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Wolverine–the Weasel Behind the Myth

Learn about the real wolverine on this Moment of Science.

For most people the wolverine is best known as an inspiration for the distinctive design of the University of Michigan logo and as the name of an X-Men character. Real wolverines can’t fly or leap over tall buildings, but in their own way they are as powerful as comic book superheroes.

Also known as the devil bear or woods devil, the wolverine is not related to the wolf, as its name seems to suggest. Rather, the wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family.

Males are roughly the size of small brown bears and weigh between twenty and forty-five pounds. Wolverines have low, squat bodies and large paws adorned with long, sharp claws useful for climbing trees and digging in snow and dirt.

Relative to other mammals its size, the wolverine does possess incredible strength. A powerful neck and jaws allow wolverines to steal food from hunting traps and even from larger predators such as wolves and bears.

On occasion, a wolverine will take down an animal up to five times its size, such as a deer or moose. And like any superhero worth his or her salt, the wolverine has exceptional endurance. It has been known to travel distances of up to ten miles without stopping or slowing down to rest.

Despite their powers, wolverines are not good hunters. They eat mostly carrion, the eggs of ground-nesting birds, and berries. Wolverines used to range as far south as New Mexico, but human hunting and land development have confined them to Alaska and arctic and sub-arctic regions of Canada. As for Michigan, the only wolverines left are the ones on the athletic field.

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