Searching for "skunk bears": the elusive wolverine

Robinson, B. and Gehman, S.

Yellowstone Science, Vol. 6, Issue 3


Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are among the least-studied and most poorly understood fur-bearing animals in North America. This largest terrestrial member of the weasel family (Mustelidae) is renowned for its ferocity in story and legend, but indeed only two scienctific studies of wolverines have been conducted in the lower 48 states. Hornocker and Hash (1981) conducted a seven-year study of wolverines in northwestern Montana during the 1970s, and Copeland (1996) studied wolverines in central Idaho from the winter of 1992-93 through 1995. Wolverines may never have been numerous, but their numbers and distribution have been drastically reduced in the lower 48 states since the arrival of European humans. Outside of Alaska, the largest wolverine populations in the United States are thought to be in Montana and Idaho, with sightings also reported in Wyoming, Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington. Montana and Alaska are the only states that still allow wolverines to be legally trapped. Currently, an average of eight wolverines are trapped in Montana each year. Information about the historic and present abundance and distribution of wolverines in and around Yellowstone National Park is scant. Schullery and Whittlesey (1992) documented 12 reports of wolverine sightings between 1806 and 1883, and noted three additional statements about wolverine presence. Consolo Murphy and Meagher (in press) searched park records from 1883 through 1995 for evidence from in and around the park and found 104 sightings, 25 track reports, 4 additional records, and 1 museum specimen. However, records were often lacking in the detail necessary to evaluate their reliability and accuracy. They concluded that there was a likelihood that Yellowstone National park helped support a resident wolverine population and that more information was needed on this rare carnivore's status and distribution.

Patrick Cross1997