Most of us have seen Marvel's Wolverine on the big screen, but spotting a wild wolverine is almost impossible.
wolverine crossing snowing road in Yellowstone Park
Credit: Courtesy of MacNeil Lyons/Yellowstone Insight

Most people know what a wolverine is (thank you, Marvel). But most people will never see a wolverine in the wild, even if they spend their whole life trying. A former park ranger recently had a once-in-a-lifetime experience seeing a wolverine in Yellowstone National Park, and the encounter is now going viral.

MacNeil Lyons, now the owner of the private guiding company Yellowstone Insight, was guiding two guests in Yellowstone on March 5 when he spotted the wolverine around 11:38 a.m.

He initially thought the dark, low-to-the-ground animal on the road in front of them was a young black bear. But when the animal turned to look back at the group, he immediately realized that they had come across a much rarer, far more elusive animal: a wolverine.

Lyons stopped his car, and the group watched the wolverine for around three minutes, during which time Lyons snapped some photos and the guests captured a video. The wolverine was around 200 yards away from them.

"By its size, I assume that it is a healthy male," Lyons told Daily Paws in an email. "The wolverine was definitely curious for a bit. It jumped up onto the snow berm adjacent to our lane twice and returned to the road to size us up as our vehicle was stopped, idle."

Lyons told PetaPixel that at one point, the wolverine sat on the side of the road and watched them with his nose raised, likely smelling their scent wafting toward him. "It could have been on the search for food, as the tracks indicate that it followed a set of moose tracks downhill from the dense woods."

Lyons said he would like to believe this was the wolverine's first close encounter with humans.

Why Are Wolverine Sightings So Rare?

Wolverines, the largest member of the weasel family, are almost entirely solitary and live in remote, rugged, high-elevation habitats in North America, Europe, and Asia. Wolverines also spend most of their waking hours from dusk to dawn roaming long distances in search of food, with a male's annual range extending a whopping 350 square miles.

Very few wolverines inhabit the lower 48 states. And only an estimated 6-7 wolverines live in Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres.

Lyons, who has lived and worked in Yellowstone for nearly 22 years, says this is only his second wolverine sighting. But the first wolverine Lyons saw was so far away, all he could really tell was that it wasn't a bear.

Based on the tracks, world-renowned wildlife tracker James C. Halfpenny, Ph.D., told PetaPixel the wolverine Lyons and guests saw spent less than 130 yards on the road, meaning they were very lucky to have spotted it at all.

"So we actually were very blessed to be there at that exact moment to witness this rare animal," Lyons told Daily Paws.