Wolverines are badass animals. That’s probably why Marvel Comics made a character based on them. But unfortunately, we know more about the comic character than the real deal! Myth tells us that these animals are enormous gluttons, so much so that their latinized name is Gulo gulo, which means glutton glutton. I suppose the double name speaks to the intensity of glutton they were once thought to be.
Wolverines are a modest sized animal that can weigh anywhere from 15 to 70 pounds, with most being in the 30-50 pound range. They have the lithe muscular bodies of young black bear cubs, but with the wide digging-ready paws of a badger. Their heads look like a mashup of a Tasmanian devil with a mongoose. They have enormous strength that allows them to gallop for hours on end through deep snow fields, swim through freezing streams and rivers, and haul their bulk up nearly vertical cliff faces. And did I mention their skulls harbor bone-crushing teeth? Well, they do, and they make good use of them, gobbling up bones from carrion and fresh kills alike to process the fatty, nutritious marrow that many other animals can’t access.
Despite their obvious badassery, wolverines have remained one of the most understudied mammalian predators on the continent.
A few years ago, a multi-year project to study the life history details of these animals was undertaken at Glacier National Park, where a small population of the animals still remain. The study provided the perfect vehicle for Douglas Chadwick, who volunteered on the project, to write a book about these amazing but largely unknown carnivores.
In The Wolverine Way Chadwick narrates the time he spent as a volunteer on the Glacier project. His voice offers a mix of wonder and humility with just the right amount of swagger. But that last element stems almost solely from what we learn of wolverines: how they can scale sheer rock and ice mountain faces in times that make the most ardent mountaineers green with envy; how they can roam twenty or more miles across rugged topography in a single day, treating mountain slopes as if they were flat; how they can go head-to-head with grizzlies to stake a carcass as their own; and how they can munch bones like so many stale breadsticks to carry them between meaty meals.
Chadwick’s engaging, at times poetic, writing and reflections of the natural world are what elevates this book from a mere documentation of a project to an insightful tome into what I can only call the mindset of a wolverine. Check out this video trailer to see what I’m talking about: