Ways Wolves Communicate With Each Other

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Wolf signals show strong bonds and communication with other wolves in their packs. Wolves have an advanced level of communication shown through their social organization within their pack community, survival instinct, and relations with rivaling or opposing packs, using vocalization, scent, and body language.

The three main ways wolves communicate with each other are by using vocalization, which involves different tones in howls, barks, growls, and whimpers. The other main forms of communication involve scent and body language. Scents are the pheromones that can be produced by the feet, hackles, tail, and back, along with their feces and urine. Body language varies based on the situation, and who the wolf or pack is with, and some of the body language used include rigid postures, flattened or perked ears, raised or tucked tails, teeth bared, crouched position, avoidance of others (Cafazzo et al, 2016).

Wolves are one of the only other animals that have a monogamous relationship aside from humans (Neely, 2011). Within packs, there are different rankings and roles each wolf plays. The alpha male is the leader of the pack, and second in ranking would be the alpha female, followed by the alpha male’s beta. The alphas are the only ones that breed in the pack, leaving the other wolves with the responsibility of caregivers. The role of caregiving means the other wolves are responsible for feeding and protecting the wolf pups until they branch off to create their packs. During this time of feeding and protection, the wolf pups play around by biting the older wolves’ tails and running into them. 

The older wolves will tolerate the behavior for a little while but when the pups are a little older and start begging for food more, then the older wolves will discipline the pups (Haber et al, 2013). Dominant stances are often used by alphas when wolves in their pack or outside of their pack are being challenged or threatened. When showing dominance, a wolf will often stand tall, straightening up to their full height with rigid posture and ears perked up (Cafazzo et al. 2016). Dominance in pack communities is often shown through body language including standing to their full height, with ears perked, and tails raised above the back. Submissive stances are done to represent surrender, nonaggressive intents, friendliness, and is often done by lower-ranked wolves. Older wolves tend to be dominant over younger wolves.

There are a variety of different uses and reasons for each vocal tone that a wolf uses. If wolves are long distances away from each other but need to communicate, they will howl to do so. However, the howl will only be heard if the wolf receiving the message is close enough to hear it. The maximum distance they can be away from each to still hear each other is roughly 10 miles. They will also bark to each other while at or near the den to alert each other of threats and intruders. Each howl has a different and specific message that they communicate. Wolves can communicate using different vocalization forms because of their ability to control their vocal tones. Howl tones are different for each wolf which allows wolves to identify the gender, age, and pack (Watson, 2018). Wolf pups, in the beginning, are only able to bark and whimper with the occasional low growls as they find their “voice.”

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Scent- marking can be used to set territory borders or as a guide to direct other wolves towards a message left using feces and urine. Scent communication is often called scent-marking. Other types of scents used are pheromones that can be left through paw prints, and the back and tail. Urination is often used to communicate stress or arousal (McLeod et al, 1996). When wolves find a mate, to communicate with other wolves that they have mates, they will urinate over each other’s previous urinations to combine the scents. This helps to identify and make it more apparent to other wolves that they are taken.

When it comes to rivaling packs, wolves will often use their different forms of communication to signal territory borders and to warn other wolves to steer clear of their pack. To signal the starts of the territories, wolves will leave feces, urinate, and leave footprints with their pheromones engraved when they walk. 

Territory size isn’t determined just by the size of the pack, the size also has to do with the prey population and the size of bordering wolf packs (Rich et al, 2012). Wolves will often howl to notify other packs where they are to steer clear of each other's paths, or growl and bare their teeth at each other if face to face, and if a conflict is occurring. If the two alpha males are facing off and the alpha female of one of the alphas is near, she will pretend to be scared and put her head under the neck of her mate’s, to protect their throat from potential injury.

Wolf packs work together to protect each other and hunt for food. When hunting together, they will occasionally use gazes to point to where food is so the other wolves will follow their gaze to find it as well. Wolves have higher chances of taking down larger prey if they use teamwork. If a wolf were to hunt by themselves and attempt to take down a moose or deer without the help of other wolves, they could be seriously injured (Boitani and Mech, 2006). Another factor that plays into hunting larger animals is the animals' vulnerability (Daniel, 2006). Generally, packs have higher chances of catching pray if they have strayed from a group, are injured or elderly. Hunting activities and food source priorities can be affected by allied wolf packs. Pack rankings play a role in determining who will eat first (Faragó et al, 2014).

The social hierarchy of a pack is not defined by the strongest of the pack but by the sick and the elderly. The sick and the old wolves are at the front of the pack and set the pace for a traveling pack overall. This is to make sure no one gets left behind and it allows the pack to conserve energy. To make sure no one in a pack gets left behind, the alpha is at the back of the pack. Their hierarchical system is not like humans where the leader is in the front, setting the pace for everyone and forcing people to keep up with them.

During the courtship season, the alpha male pursues the alpha female, and during the time the males will pursue the females, they will snuggle while walking and lying down. When the alphas finally mate, the alpha male’s beta watches over them to protect them from potential attacks. There is also potential during the season, for the beta to develop an interest in the alpha female, creating a love triangle (Boitani and Mech, 2006). This tension will provoke the alpha male to show dominance and assertiveness over the beta to keep him in submission. The pack’s alphas are the only ones allowed to mate and reproduce to keep the line going. However, there is one other circumstance that would allow another female in the pack to mate. If the alpha female is unable to produce pups, then she will take the role of a caregiver to the pups of another female pack member and her mate.

The ways wolves communicate, allow them to have a complex social community because of their bonds. Their variety of communications plays a large role in their lives for survival and their pack community. The many ways of communication through body language allows them to strengthen pack bonds to better work together to provide for the pack. Learning the different forms of communications wolves' use could lead to other information about how other animals communicate and help discover similarities between human and wolf communications.       

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