Researchers have discovered a correlation between the number of times that a wolf howls and the strength of the relationship with other members of the pack.
As might be guessed, wolves howl to establish contact with one another. Perhaps more interesting, researchers have now found that wolves howled more frequently to members of their pack with whom they spent more time. In other words, the strength of the relationship between wolves predicted how many times a wolf howled, said Friederike Range, a researcher and co-director of the Wolf Science Center at the University of Vienna in Austria.
The howling rate, they found, was directly related to how much "quality time" the howler and the removed wolf spent together, as defined by positive interactions like playing and grooming. The howling rate was also related to each wolf's status within the pack; the pack's howling rates were higher when more-dominant animals left.
That makes sense, given that dominant animals have significant control over the group's activities; separated wolves could understandably want to establish contact to ensure the cohesion of the group, but the link between howling and relationship strength remained even when the dominance factor was taken into account, Range said.
Wolves are difficult to study because they are not simple to raise, travel long distances and for much of their history, have been considered as predators unworthy of research. But that attitude is changing, as more studies have shown that wolves are quite intelligent and have strong family ties and complex social relationships.