In spring 2011 two wolverines caused a lot of excitement when they appeared on an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife camera. It was the first confirmed sighting in the state since 1992.
Such sightings will become even more rare because of climate change. Habitat loss and poaching have already led to the near extinction of the species. Now a new study shows warmer temperatures are melting their refrigerators.
The solitary, bear-like creatures are actually related to weasels. They reach a length of 26 to 34 inches, with the tail adding another 7 to 10 inches. At maturity they weigh between 24 and 40 pounds.
In summer wolverines add plants and berries to their diet, but they prefer meat. During the short season they can hunt, they fill their caches with squirrels, elk, moose and whatever other small and large prey they can find – whether they killed it or found it. To preserve their food supply, they hide it in rocky crevices and rely on snow cover to keep it free of insects and bacteria as well as safe from scavengers.
As long as the mountainous areas they prefer have sufficient snow pack, lactating mothers can access enough food to keep them and their offspring healthy. Unfortunately, warming temperatures are melting the insulation around their storage chambers.
Next: The Last Wolverines?
In a study scheduled to appear in the Journal of Mammalogy and previewed in USA Today, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientists examined reproductive data from 1955 to 2011 and data about the food resources wolverines kept in their caches.
They discovered that female wolverines bore their young in dens near their food caches. Robert Inman, with WCS’s wolverine program, told USA Today the harsh, snowy zones needed for wolverines to survive would be affected by a warming climate.
Female wolverines bear their young in dens near their food caches. If a protective snow cover is no longer available to preserve their meat, the already small population will dwindle further.
With the entire wolverine population in the Lower 48 states estimated at between 250 and 300, warmer winters may edge them into extinction. Without the “refrigeration zones” the scientists believe they need, wolverines face starvation.
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