Frozen fauna – Frossen fauna

Wolverines on ice

By Jørgen Rosvold
A wolverine ulna found in a snow patch. Photo: Jørgen Rosvold, NTNU University Museum

In some Native American stories, wolverines are often pictured as the merry tricksters. The wolverine may also play tricks with the interpretation of snow patch finds.

The Latin name of the wolverine is Gulo, which means something like glutton. In Scandinavia, people used to believe that the wolverine were so insatiable that it would keep on eating until its belly became as tight as a drum skin. It would then press its body through a narrow passage between two trees in order to squeeze the food out of its belly. By doing so, it could continue feeding again. In reality, the wolverine takes great care of its food, storing it in different food caches for use in harder times.

Summer is generally leaner times for wolverines, especially for females with cubs. To have access to good food stores is often essential for success. The heat of the summer may cause meat to spoil rapidly, so finding cool places to store food is important. Snow patches are often ideal and it is known that wolverines may cache food in and around them.

Remains of a nestling woodpecker that has melted out of the ice. Photo: Jørgen Rosvold

Many of the bone finds that melt out of snow patches bear tooth marks of predators and might be the remains of wolverine food caches rather than human hunting. Several finds of nestling birds must have been brought up by some animal as well. It is unlikely that humans brought nestlings up to the snow patches, has the wolverine been afoot?

Lower jaw of an arctic fox that has melted out of a snow patch. Arctic foxes are also known to cache food for leaner times. Photo: Jørgen Rosvold, NTNU University Museum


More info on food caching wolverines:

– Bevanger, K. (1992). “Report on the Norwegian wolverine (Gulo gulo L.).” Small Carnivore Conservation 6: 8-10.
– Inman, R. M., et al. (2012). “The wolverine’s niche: linking reproductive chronology, caching, competition, and climate.” Journal of Mammalogy 93(3): 634-644.

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