Why Do Wolves Howl?

I recently did some reading on animal behavior and communication. In one area of study, biologists still don’t know why wolves howl. They aren’t sure if wolves do it for communication, or if it’s caused by stress. Fifty years ago, scientists thought that a wolf’s howl was a way of communicating. To figure out why wolves did this, scientists conducted an experiment that divided wolves into two packs. They started to howl in about 20 minutes into the investigation, but it didn’t really prove anything. Scientists then thought that stress of separation would trigger the wolves’ howls, so they reduced the animals’ levels of stress. After multiple tests, it was figured out that they weren’t stressed. After more tests were completed, scientists were then able to conclude that a wolf’s howl is at times more voluntary and driven by social factors. In another study, it was also determined that a wolf’s howl is mostly in part to social stress placed upon it as a result of the separation from its’ pack. Even still, there is plenty left to test the reason behind the howl of the wolf. I find these recent studies of wolves as well as past readings of current events pertaining to animal behavior both a fascinating and intriguing area of study.

The articles and studies I examined directly related to Unit 1 Section 3 in our Biology textbook that states biologists study behavior through observations and experiments. Human observers took an extended period of time to observe and study these wolves. It is so interesting to read about animal behavior and how it is so closely related to humans. I also observed this in my current event summaries when reading about honeybees and dolphins. With the honeybees, careful observation of their antennae helped in determining the function of both the left and the right. In studying dolphins, scientists were able to determine how they respond to the calls from other dolphins.

Another connection I noticed with our text is the concept in which social behaviors are important adaptations in many species. It seems as though all animals/mammals have some unique form of communication for reasons not too unlike we do. For instance, wolves often cry out in part to separation from others from their pack. Upon hearing this, others chime in and acknowledge their howling. According to the article, “Dolphins Name Themselves with a Whistle” by Meghan Rosen, these mammals are similar in that they have their own “audible name tags” that they respond to when other dolphins call their name. These social adaptations were also apparent in the studies done on wolves. The reasons behind their howling are directly related to social interactions amongst pack members.

Through all my recent readings of animal behavior from wolves and honeybees to dolphins, I find the information incredibly interesting, and it sparks me to further study this area in biology. Animal communication is a rapidly growing concept in which researchers are trying to find more information to further understand the reasons behind their behavior. It is amazing to find and read how similar, yet different they are to human beings.


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