Wolves howl when they’re away from friends

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer


Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn Moon? Yes, that’s from the Pocahontas song “Colors of the Wind.” Seriously though, why do wolves howl? Is it because they are crying to the Moon, or do they just do it because they like how their voices sound? Wolf handlers from Austria realized that whenever they took a wolf for a walk, the rest of the pack would howl. The handlers figured being separated was a source of stress, but research from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna say it’s just because they care!

The researchers studied two wolf packs from the Wolf Science Center. First, they determined which of the wolves had the highest status. You know, which ones were the leaders, which ones were second-in-command, and so on and so forth. Once they figured out all the wolf-y politics, they observed the different relationships within the pack. Which wolves are best friends? Which ones are just buddies? Lastly, they kept track of a hormone called cortisol, which is usually released in our bodies when we are stressed. With all this information, the researchers took some of the wolves away from the pack to test what triggered the deep howls.

According to the data, the wolves didn’t howl because the separation caused them stress, like the handlers thought. Their cortisol levels were absolutely normal. Much to my disappointment, they didn’t howl because the full Moon was out either. Actually, they were more likely to howl when separated from pack leaders and friends! One of the researchers, Friederike Range, explained, “Our data suggest that howling is not a simple stress response… but instead may be used more flexibly to maintain contact and perhaps to aid in reuniting with allies.” In other words, the wolves yowled to show how they cared, and to let their separated buddies know where the rest of the pack was. It’s almost like a verbal GPS system.

How effective, huh? Next time you go to the mall and hear some howling, don’t mind me! I’ll just be calling out to my best friends to let them what store I’m in!

Featured image courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters on Flickr. White wolf image courtesy of Baccharus on Wikimedia.