Italian wolf

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Italian wolf
Lupo Appenninico.jpg
C. l. italicus, Abruzzo National Park, Italy
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: C. lupus
Subspecies: C. l. italicus
Trinomial name
Canis lupus italicus
(Altobello, 1921)
Distribution Canis Lupus Italicus.png
Italian wolf range

The Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus) is a subspecies of grey wolf native to the Italian Peninsula. It inhabits the mountainous areas of the Apennines and western Alps, though it is undergoing expansion towards the north and east. As of 2005, the Italian wolf population is estimated to consist of 500 individuals. It has been strictly protected in Italy since the 1970s, when the population reached a low of 70–100 individuals. The population is increasing in number, though illegal hunting and persecution still constitute a threat.[2] Since the 1990s, the Italian wolf's range has expanded into southwestern France[3] and Switzerland.[4] Although not universally recognised as a distinct subspecies,[5] it nonetheless possesses a unique mtDNA haplotype[6][7] and a distinct skull morphology.[8]

The Italian wolf weighs an average of 25–35 kg (55–77 lb), though some large males have been weighed at 40–45 kg (88–99 lb). It measures 110–148 cm in body length and 50–70 in shoulder height.[9] The pelt is generally of a grey-fulvous colour, which reddens in summer. The belly and cheeks are more lightly coloured and dark bands are present on the back, tail tip and occasionally along the forelimbs. Black wolves have been reported in the north-central Apennines, though their origin is unknown, as some melanistic individuals show no sign of wolf-dog hybridisation. It typically lives in packs of 2-7 individuals.[10]


Giuseppe Altobello's comparative illustration of the skulls and dentition of C. l. lupus (a) and C. l. italicus (b).

The Italian wolf was first recognised as a distinct subspecies in 1921 by zoologist Giuseppe Altobello,[11] who noted that its colour and skull differed from that of the common European wolf. He described the Italian population's skull as being rounder in form than that of the typical European wolf, with smaller teeth closely approaching those of dogs and golden jackals in appearance.[12] Altobello's classification was later rejected by several authors, including Reginald Innes Pocock, who synonymised C. l. italicus with C. l. lupus.[8] In 2002, the morphological distinctiveness of the Italian wolf was reaffirmed with a study on grey wolf skulls from Italy, other Eurasian localities and dog skulls. The results of this assessment showed no overlap in the skull morphology of Italian wolves and other grey wolves and dogs. Among the discovered characteristics distinguishing the Italian wolf were its relatively narrow palate between the first premolars, a broad frontal shield and shallow jugal.[8]

In 1992, an examination of the mtDNA of 26 grey wolf populations worldwide revealed that the Italian wolf has a unique mitochondrial haplotype not shared by any other grey wolf population.[6] Further tests on grey wolf mtDNA revealed that, unlike several European grey wolf populations, Italian wolves do not share haplotypes with either other grey wolves or domestic dogs.[7] A later study showed that the Italian wolf was a member of the same haplogroup, and shares a haplotype (w22) with, extinct ancient Eurasian and Beringian wolves.[13]

As of 2005,[5] it is classed by MSW3 as synonymous with C. l. lupus.

The taxonomic reference Mammal Species of the World (2005) does not recognize Canis lupus italicus, however NCBI does list and publish research papers under that name.[14][15][16]

Range and legal status[edit]

Grey wolf killed in Malga Campo Bon (Comelico) on 24 May 1929.

The Italian wolf was widespread in the Italian Peninsula, including Sicily, up until the mid 1800s. The extermination of the grey wolf in Italy was not as complete as in Northern Europe, due to greater cultural tolerance of the species.[17] It was largely extirpated in the Alps during the 1920s, and disappeared from Sicily in the 1940s. Its range along the south-central Apennines was still relatively continuous by the 1950s, though this population was reduced in the decades after World War II because of widespread poisoning campaigns. At least 400 wolves were killed between 1960 and 1970, with the population reaching an all-time low in the early 1970s. The last documented wolf in the northern Apennines was killed in Santo Stefano d'Aveto, Genoa in 1946, though this was an isolated individual, as the local wolf population had long been extinct.[18]

The Italian wolf was first given legal protection on 23 July 1971, with a nationwide population census being taken in 1973. This census was funded by the Italian branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature as part of a conservation plan dubbed "Operation Saint Francis". The census revealed that the Italian wolf population consisted of 100–110 individuals distributed throughout a fragmented range in the main mountainous aras of south-central Italy, from the Sibillini to La Sila. In 1983, the population had reached 200–220 individuals inhabiting two unconnected areas in central and southern Italy. By the late 1990s, it was estimated that the Italian wolf population had increased to 400–500 individuals with a continuous distribution along the entire Apennines, from Aspromonte to the Maritime Alps, with some isolated populations in Tuscany and Lazio. In 2008, a wolf carcass was discovered in the Fiemme Valley in Trentino, and by 2010, 45–55 wolves were estimated to have recolonised Piedmont.[18]

The Italian wolf was first sighted in France in 1992. In the two decades following its initial recolonisation, the wolf has expanded its range at the west of the Rhone, in the Massif Central, the eastern Pyrenees, and the Jura and Vosges Mountains.[3] At least thirteen transient Italian wolves (twelve males and one female) were counted in Catalonia between 2000 and 2011, a century after the local Iberian wolf (C. l. signatus) was extirpated from the area.[19]

The first evidence of grey wolf expansion into Switzerland occurred in 1995–1996 in the southern Canton of Valais, where around 100 sheep had been killed. In 1998–1999, 40 sheep were killed and two wolves found dead from poaching and car collisions.[4]

In Latin and Italian culture[edit]

According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf.

The animal features prominently in both Roman and later Italian cultures. In Roman mythology, the wolf played a role in the founding of Rome by suckling the twins Romulus and Remus. According to Terry Jones, "The Romans did not see [the tale of Romulus, Remus and the she-wolf] as a charming story; they meant to show that they had imbibed wolfish appetites and ferocity with their mother's milk".[20] The wolf was also considered sacred to Mars, and to see a wolf before going into battle was considered a good omen.[21] The origin of the myth can be traced back to a wolf cult among the neighbouring Sabines. The Sabines had two words for wolf: hirpus (used in religious contexts) and lupus, the latter of which was incorporated into Latin. Negative attitudes towards wolves in Italy largely began with the invasion of the Lombards, who zoomorphically described their raids and invasions as wolf raids, bringing wolves into disrepute[22] The belief in werewolves was still widespread in Italy during the early 1920s, and it was once traditional among rural people to cover their faces when resting outside at night, as it was thought that sleeping whilst facing the full moon could transform the sleeper into a wolf. The wolf also featured prominently in Italian folk medicine. Baby colic was treated by tying a sack filled with a piece of wolf gut around the child's neck, while miscarriages were prevented by tying a wolf's intestine around the mother's abdomen. Rheumatism and tonsillitis were treated with wolf fat, while a tooth or tuft of fur was worn as a talisman against the evil eye.[11]

Although Italy has no records of wolf attacks on humans after World War II and the eradication of rabies in the 1960s,[23] historians examining church and administrative records from northern Italy's central Po Valley region (which includes a part of modern-day Switzerland) found 440 cases of wolves attacking people between the 15th and 19th centuries. The 19th century records show that between 1801–1825, there were 112 attacks, 77 of which resulted in death. Of these cases, only five were attributed to rabid animals.[24]


  1. ^ Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe (2006). "Canis lupus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 3.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  2. ^ Salvatori, V. & Linnell, J. D. C. (2005), Report on the conservation status and threats for wolf (Canis lupus) in Europe, Council of Europe, p. 12
  3. ^ a b (French) Monnier, A. & Figuet, R. (May 2013), Le loup en France Plan national d'action sur le loup 2008-2012, CGAAER 78
  4. ^ a b Glenz, C., A. Massolo, D. Kuonen, and R. Schlaepfer (2001) A wolf habitat suitability prediction study in Valais (Switzerland), Landscape and Urban Planning 55:55–65
  5. ^ a b Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  6. ^ a b Wayne, R. K. et al. (1992) Mitochondrial DNA variability of the gray wolf: genetic consequences of population decline and habitat fragmentation on genetic variability, Conservation Biology 6:559-69
  7. ^ a b Randi, E. et al., (2000), Mitochondrial DNA variability in Italian and east European wolves: Detecting the conseguences of small population size and hybridization, Conservation biology, 14 (2): 464-473
  8. ^ a b c Nowak, R. M. & Federoff, N. E. (2002), The systematic status of the Italian wolf Canis lupus, Acta Theriologica 47(3): 333-338
  9. ^ Viviani, Alessia; Gazzola, Andrea; Scandura, Massimo (2006), "Il Lupo: Un predatore sociale ed adattabile", in Apollonio, Marco; Mattioli, Luca, Il Lupo in provincia di Arezzo (in Italian), Montepulciano (SI): Editrice Le Balze, pp. 29–43 .
  10. ^ (Italian) Ciucci, P. & Boitani, L. (2003) Il Lupo Canis lupus Linnaeus, 1758, in L. Boitani, S. Lovari, A. Vigna Taglianti (eds), Fauna d’Italia: Mammalia III, Carnivora-Artiodactyla, Calderini, Bologna, pp. 20-47
  11. ^ a b (Italian) Altobello, G. (1921), Fauna dell'Abruzzo e del Molise. Mammiferi. IV. I Carnivori (Carnivora), Colitti e Figlio, Campobasso, pp. 38-45
  12. ^ (Italian) Altobello, G. (1925), Vertebrati del Molise e dell’Abruzzo. Forme locali, Annuario dell’Istituto Tecnico Provinciale “Leopoldo Pilla”, Campobasso, pp. 231-255
  13. ^ Pilot, M., Branicki, W., Jędrzejewski, W., Goszczynski, J., Jędrzejewska, B., et al. (2010), Phylogeographic history of grey wolves in Europe, BMC Evol Biol 10: 104
  14. ^ "NCBI search Canis lupus italicus". 
  15. ^ Zeira, O; Briola, C; Konar, M; Plonek, M; Papa, V (2013). "Clinical and diagnostic imaging findings in an Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus) with discospondylitis". Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 44 (4): 1086–9. doi:10.1638/2013-0007R1.1. PMID 24450075. 
  16. ^ Gori, F; Armua-Fernandez, M. T.; Milanesi, P; Serafini, M; Magi, M; Deplazes, P; MacChioni, F (2015). "The occurrence of taeniids of wolves in Liguria (northern Italy)". International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife 4 (2): 252–5. doi:10.1016/j.ijppaw.2015.04.005. PMC 4443502. PMID 26042204. 
  17. ^ (Italian) Bocedi, R. & Bracchi, P.G, (2004) Evoluzione demografica del lupo (Canis Lupus) in Italia: cause storiche del declino e della ripresa, nuove problematiche indotte e possibili soluzioni, Ann. Fac. Medic. Vet. Di Parma (vol. XXIV), pp. 403–415
  18. ^ a b (Italian) Anon (2010), Il Lupo (Canis Lupus L. 1758) nell'Appenino Bolognese, Provincia di Bologna, Quaderno n. 2
  19. ^ Garcia-Lozano, C. et al (2015) Análisis de la disponibilidad de hábitat adecuado para el lobo (Canis lupus) en Cataluña y en los Pirineos Orientales. Pirineos. Revista de Ecología de Montaña. Vol. 170, pp. 1-13
  20. ^ Jones, T. (2007), Terry Jones' Barbarians: An Alternative Roman History, BBC Books, ISBN 056353916X
  21. ^ Impelluso, L. (2004), Nature and its Symbols, Getty Publications, p. 212, ISBN 0892367725
  22. ^ Boitani, L. (1995), "Ecological and cultural diversities in the evolution of wolf-human relationships", in Ecology and conservation of wolves in a changing world, eds. Carbyn, L. N., Fritts, S. H., and Seip, D. R., eds. pp. 3-12, Edmonton: Canadian Circumpolar Institute
  23. ^ Linnell, J.D.C., Andersen, R., Andersone, Z., Balciauskas, L., Blanco, J.C., Boitani, L.; Brainerd, S., Breitenmoser, U., Kojola, I., Liberg, O., Loe. J., Okarma, H., Pedersen, H. C., Promberger, C., Sand, H., Solberg, E. J., Valdmann, H., Wabakken (2002). The Fear of Wolves: A Review of Wolf Attacks on Humans (PDF). NINA. ISBN 82-426-1292-7. 
  24. ^ (Italian) Cagnolaro, L., Comincini, M., Martinoli, A. & Oriani, A., "Dati Storici sulla Presenza e su Casi di Antropofagia del Lupo nella Padania Centrale", in atti del convegno nazionale “Dalla parte del lupo”, Parma 9-10 ottobre 1992, Atti & Studi del WWF Italia, n ° 10, 1-160, F. Cecere (a cura di), 1996, Cogecstre Edizioni

Further reading[edit]

  • Apollonio, Marco; Mattioli, Luca (2006). Il Lupo in Provincia di Arezzo (in Italian). Editrice Le Balze. ISBN 88-7539-123-8. 
  • Boitani, Luigi (1987). Dalla parte del lupo: la riscoperta scientifica e culturale del mitico predatore (in Italian). Mondadori. 
  • Comincini, Mario (2002). L'uomo e la "bestia antropofaga": storia del lupo nell'Italia settentrionale dal XV al XIX secolo (in Italian). Unicopoli. ISBN 8840007741. 
  • Diviacco, Giovanni; Campora, Massimo; Cottalasso, Renato (2009). Sulle tracce del lupo in Liguria (in Italian). Centro Stampa Offset. 
  • Ferrari, Marco Albino (2012). La via del lupo (in Italian). Editori Laterza. ISBN 9788842056003. 
  • (Italian) Genovesi P. (ed.) (2002), Piano d’azione nazionale per la conservazione del Lupo (Canis lupus), Quaderni di Conservazione della Natura, 13, Min. Ambiente - Istituto Nazionale per la Fauna Selvatica
  • Marucco, Francesca (2014). Il lupo: Biologia e gestione nelle Alpi ed in Europa (in Italian). Il Piviere. ISBN 8896348234. 
  • Meriggi, A. et al. (1996), The feeding habits of wolves in relation to large prey availability in northern Italy, Ecography 19: 287-295

External links[edit]