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home : education : schools May 26, 2018

4/10/2018 1:11:00 PM
Watch out for the wolverine!
SHS science teacher Rima Givot looks at an unknown wolverine in a classroom lab.  photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
SHS science teacher Rima Givot looks at an unknown wolverine in a classroom lab. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson

A wonderful mystery has popped up in Sisters High School science teacher Glen Herron's classroom lab: a beautiful specimen of a mounted wolverine. No one seems to know where it came from.

I thought it was Sisters Town Marshall Fred Painter's animal, trapped in 1969.

Fred's wolverine caused quite a stir, as it was thought at the time to be the last wild wolverine living in the Cascades. That made that particular animal very special, and prompted Painter to have it mounted and presented it to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Bend.

That made me wonder why someone removed it from the Bend office. But the mystery got thicker when I went to the ODFW office in Bend. Painter's wolverine was still there, greeting visitors who stopped by to ask questions and buy a hunting and/or fishing license.

The wolverine is an amazing animal. Its scientific name is Gulo gulo, Latin for glutton, twice. Believe it or not, it's in the weasel/skunk family - the largest member, in fact. When you see one in the wild, though, you think "little bear" before you think weasel.

The wolverine is a stocky and muscular animal, with short legs, broad, rounded head, small eyes and short rounded ears. Though its legs are short, its large, five-toed paws with crampon-like claws enable them to climb up and over steep cliffs, trees, and snow-covered peaks with relative ease.

Length usually ranges from 26 to 42 inches, and weight runs 12 to 55  pounds, though exceptionally large males can weigh up to 71 pounds. An outsized specimen was reported to tip the scales at approximately 77 pounds. The males are as much as 30 percent larger than the females and can be twice the females' weight.

Wolverines have thick, dark, oily fur which is highly resistant to frost. This has led to its traditional popularity among hunters and trappers as a lining in jackets and parkas in Arctic conditions. A light-silvery facial mask is distinct in some individuals, and a pale buff stripe runs laterally from the shoulders along the side and crossing the rump just above a bushy tail. Some individuals display prominent white hair patches on their throats or chests.

Like other mustelids, it has potent anal scent glands used for marking territorial areas, sexual signaling, and defense. The pungent odor has also given rise to some other nicknames: "skunk bear" and "nasty cat."

And here's another speciality of wolverines: Like other mustelids they possess a special upper molar in the back of the mouth that can be rotated 90 degrees, toward the inside of the mouth. This special characteristic allows wolverines to tear off meat from prey or carrion that has been frozen solid.

And one more trait you may want to take into consideration should you come face to face with Gulo gulo: They are stronger than you are; they are faster than you are; and in a physical argument, they can outfight a grizzly bear.

If you know the origin of the wolverine Rima Givot's looking at, I would be thrilled to talk to the person who gave it to SHS, especially if it came from this neck of the woods.

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Article comment by: glenn brown

We might have a new town mascot, we just need a name!

Jim, this reminded me of our conversation about wolverines a few years ago. You mentioned you and your wife saw one crossing the McKenzie Highway back in the 70's iirc. Only person I know who has actually seen a live one in the area.

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