Wolf Species Have a Howling 'Dialect': How These Canines Communicate

First Posted: Feb 08, 2016 03:09 PM EST

Wolf species apparently have "language" dialects just like humans. Researchers have found that wolves have howling dialects.

In this latest effort, the researchers conducted the largest ever study of howling in the "canid" family of species, which includes wolves, jackals and domestic dogs. These various species and subspecies have distinguishing repertoires of howling; different types of howls are used with varying regularity depending on the canid species.

In this study, the scientists used computer algorithms to analyze howling, distilling over 2,000 different howls into 21 howl types based on pitch and fluctuation. Then, the researchers matched up patterns of howling.

The researchers found that the frequency with which types of howls are used-from flat to highly modulated-corresponded to the species of canid, whether it was a dog or coyote, as well as to the subspecies of wolf.

For example, the howling of a timber wolf is heavy with low, flat howls. However, it doesn't feature the high, looping vocal that is the most frequently used in the range of howls deployed by critically-endangered red wolves.

"Wolves may not be close to us taxonomically, but ecologically their behavior in a social structure is remarkably close to that of humans," said Arik Kershenbaum, one of the researchers, in a news release. "That's why we domesticated dogs-they are very similar to us. Understanding the communication of existing social species is essential to uncovering the evolutionary trajectories that led to more complex communication in the past, eventually lead to our own linguistic ability."

The findings are published in the journal Behavioral Processes.

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