The Gray Wolf Taxonomy in North America

 Source: The Wolf Almanac / Robert H. Busch 

A subspecies is a group of individuals within a species which share a unique geographic area or habitat, unique physical characteristics, or a unique natural history. * indicates an extinct subspecies

For decades, some biologists recognized twenty-four subspecies of the graywolf (Canis lupus) in North America: 

(1) alces *: the Kenai Peninsula wolf, one of the largest of North American wolves, extinct by 1925

(2) arctos: the white wolf of the high Arctic, found from Melville Island to Ellesmere Island

(3) baileyi: the smallest North American gray wolf, originally found from Mexico to the southwest United States; according to many authorities, indistinguishable from C.l. monstrabilis and C.l. mongollonensis

(4) beothucus *: the Newfoundland wolf, now extinct; reported as almost pure-white

(5) bernardi *: limited to Banks and Victoria Islands in the Arctic, described as white with black-tipped hair along the spinal ridge; not 1952

(6) columbianus: a large wolf found in the Yukon, British Columbia, and Alberta

(7) crassodon: a medium-sized , grayish wolf found on Vancouver Island

(8) fuscus *: a brownish-colored wolf from the Cascade Mountains; extinct by 1940

(9) griseoalbus: a large wolf found in northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba

(10) hudsonicus: a light-colored wolf found in northern Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories

(11) irremotus: a medium-size, light-colored wolf from the northern Rocky Mountains

(12) labradorius: the wolf of Labrador and northern Quebec

(13) ligoni: a small, dark-colored wolf from the Alexander Archipelago in the arctic islands

(14) lycaon: the eastern timber wolf of Canada and the United States; it originally had the largest range of all the North American subspecies; the first subspecies to be recognized in North America (1775)

(15) mackenzii: the Northwest Territories wolf, not recognized as a subspecies until 1943

(16) manningi: the smallest arctic wolf, found on Baffin Island; either white or light-colored; not recognized as a subspecies until 1943

(17) mogollonensis *: a medium-sized wolf found in Arizona and New Mexico; extinct by 1935

(18) monstrabilis: a wolf found in Texas and New Mexico; extinct by 1942

(19) nubilis *: the Great Plains or "buffalo" wolf,; extinct by 1926; usually light in color

(20) occidentalis: a large wolf from western Canada, also called the Mackenzie Valley wolf

(21) orion: a white or very light-colored wolf from Greenland

(22) pambasileus: a dark-colored wolf from Alaska and the Yukon

(23) tundrarum : the arctic tundra wolf; light in color

(24) youngi *: the southern Rocky Mountain wolf; extinct by 1935; light buff color

                   * indicates an extinct subspecies

For the last few decades, more specimens have been examined and as a better understanding of wolf genetics and behavior has been gained, zoologists have tended to recognize fewer populations as being subspecifically or racially distinct.

At the 1992 North American Wolf Symposium, based largely on statistical analysis of skulls, taxonomist Ron Nowak suggested that North American Canis lupus be classified into the following five groups:

(1) occidentalis: of most of Alaska and western Canada (including alces, columbianus, griseoalbus, mackenzii, occidentalis, pambasileus, tundrarum)

(2) nubilus: of most of the western United States, southeastern Alaska, and central and northeastern Canada (including beothucus, crassodon, fuscus, hudsonicus, irremotus, labradorius, lycaon of Minnesota, ligoni, manningi, mogollonensis, monstrabilis, youngi)

(3) lycaon: of southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States

(4) arctos: of most of the Canadian Arctic islands and Greenland (including arctos, bernardi, orion)

(5) baileyi: of Mexico and the extreme southwestern United States.