Wolves Howl for Pals, Not Leaders

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The lone wolf’s howl has long been chosen as a symbol of melancholy and loss. Now researchers have demonstrated that the choice was accurate. Howling is not related to the stress level of the crying canine or the dominance status of the departing wolf; the best predictor of a wolf’s howl is the closeness of the howler’s relationship with the wolf leaving its side. The study is in the journal Current Biology. [Francesco Mazzini et al., Wolf howling is mediated by relationship quality rather than underlying emotional stress]

The researchers separated individuals living in Austria’s Wolf Science Center. They recorded the resulting howls for 20 minutes after separation. Then the scientists took a sample of saliva from the howling wolves to measure circulating levels of cortisol, a hormonal stress indicator.

Cortisol levels increased during all separations, whether a preferred partner or any other pack mate was taken away. But howling was much more pronounced when a close partner was removed.

The researchers thus concluded that the level of howling was determined by the relationship of the howler with the separated wolf, regardless of the removed wolf’s rank. Because even a wolf, apparently, can have a best friend.

—Arielle Duhaime-Ross

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[Wolf sounds at 34 seconds and 53 seconds courtesy of Mazzini et al.]

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