The Once Florida Black Wolf of the Indian River Lagoon

The black wolf once roamed the shores and surrounding lands of the Indian River Lagoon, becoming extinct in 1883. (Photo public files.)
The Florida wolf or black wolf once roamed the shores and surrounding lands of the Indian River Lagoon and the state of Florida, becoming extinct in 1908. (A photo of a modern, larger, Ontario black wolf,  public files.)

A wolf of the Indian River Lagoon? You’re kidding?

Not too long ago, before 1908, a black wolf known as the “Florida black wolf” was part of the ecosystem of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. One of the best local accounts of this black wolf, can still be found in an historical document  written by a member of the Seminole War party, of Col. Benjamin Pierce, for whom Ft Pierce is named.

Col. Pierce was fighting the Indians in the 1837 Seminole War. According to the Sebastian River Area Historical Society, Col. Pierce and his troops sailed down the Indian River Lagoon on December 31st “in boats filled with baggage, men, and provisions.” Surgeon Mott, of his party, wrote of the journey:

“Nothing occurred to disturb the quiet of the night, except the wolves in the neighboring forest responding with howls as they threatened one another…”

Paining by I.Wesp of Benjamin Pierce and troops sailing down the IRL- (Tales of Sebastian, 1990.)
Paining by I. Wesp of Benjamin Pierce and Seminole War troops sailing down the IRL, 1837. (Tales of Sebastian, 1990.)

This “black wolf subspecies” became extinct in 1908, mostly due to hunting as homesteaders pushed the wolf out of its habitat. It is documented that there was also a more reddish colored “red wolf” that coexisted with the black wolf simultaneously and it went extinct a bit later, in 1921.

These black wolves and red wolves were a related subspecies of the more well known American grey wolf (Canis lupus) and related to today’s Gregory’s Wolf  or Red Wolf that has been recently been reintroduced in North Carolina.

Gregory's Wolf or Red Wolf has been reintroducing into North Carolina and surrounding areas.
Gregory’s Wolf or Red Wolf has been reintroducing into North Carolina and surrounding areas. (Photo public)

For many years, there were intellectual arguments in the scientific community about whether the the black and red Florida wolves were true “wolves” or more closely genetically related to the coyote. Although after years of heated discussion, it was first determined that the black and red wolves were a type of coyote, this was contested and overturned by the  International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in 1957.

Yes, although they had adapted and taken on a smaller frame than their grey wolf relatives, Florida’s  black and red canines were “wolves.” 

Scientific drawing, 1800s, Florida Black Wolf. I don't quite get the buffalo in the background! But you get the idea!:) (Wikipedia)
Scientific drawing, 1800s, Florida Black Wolf. (Wikipedia)

Hmmm?

The state of Florida still has bears and panthers. Wouldn’t it be amazing  if we still had wolves!

There may always be that element of fear with wolves but there must also be respect, as the wolf is second only to humans in adapting to a changing planet, and of course the extinct black wolf, and the modern grey wolf, are closely related to our very best friends, domesticated dogs.

Just incredible!  The once wild and beautiful creatures of the Indian River Lagoon…..

_______________________________________________________

Florida Black Wolf: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Black_Wolf)

US Fish and Wildlife Commission/Grey Wolf: (http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/aboutwolves/biologue.htm

Wolf facts: (http://www.defenders.org/gray-wolf/basic-facts)

8 thoughts on “The Once Florida Black Wolf of the Indian River Lagoon

  1. Great glimpse into our local natural history. Wolves? No. But Coyote’s? Yes! I positively identified one on the Southern area of Hutchinson Island last year, by both visual observation and repeated examples of it’s scat showing up in the exact same location. Thanks again. jkc

    Like

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