In an earlier post, I mentioned that March is the Month of Truth for all those researchers eagerly awaiting confirmation that their wolverines have become parents. In a post that preceded that one, I also mentioned that there are a million things that can prevent you from being able to figure this out. Make that a million and one. The easiest way to determine whether an instrumented female has kits is to fly three days in a row to see if she’s localized. Wolverines, notorious for their constant restlessness, don’t generally stay in one place unless they have something to keep them there, and that usually means either a gigantic carcass, or kits. So if the female is located three days in a row in the same place, she’s probably in a den.
The procedure is pretty straightforward, unless you live in the Rockies in a year when winter descended with fury in November and seems disinclined to leave, at all, ever. For all of March, and for the first two weeks of April, we’ve waited to a clear window to fly for three days. Patience may be a virtue, but in this case it hasn’t been rewarded. We’re still waiting.
If F3 does have kits, they are now two months old. Their fur is darker and longer and coarser, they are bigger and more active, their feet are beginning to take on the profile of gigantic snowshoes. Their tails are developing from fuzzballs into shaggy brooms, and they are undoubtedly becoming more restless to be outside. F3 may have moved them to a maternal den further upslope, a place where the snow is deeper and more secure than the natal den where they were born. The kits have about one month left in the den, and then they and F3 will head into their first summer roaming Montana’s high peaks; she and M57 will help them figure out how to find food, how to avoid predators, and how to make a living in a harsh environment. They will stay in their parents’ territories for about a year before striking out to find their own stretch of wilderness.
Hopefully we can determine at some point over the next week whether she is actually denning. Whether she is or not, female wolverines and their kits in the Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming Rockies, in the Cascades, and, indeed, all over the world, are preparing to leave the den and head out into the wider world within the next few weeks – exciting and perilous times for the next generation of gulos.