What does the wolverine eat?

Written by Nicklas Iversen | Last edited 2. June 2021

The wolverine is a typical scavenger and mainly eats animals that are already dead. It can also hunt – especially in good snow conditions. You can learn more about what the wolverine eats on this page.



A carcass is an animal that is already dead. It may have been killed by other predators or just died of disease. Many animals are attracted by such food, despite the rank stench!

As the wolverine primarily lives in the mountains in Norway, it mainly eats reindeer carcasses. The wolverine can also follow the tracks of other large predators and steal a few leftovers from them. There are examples of wolverines driving both wolves and bears off from their dinner!

Stor hannjerv. Finland 30.5.15 Jerven er rett ved et reinkadaver, ei reinsimle.


If the wolverine finds a lot of food, it will take some away and hide it. The wolverine has learned that cool places like screes, snowdrifts, creek beds and bog holes are good hiding places. The remains do not smell as much there and will be harder for other scavengers to find.

In days gone by, the wolverine was thought to be a real glutton because a whole reindeer could disappear so quickly. That is why it was given the scientific name Gulo, which is Latin for glutton. We now know this is not true, but the name has stuck!


Following the large reindeer herds is smart if you are a predator. In large parts of the country, there are domestic reindeer that belong to someone. The wolverine does not understand this, of course, and so may kill a number of domestic reindeer.

It is mainly in winter when snow conditions are good that the wolverine manages to kill reindeer. The wolverine moves across the snow well, whereas reindeer sink in. Calves and sick animals are the easiest prey.

Killing domestic reindeer makes the wolverine unpopular with reindeer farmers.

The wolverine kills roughly as many reindeer as the lynx.  

Villrein om høsten. Brunsttid i fjellet. På bildet en storbukk med flere simler rundt seg. Forelhogna villreinområde - ved Kvikne, Hedmark. Sept-88


The lemming is also wolverine prey. In years with lots of lemmings, so-called lemming years, we see that wolverine kits have a greater chance of surviving. 

As lemming years do not come around every year, but only at intervals, the importance of the lemming in the wolverine’s diet will vary from year to year.


Sheep are easy prey – even for the small wolverine. Every year, around two million sheep are put out to graze. Most of them in the mountains, which is precisely where the wolverine lives.

The wolverine therefore takes more sheep than any other large predator. Many people think this sounds odd. We only hear about wolves, and hardly ever about wolverines!

Remember that we have more wolverines that wolves, that the wolverine stores food for later consumption, and that it lives in the mountains.  We have fewer wolves, and they are forced to live in an area with very few grazing sheep. So it is far from odd that the wolverine takes the most sheep.

As the wolverine can take a good many sheep and domestic reindeer, efforts are made to ensure that the wolverine population does not grow too large.

This article has been written by Bjørn Henrik Stavdal Johansen, a nature guide at Visitor Centre Carnivore Flå.