The ethology of wolves foraging on freshwater fishes in a boreal ecosystem

Danielle R Freund, Thomas D Gable, Sean M. Johnson-Bice, Austin Homkes, Steven K Windels, Joseph K. Bump

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Through global positioning system (GPS) collar locations, remote cameras, field observations and the first wild wolf to be GPS-collared with a camera collar, we describe when, where and how wolves fish in a freshwater ecosystem. From 2017 to 2021, we recorded more than 10 wolves (Canis lupus) hunting fish during the spring spawning season in northern Minnesota, USA. Wolves ambushed fish in creeks at night when spawning fish were abundant, available and vulnerable in shallow waters. We observed wolves specifically targeting sections of rivers below beaver (Castor canadensis) dams, suggesting that beavers may indirectly facilitate wolf fishing behaviour. Wolves also cached fish on shorelines. We documented these findings across five different social groups at four distinct waterways, suggesting that wolf fishing behaviour may be widespread in similar ecosystems but has probably remained difficult to study given its annual brevity. Spawning fish may serve as a valuable pulsed resource for packs because the spring spawning season coincides with low primary prey (deer Odocoileus virginianus) availability and abundance, and when packs have higher energetic demands owing to newly born pups. We demonstrate the flexibility and adaptability of wolf hunting and foraging behaviour, and provide insight into how wolves can survive in a myriad of ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number230210
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 24 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) provides support for D.R.F., the corresponding author (grant no. 2237827). S.M.J.-B. acknowledges salary support from the University of Manitoba. Acknowledgements

Funding Information:
We thank the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, University of Minnesota, National Park Service, Voyageurs Conservancy, Vectronic-Aerospace, Rainy Lake Conservancy, International Wolf Center, Wolf Conservation Center, Northern Michigan University, The 06 Legacy, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Arc'teryx, Van Sloun Foundation, Wildlife Science Center, the National Science Foundation, and greater than 2800 individual donors for providing support for this work. We thank many numerous hard-working volunteers and technicians whose tremendous efforts in unpleasant and trying conditions have made this work possible.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors.


  • ambush hunting
  • boreal forest
  • Canis lupus
  • fish spawning
  • predator prey relations
  • wolf predation

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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