Why Do Wolves Howl?


If you have ever been in the country, then you may have had the pleasure of hearing one of natures greatest sounds, the sound of wolves howling.

Wolf

Wolves howl for a variety of different reasons. The howl is used as a means of communication. Wolves howl to reassemble pack members, to warn off other wolf packs from their territory, communicate their location to pack members. They can also howl at other members with whom they have affection.

Hearing a wolf howl is a fantastic experience. It gives you the feeling that you are right there with one of nature’s apex predators. If you have ever wanted to know about why wolves howl, I hope to answer those questions for you in this article.

Why Do Wolves Howl?

Communication

Wolves use howls as a way of communicating with other wolves. The wolves that they are communicating with can either be members of their pack or members of another pack.

Want to know more about how wolves communicate? You can find out here in an article I have written.

Communicating Their Location

Wolves use their howl as a means to communicate their location in regards to the rest of the pack.   When wolves are coming back to their pack after time away, such as when they go to find food, they will use their howl to let the other members of the pack know when they are coming back to the area.

Wolf Howling

Warning Other Wolves 

Wolves use their howl as a way of communicating to other wolves or packs that the area they are in is already occupied. The alpha of that pack that has wandered into their territory then has to decide whether to retreat, or enter further.

Worried that wolves have been in your garden? Find out the signs here.

Why Do Wolves Howl Back?

Wolves use their howl as a means of communication. Howls can be used to reassemble the pack, warning intruders away, identifying other wolves and also to claim their territory. Other wolves, either from the same pack or other packs will howl back, although the exact reasons may never be known.

Wolf Howling

How Far Can A Howl Be Heard?

Wolves have an excellent projection for how far the sound of their howl will travel. This, coupled with their excellent hearing, can allow a howl to be heard for long distances.

The exact distance depends on the terrain that they are in when making the call. If in an open space then the howl can be heard at distances up to 16 km away. In forested areas, this distance may be reduced to less than 10 km.  

Areas with large hills, along with mountainous regions, can also change how far the howl can be heard, with the sound bouncing off different areas of the terrain.

Wolf Howling

Do Wolves Howl After A Kill?

Wolves do howl after a kill, and the reason is now known. Wolves howl after making a kill for a few reasons. One of the reasons is to warn others wolves away from the kill site, while another reason is to reassemble all members of the pack after a kill has happened.

For more information on wolves, I have compiled 101 facts which you can find here.

Do Dogs Understand Wolf Howls?

Dogs are descendants of wolves, and you may not realize that some of the action taken by your best friend can also be found in the behavior of wolves.  

Wolf Howling

Wolves will follow the eye movements of a human when around them, and dogs do this as well. Dogs also like to lick your face as well, with this being especially true in puppies. Wolves also greet pack members by licking their face.

Some of the other behaviors that are similar between wolves and dogs are that they share the same body language when interacting with other members of their species. Bowing, chasing each other, pacing, growling and showing teeth are all shared similarities between both breeds. Howling is another form of communication that dogs and wolves share.

If you have heard a wolf how in your area, then you may have noticed that this may have set your dog off into a long howl too. Dogs use a howl to attract attention, with dogs that are left alone sometimes exhibiting this behavior.  

Dogs Howling
Dogs Howling

Dogs do respond to wolves, and there is video evidence of this on YouTube. Due to their differences from one another, dogs and wolves can understand each other. However, there are obvious differences in the language used and the styles of communication.

Do Wolves Bark Like Dogs?

Dogs are ancestors of wolves, but unlike our canine companions, wolves do not make the same noises. Wolf pups do bark, and this carries over into the later juvenile stages. Barking is used by wolves as a means of warning others in the pack. Pups are often barked at by their mother as a warning if they sense danger.  

A combination of bark and howl can also be used to defend the pack when showing aggression.

Wolf howling

What Is The Difference Between A Coyote Howl and a Wolf Howl?

Although wolves and coyotes are both members of the Canidae family, they are very different. Wolves are much larger than coyotes, with some wolves being three times as heavy as a coyote. This size difference also plays a part in the contrast between a coyote’s howl, and the deeper wolf howl.

The much larger wolves have a drawn-out howl that rises in pitch. The howl of a wolf starts low then rises over time. The howl can also include barking and growls.

Coyote Howling
Coyote Howling

Coyotes, on the other hand, have a much higher-pitched howl. Instead of being one long drawn out a howl, the coyote has a howl that occurs in much shorter bursts that rise and then fall. Instead of barking and growling like the wolves, the coyotes use yips and yaps.

Do Wolves How At The Moon?

Wolves were once thought to howl at the sight of the moon, especially if it was a full moon. This is now largely believed to be false.

Wolves do look like they are howling at the moon, as they raise their nose and mouths skyward, making it appear as if they are howling at the sky.

Wolf howling (but not at the moon)

The reason that they lift their nose and mouths upwards is for a good reason. By lifting their nose and mouth, and howling at the sky, the distance of the howl will travel further.

Other wolves will be able to hear much another wolves howl much better when the howl projected towards the sky. 

Is A Howl A Wolf Crying?

Many people have asked me whether a wolf howling is the same as them crying. This is very different and not related to the sound of howling.  

Wolves have a nictitating membrane, which is essentially the third eyelid. This covers the eye and contains a gland that lubricates the eye. The lubrication is unlike a humans tear’s, however, as it is made up of an oily substance.  

Why Do Wolves Howl When Humans Howl?

Man howling for wolves
Man howling for wolves

Wolves have been heard to respond to human howls. As discussed, wolves know the sounds of their pack members. By responding to humans, they are essentially warning you to stay away from their territory, as they may believe you to be a wolf from a neighboring pack.

Which Dogs Howl Like Wolves?

Several breeds make a noise similar to the sound of a howling wolf. Hunting dogs are one of the groups of dogs that howl like wolves.  

Hunting dogs such as beagles, bloodhounds, coonhounds, dachshunds and foxhounds were bred to trap prey. The howl is a means of communication to tell other dogs on the hunt that they have caught their prey.

Other breeds that are prone to howl like a wolf are Alaskan malamutes, American Eskimo dogs, and Huskies. These dogs were bred to pull sleds and were part of a group of working dogs. Howling would be a means of communication. and a source of bonding between the group.

Want to know which wolves are in North America. I have written a guide which you can find here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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