Are wolves nocturnal? Wolves are carnivorous mammals that sleep similarly to domesticated dogs. Many believe them to be nocturnal because movies often showcase wolves howling at the moon. And even though wolves share similar sleep behaviors to domestic dogs, they are not diurnal like dogs. So what is the wolf’s sleep behavior? This article explores the sleep behavior of wolves and discusses whether wolves are nocturnal or diurnal.

grey wolf
Instead of being nocturnal, wolves are crepuscular animals. They are predominantly active at dusk and dawn but can still be active during the day or night.

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Wolves Are Not Nocturnal but Crepuscular

Wolves may be active during the night or day to hunt or move around, but they commonly show crepuscular behavior. Crepuscular describes animals that display peak activity at twilight, dawn, and dusk. So, these crepuscular animals are more active at sunrise and sunset than at any other time. Wolves have a tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer in their eyes, which allows them to see well in low-light conditions. This reflective layer enhances the light that enters the wolf’s eyes, ensuring better visibility at dusk and dawn.

Nocturnal and Diurnal Sleep Behavior of Wolves

Wolves sleep four to 10 hours a day to metabolize their food. Wolves burn about 70% more calories than other animals of similar size. They thus need more sleep and food. One study found that wolves sleep about 30% of the time. Some of this time sleep time includes nocturnal and diurnal sleep. This is slightly less than dogs, who sleep an average of 10.5 hours per day. Wolves experience different sleep stages, like drowsiness, REM sleep, and deep sleep. Their longest sleep stage is usually REM sleep, and older wolves experience less deep sleep than younger wolves. 

Wolves sleep for four to 10 hours each day.

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Why Do Wolves Show Nocturnal Behavior?

Wolves have learned to avoid humans, who are diurnal. Wolves usually show nocturnal behavior as there is generally less activity at night. By being active at night, wolves avoid contact with humans and other predators who hunt more actively during the day.

Wolves are carnivorous predators, feeding primarily on deer, elk, and similar animals when available. These animals can hunt during the day but are more successful at night. When wolves are active at night, they typically chase prey. Wolves are also highly adaptable, changing their daily activities according to when their prey is active. 

Wolves use their heightened senses to find their next meal. They have excellent hearing, which allows them to find their mark quickly. These efficient predators also have a highly developed sense of smell, allowing them to spot prey and predators at great distances. Besides, wolves possess excellent night vision due to the tapetum lucidum in their eyes, which enhances their vision in the dark. Another element of the wolves’ nocturnal activities includes guarding their territory, mating, playing, socializing, and resting. 

Wolves also travel at night. These predators possess exceptional endurance and can travel up to 60 miles in one night. They often travel at night to find food for their packs or to conquer new territories. Moreover, nocturnal travel for wolves provides extra protection from the dangers of the day. And wolves can travel up to 500 miles while hunting, with these long-distance journeys lasting from days to weeks.

The Daily Activity of Wolves

During the day, wolves are usually very relaxed. They spend their time resting and sleeping, but some wolves act as guards and watch out for intruders. They then become more active after dusk. When the sun sets, the wolves are on alert again, as this is the best time for hunting. Wolves not only seek out potential prey at optimum times of the day but use their environmental circumstances to their advantage by avoiding potential predators.

Where Do Wolves Sleep?

Wolves like to sleep in enclosed spaces such as natural shelters on mountainsides, under rock formations, or in similar places. They build their dens during travel and may spread these shelters across their territory. Wolves ensure multiple sleeping spaces for protection while on hunting excursions and for safety, whether for a nocturnal nap or a rest during the day. Being exceptionally hardy animals, wolves may choose to sleep outdoors if there are no enclosed spaces nearby.

Wolf cubs in front of den.
These massive wolves prefer to sleep in dens as they are warmer and safer but will sleep in the open if no other options are available.

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Wolves Change Their Nocturnal and Daily Sleep Behavior 

Wolves are regarded as a highly adaptable and cognitive species, widely distributed in different habitats in the northern hemisphere. In Scandinavia, wolf populations inhabit areas with low human population density. Still, the landscape is highly anthropogenic, with dispersed settlements, extensive road networks, intensively managed forests, and wild spaces. 

The expanding range of wolf populations, coupled with the expansion of urbanized areas, increases the frequency of interactions between wolves and humans. These interactions range from more common indirect observations to less common direct encounters. Some direct interactions can include predation on livestock and lethal attacks on humans. However, attacks on humans are sporadic, but the mere risk of a possible meeting with a wolf creates fear that can lead to conflict. 

Still, large carnivores generally avoid contact with humans. For example, brown and black bears appear to coordinate their behavior spatiotemporally to reduce the risk of human disturbance. Similarly, cougars consistently avoid human neighborhoods. In other words, large carnivores adjust their activity patterns to minimize the risk of encounters, even when spatially coexisting with humans. This behavior is the case, for example, with Scandinavian tigers, bears, and wolves. 

These behavioral changes demonstrate that large carnivores can perceive risks from humans and human activities. Even though large carnivores generally avoid humans, intraspecific and exogenous factors can influence individual carnivore responses. 

Many large carnivores, like wolves, can become more nocturnal when they live in areas with high human densities. Similarly, individual animals may react differently to people based on their past or inherited experiences, reflecting their plasticity. 

Regardless of the underlying mechanisms behind individual differences in human proximity, wild carnivore use of land near humans can lead to conflict and ultimately increase carnivore mortality. 

Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference?

For further information about the nocturnal and diurnal phenomenon in various living creatures, check out this complete guide.

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