Researchers Discover New Insights into Wolves’ Social Behavior

Uncategorized By Mar 23, 2023

New findings into the communication and social behaviour of grey wolves could have significant implications for our understanding of the creatures. Researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Austria have discovered that howling in wolves can reflect their emotional state, raising the prospect of humans being better able to engage with and control them. Another study, published in the Journal of Ethology, reveals that wolves use a unique form of scent marking to communicate with one another non-verbally, while a study in Yellowstone showed wolves have a social network similar to humans, with some being more “popular” than others.

Research into wolves’ social behavior dates back to the late 1940s when Austrian ethologist, Konrad Lorenz, conducted studies on the wolves’ social order, communication, and aggression in captivity. However, a lot of these studies were limited to the social behavior of wolves in captivity. Through the years, researchers have gradually uncovered more insights into wild wolves’ social behavior in their natural habitats. Recently, scientists made new discoveries about wolves’ communication and social bonding that could have significant implications for our understanding of these fascinating creatures.

Overview of Wolves’ Social Behavior

Gray wolves, the most common species of wolves, live in a variety of habitats including forests, tundra, grassland, and deserts in North America, Europe, and Asia. Wolves are social animals that form family packs or packs of unrelated individuals to hunt, rear their young, and defend their territories. The pack’s social structure is hierarchical, with a dominant alpha male and female leading the pack.

Wolves use scent marking, vocalizations, and body language to communicate with each other. For instance, scent marking helps wolves identify territorial boundaries and track their pack members. Vocalizations like howling and whimpering can signal a range of messages such as calling pack members, expressing dominance, or indicating distress. Wolves also use body language such as tail wagging, ear positioning, and eye contact to express their intentions and maintain social harmony.

New Insights into Wolves’ Communication

Recent studies by researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Austria revealed that howling in wolves can reflect their emotional state and not just a way of calling pack members. Researchers found that wolves howl in different tones depending on the situation. When wolves detect a threat or are alone, their howls are deep and harmonic, while when they reunite with their pack members or are excited, their howls are higher pitched and more variable. Researchers also noted that wolves adjust the pitch, duration, and timing of their howls according to the howls of other pack members, potentially communicating important information such as the pack’s location, size, and emotional state.

Another study published in the Journal of Ethology revealed that wolves use a unique form of scent marking, called “urinary platform raising,” to communicate with each other non-verbally. Researchers found that when wolves urinate, they position their bodies to raise their tails and aim their urine higher and longer than necessary. Upon closer examination, researchers found that the raised urine often forms a platform, sometimes up to 40 centimeters off the ground, which can last for days or weeks. Through this scent-marking behavior, wolves can communicate their physical condition and reproductive status to other wolves without having to engage in direct physical contact.

New Insights into Wolves’ Social Bonding

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports researched the social bonds between gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Researchers used a non-invasive technique, called radio-tracking, to monitor the movements and social interactions of wolf packs over a three-year period. The researchers found that wolves form and maintain strong social bonds with other pack members, mainly those in their immediate family such as their mates, siblings, and offspring. These social ties enable wolves to work together more efficiently during hunting and foraging, protect their young, and avoid conflict.

Interestingly, the study also revealed that wolves have a social network similar to humans, with some wolves being more “popular” than others. The researchers found that wolf packs had leadership positions, with certain “popular” wolves having more influence on the pack’s behavior and decision-making than others. These wolves often had more social connections within and between packs and engaged in more social behavior than their less connected pack members.


Q: How many wolves are in a pack?

A: The size of a wolf pack varies from five to ten individuals, but it can be larger, depending on the resources available in their territory and the building of relationships within the pack.

Q: Why do wolves howl?

A: Wolves howl for various reasons, but it’s mainly a means of communication with other pack members. Howling can help identify the pack’s location, size, and emotional state.

Q: Are wolves monogamous?

A: Gray wolves are usually monogamous, meaning they mate for life. The alpha male and female are the most dominant wolves in the pack and are usually the only ones to mate.

Q: What is the pack’s hierarchy in wolves?

A: Wolves have a hierarchical social order, with a dominant alpha male and alpha female leading the pack. There is also a linear order within the pack’s members, with the most dominant members being at the top of the hierarchy.