushed them back inside. 30 min ago I noticed tracks leading out of the woods to a car tent next to the door going towards where the dogs were just at. So yes they are in the area of their footprints. The front footprint is about 2.5 to 3 inches across the front to back about 2 inches and is about the size of a med-sized dog coming up to 2 to 2.5 feet tall and has a long fluffy tail that is about equal to its body in size. We got fishers in the area and i have seen them

  5. I saw a wolverine cross hwy 390 in eastern california( 1980). It crossed the hwy with experience of car motion. Stepping onto hwy as we approached and crossed behind us. non chalant like it was bold. I doubt they like being around people though.
    What fur Such a beautiful animal, as it trotted a cross the pavement its wide paws were kind of floppy. It had an intent look on its face unconcerned with the car, but with destination.
    This was not the biggest of wolverines, maybe 30 pounds not likely to kill a human. I do believe it possible for one to kill a human but not likely to ever happen.

  6. Oh yeah, the mythical animal the size of an easter egg taking down, elk, moose, making a pack of wolf cry all the way to their mama, equiped with the sharpest fangs in the universe, and claws as sharp they can cut down threes with a single swipe.

    Or maybe get back to reality fanboys. It’s a scared little animal, with very little research to it, wich makes it a perfect animal to portray as a mythical fable animal more dangerous then anything on this planet. It’s an american phenomena, portraying this animal that very few ever will encounter as something out of this world.

    Truth is, it’s a shy tiny animal having access to easy prey in difficult conditions like snow and little food. It can take down starving, freezing prey with the element of surprise, ambushing them from a threetop etc. A man could simply grab it by the neck and squeeze the living shit out of it if it wanted to. Reindear can not, moose can not. And the moose it takes down is small and sick, injured etc.

    This is a cowardly animal with little competition, and it stands no chanse vs the other predators in the area. But people love to pretend this tiny creature is something special, probably cause of x-men and other nerdy stuff. get real fellas.

    • The actual wolverine, the animal, you got wrong here. Check out some video of them killing other animals. It is true they don’t fear anything because they are at the top of the food chain. No surprise. Their favorite food that they kill is moose. Often they bait kills of their own to draw in other animals to kill. Those that thought they were seeing them drive other preditors off a kill that they were scavenging did NOT KNOW what was really going on. They will bait wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, bears to a kill, then trick them into thinking that they are runnin away to get them into position to kill them to get rid of the competition…..and eat them too….bones…teeth and everything. If you think you could grab a wolverine and strangle it, I suggest you give it a try. Tell me how that works out for you

      • Yes Zack I’m leaning more on the side that these animals are no BS and pound for pound are basically invincible. I’ve been doing some reading on the wolverine and there’s a documented case we’re one was put in the same enclosure as a polar bear at a zoo and the wolverine attacked and killed the polar bear by biting its neck and suffocating it!! Another article I read was if a wolverines was as big as a bear it would be the most powerful and deadly animal on the planet. So I’m sure not going to mess with one. Not sure I buy these people saying it’s a timid little scared animal. I’ve also seen articles saying they have no fear at all. Good thing I live in AZ.

    • Only a moron would think he could simply grab a Wolverine and squeeze it to death calling this animal cowardly just shows how ignorant you are about Wolverines

  7. If the man doesn’t havea gun or knife he loses if he has a knive n knows how to use it he’ll win but will sustain serios injuries that definitely will require medical attention.

  8. I was a Boy Scout in Michigan in the late 50s and it was a significant life-learning event. That said, our leaders endlessly stressed the threat of wolverines, moreso than any other animal.

    • I don’t think they were being serious, just to scare you. You can only mainly find wolverines in Canada, Alaska, and northern Asia.

      • I crossed paths with a large wolverine, while on a popular hiking trail a few miles south of Livingston, Montana on June 28, 2019. It was on the trail about 10 yards in front of me, and disappeared into the brush in a few seconds before I could grab my pocket camera. I at first thought it was a small bear, but bears don’t have long, bushy tails. When I returned home I confirmed the sighting by comparing the critter to numerous photos of wolverines on line. Strangely, the numerous squirrels that used to chirp at me along the trail are missing this summer(2020).

  9. If you ask me. I’m only looking but from the looks of it. Probably why there was no reports. Defiantly tear anyone to shreds. It is a kick it down jump back up and get you more. My guess is it gets more pissed off when you attack it back. Pet the kitty 😉 or run very fast, yes don’t pet it Runnnnnnn!!!!!!

    • I lived in British Columbia years ago and hunters used to tell funny stories about grizzlies. Grizzlies can be very dangerous but it’s possible to survive a grizzly attack if you do the right things and have a bit of luck. No one joked about wolverines. One hunter had a story about checking a trap line and discovering that a wolverine had triggered one of his traps. It was mad as hell and and chased after his snowmobile for an hour. He escaped but he said he was shit-his-pants scared.


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