Wolves and Dogs
Wolves are not wild dogs! Although wolves and dogs share a common ancestor and many characteristics, they are classified as different animals: Canis lupus (the gray wolf) and Canis lupus familiaris (the domestic dog). Wolves and dogs each have many subspecies or breeds.
The most important difference between wolves and dogs is that wolves are wild. Kathryn Lord, an evolutionary biologist, says “If you want to socialize a dog with a human or a horse, all you need is 90 minutes to introduce them between the ages of four and eight weeks. After that, a dog will not be afraid of humans or whatever else you introduced. But with a wolf pup, achieving even close to the same fear reduction requires 24-hour contact starting before age three weeks, and even then you won’t get the same attachment or lack of fear.”
Wolves and dogs also have different physical characteristics. Wolves have larger heads, pointier snouts, thicker teeth, and longer legs.
Rigid Pack Hierarchy
The structure of wolf packs is varied and fluid. Older models of pack structure focused on set behavior patterns, such as “dominant” and “submissive,” and organized pack members into linear hierarchies. These models are considered outdated.
Today, most wildlife biologists recognize that a wolf pack’s structure and relationships change over the years, and even over the seasons.
New models of wolf pack behavior recognize this natural fluctuation. Scientists describe packs more in terms of family units. They may still refer to the leading pair as “alphas,” but they now understand the behavior of pack members is less rigid than the older models suggest.
Howling at the Moon
Wolves do not howl at the moon! They howl to communicate with each other.
Howling is the most direct way of communicating across long distances, and is especially important in areas where wolf territories are vast. A howl can communicate things like a wolf’s location, warnings about predators, and the position of prey.
Wolves howl for more reasons than we'll ever know. They howl day or night—not just when there is a full moon. They even have daily howling choruses with their own packs, which can be one way of strengthening member bonds.
The myth that wolves howl at the moon may stem from the fact that ancient people probably ventured outside more often when there was a full moon, since it offers more light for navigating in the dark. Perhaps people simply were more aware of wolf howls on nights will full moons.
animal having the highest rank in a group.
organism from whom one is descended.
anything an organism does involving action or response to stimulation.
group of animals within a species, usually specifically bred and maintained for certain characteristics by humans.
particular feature of an organism.
to exchange knowledge, thoughts, or feelings.
unique or identifiable.
main or most important.
person who studies the origin and adaptations of species.
group of organisms that come from the same ancestors and share similar characteristics. Family is also a classification in chemistry and math.
able to change and adapt.
phase of the Moon when its entire disc is visible.
social system that organizes by ranks or titles, or the highest-ranking leaders of this group.
long, loud, mournful cry.
having to do with straight lines.
position of a particular point on the surface of the Earth.
standard definition of an object, organism, or process.
legend or traditional story.
to coordinate and give structure to.
no longer useful.
group of animals, usually arranged in a family-like structure.
physical feature of an organism or object.
animal that hunts other animals for food.
animal that is hunted and eaten by other animals.
percussion instrument with snares that create a rattling sound.
to make an animal familiar and comfortable for life with others.
(subsp.) group of organisms within a single species, often distinguished by geographic isolation.
land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.
to give notice of danger.
person who studies animals in their native habitats.