After hearing about wolves in the surrounding area recently, I wondered what they were trying to communicate and if they use any other communication besides sound.
Wolves communicate to members of their pack or another pack using vocalizations such as growls, barks, yips, and howls. Wolves also communicate using body language to show dominance and subordination in groups. Scat and urine are used to show others their territory.
There is only one wolf species in North America, the gray wolf. Wolves, like other animals, use vocalizations in many ways to communicate with their packs and others. They also use their sense of smell to communicate. Dogs use some of the same communication methods as the wolf.
Below is more detailed information on how the wolves interact with each other to attain different goals.
What are the different types of language used by wolves?
Wolves use three ways to communicate with other wolves, either in their packs or neighboring packs.
These languages can be classified as follows:
- Use of sound, which includes howls, barks, whimpers, and growls
- Use of unique scents, which include scats, urine, and pheromones
- Use of body languages such as body positions and movements and facial expressions.
Wolves howl mainly during the night, not to the moon as previously thought, but to communicate with other wolves.
Wolves can mainly be heard in the evening when the wind is calm. This time is when they are most active. The wolves use vocalizations such as whimpering, growling, or even barking, while at other times, they combine sounds into one, such as the bark-howl.
Barking is often used as a warning against any danger, such as the presence of a predator. When the wolves use bark-howl vocalization, this often shows aggression in defense of their territories.
Whimpering is often a good sound, with the pups using it to get their mother to nurse them. Wolves may also whimper to show surrender over other dominant wolves, such as the alpha wolves.
Growling is very similar to barking. This works in the same manner as barking, as it is used to warn about predators. The growl can also be used to indicate some dominance in the territory.
This is the most common sound used by wolves, primarily when the communication is intended to travel longer distances. Howling can be made due to different circumstances.
A defensive howl is often used to warn wolves to stay in their packs and protect their young ones. On the other hand, the social cry is used to gather the wolves to spend time together.
A lot of information is conveyed by the wolves through the use of their bodies. When a wolf sticks its ears straight out and bares its teeth, this shows anger and agitation.
In case of suspicions, wolves will pull back their ears and squint to be alert to danger or predators.
A fearful wolf can be seen with its ears flat against its head. Wolves love to play with their family members, which is communicated when they dance and bow playfully.
Wolves are blessed with an excellent sense of smell, almost a hundred times better than humans.
This sense of smell is used in various ways to help them communicate. Wolves live in packs well known to them, and the scent allows them to recognize others in the box.
Urine and scat
In a process known as scent-marking, wolves use urine and scat to mark their territories. Scent-marking is usually to maintain their packs and avoid intruders from other wolf packs.
Wolves from different packs are expected not to enter the territory if the urine scent does not smell familiar to their group. Groups from the same region can smell the aroma and recognize it.
A wolf pack’s territory is dotted with olfactory hot spots. Consequently, any wolf is assured that it is in its territory or knows when it’s about to leave it. Similarly, any wolf from a different domain knows when it’s trespassing and will do its best to avoid it to maintain a peaceful coexistence.
The dominant animals often scent-mark almost every two minutes. They do this by raising their leg in a dominant posture, which utilizes multiple forms of communication. This is usually called “a raised leg urination.”
Wolves also use urine to scent-mark food caches that have already been exhausted to help save time. Using the scent, they will not get tired while digging up an unfinished area.
Wolves also scent mark using their feces. They have complex scent glands just inside their anus. When the anus releases scat, secretions coat each side of the waste.
Pheromones are chemical messages between members of the same species that help them communicate. Pheromones in wolves are easily located in glands in the toes, tails, eyes, anus, skin, and genitalia.
A male wolf can identify a female in estrus by identifying pheromones in her urine. It is during this time when the two mates attempt copulation.
Communication of dominance
Any wolf, either male or female, can become dominant. The wolf needs to find an unoccupied territory and also a mate.
Wolves stay in packs, and a dominant wolf may decide to move into their groups without a mate. As they move, the dominant wolf kills an alpha wolf from another group of the same gender and usurps its mate. The dominant wolf has both the territory and also a mate.
The alpha wolf is in charge of their packs. They exhibit dominance by holding their tails high and standing tall. The less dominant wolves have to display their submissiveness by holding their seats down and often lowering their bodies while pawing at the higher-ranking wolves.
Submissiveness can be portrayed in two ways; active and passive. In active submission, signs of inferiority are displayed, such as crouching, muzzle licking, and tail tucking.
The pups also portray this contact. This allows them to get the adults to regurgitate their food. The same behaviors are later characterized in adulthood to show intimacy and differentiation of roles of the wolves involved.
Passive submission is portrayed by subordinate wolves when they lay on their back or side, thus exposing their vulnerable chest and abdomen to the more dominant wolf.
If the two wolves disagree, they show their teeth and growl at each other.
Wolves show acceptance of authority by rolling over on its back. Reactions to this behavior may range from tolerance to a fatal attack, especially in cases of an outside wolf trespassing.
Obedience to dominance rules keeps the wolves in a pack from fighting among themselves and hurting each other.
Different body parts behavior to portray various expressions
Annoyance on the part of the older male is revealed by:
- Partial erection of its tail.
- Raising his hackles.
- Forward movement of ears.
- Vertical retraction of lips.
The subordinate female indicates her acquiescence by:
- Flattening of her ears.
- Flashing of her white eyes.
- Appeasement mouth gesture (licking intensely.)
- General lowering of her body.
- Raising their paws.
A wolf’s tail and face are communication’s most essential body parts.
Many times wolves act in defense when in contact with humans. Humans need to portray some behavior so as not to irritate the wolves.
How To Avoid An Attack From A Wolf
- Retreat slowly while facing a wolf and act aggressively, maintaining eye contact if possible.
- If there is more than one wolf in a crowd of people, retreat slowly and try to move away from them.
- Make noise by using anything at your disposal, clap, cheer, or shout.
- Use walking poles or sticks aggressively to avoid wolves from coming closer.
- Climb trees as a defense, as the wolves cannot climb trees
This is a condition where the wolves communicate with each other by crouching their bodies. This helps them to get ready for any possible attacks from a rival. The wolf assumes an ambivalent facial expression to stare down at an opponent.
Flagging usually happens when the bitch wolves enter estrus and are ready to mate. They position their rump before their potential mate. They lift their tails up and to the side, offering to be licked and sniffed. They do this while gazing back at the mate in a relaxed demeanor, indicating their willingness to accept their attention.
The male wolf also may flag. They do this to present themselves to another wolf to sniff their anal scent glands during greetings or specific dominance displays.
Hunting and Stalking
When wolves approach their prey, they tend to surprise them by looking small or crouching their bodies below the grass level. This posture also has the advantage of giving them a defensive stance as they approach their potential opponent.
Running in fear
When the wolf is afraid, it may run to escape. Lowering their heads, they tuck their tails and lay their ears back. The change in their body posture acts as a warning to the pack. When they see these signs, they know they have to find safety.
In conclusion, wolves are protective of each other and are one of the most social mammals. They love to play and live together in packs, well known them. This is all achieved by their strong skills to communicate through vocalizations, scents, and body language.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.