Why Do Wolves Howl at the Moon?


Whether you’re a Twilight fan or a nature enthusiast, you probably wonder why do wolves howl at the moon. It’s common knowledge and we’ve studied the topic in detail for you.

Imagine you’re enjoying a family adventure in the center of a dense forest in the Yellowstone National Park and a sudden loud howl on a serene night sends shivers down your spine. In case you didn’t know, approximately 528 wolves live in the Yellowstone National Park. Therefore, there’s a high chance these nocturnal animals were howling at the moon while you were enjoying your dinner and drinks!

Is it a myth or do wolves howl at the very sight of the moon? In case you didn’t know, not just wolves but even dogs, both domestic and wild, howl at the moon sometimes. That’s just one fact. We’ve got a lot to tell you about wolves howling. Read further to know more.

Do Wolves Howl at the Moon?

Wolves Howl at Night to Communicate With Each Other
Wolves Howl at Night to Communicate With Each Other

Well, let’s begin with a clear answer — wolves do not howl at the moon. Wolf packs howl at each other to establish communication. In simpler words, if you’ve heard howling if you’re on a camping or hiking adventure, it’s possible that a wolf pack or other animals such as domestic or wild dogs are communicating with each other.

Since the Neolithic age that marked the population explosion of African wolves and even before that, ancient people have always believed that a wolf howls at the moon.

Wolves Communicating With Each Other
Wolves Communicating With Each Other

You may hear howling at night but it’s not “howling at the new moon” or “howling at the full moons.” WOLVES HOWL TO COMMUNICATE! They even howl when the moon is covered by a thick sheet of clouds.

Moreover, their favorite time to howl is when the sun is down and the silence of the night is deep. Wolves typically howl between 7 PM and midnight, depending upon their location.

Why Do Wolves Howl?

A Howling Gray Wolf
A Howling Gray Wolf

Almost all animals produce different sounds and voices. As mentioned in the previous section, wolves howl to communicate with other pack members, other lone wolves, other packs and rival packs. Also, there’s nothing “negative” about wolves howling. The wolves in Norse mythology may be related to negativity but all wolves are not negative animals; they are simply wild, nocturnal animals.

For wolves, howling at the sky is a way to establish a close relationship with other members of the pack or other lone wolves or inform about predators. Per a study by National Center for Biotechnology, US, a wolf’s howling is mediated by relationship quality rather than underlying emotional stress.

Canine experts and other scientists have clearly established that a wolf’s (canis lupus) howl is a communication signal. Whether you’re talking about a gray wolf howling or dog howling, all canines speak to one another through howling or chorus howls.

Just like humans talk, whisper, shout, scream, and cry in human language, wolves howl. A wolf howl can travel both short and long distances in an open terrain. Moreover, a wolf howl can also help you determine a wolf’s location.

7 Quick Reasons Why a Wolf Howls

  • A signal to meet other pack members
  • A way to help other pack members establish a lone wolf’s location
  • A cry for help when it is separated from its group
  • A call for a hunt
  • A cue for the group that prey is around or predators are around
  • A warning for rival packs to stay away from their territory
  • A gesture (typically a chorus) to strengthen its bond with other group members (similar to dogs)

What Does a Wolf Howling Sound Like?

Wolf howling can sound different at different times. Yes, that’s right. Wolves pipe (vocal cords) can produce a range of vocalizations, such as:

  • Barks
  • Growls
  • Howls
  • Moans
  • Screams
  • Yelps

Sometimes, you may not be able to distinguish between the barking of a domestic dog and a wolf.

Once again, the vocalizations are not related to the full moon. The most common sound produced by wolves pipe is “howling.” It’s a continuous cry that can easily travel long distances. We interviewed a hiking enthusiast who excitedly said, “The wolf sung for me.” They further added, “It sounded like the wolf was looking to hunt a large prey.” 

Many people also wonder why wolves look toward the sky (which is why many ancient civilizations believed that wolves howl at the moon) when they howl.  The answer is “to make sound travel as far as possible.” The howling wolf often doesn’t know how far other wolves are located. Therefore, it calls upward to carry farther the howl.

How Far Can Wolves Howling Be Heard?

How Far Can Wolves Howling Be Heard?
How Far Can Wolves Howling Be Heard?

The howls of the alpha males are often the loudest in the pack. Thanks to the high pitch and suspension of the howls, their sounds can easily travel as far as 6 miles or approximately 10 kilometers in dense forests and 10 miles or approximately 16 kilometers in completely treeless and open terrain.

Do Wolves Howl During the Day?

Wolves Howling During the Day
Wolves Howling During the Day

Yes, a wolf howls during both day and night. Wolves have eventually evolved to howl whenever they want. However, as we’ve mentioned repeatedly, wolves are nocturnal animals.

Therefore, you’ll mostly hear them howling at night only because of which many people think that wolves howl at the moon (today’s popular belief, which is wrong), especially a full moon. More light means fewer chances of hearing a wolf howl.

Do Female Wolves Howl?

Pack of Wolves With Leaders at the Front
Pack of Wolves With Leaders at the Front

All wolves howl to communicate, irrespective of whether they are males and females in a pack.

Each wolf pack has two leaders, i.e., a male and a female. They are called the “dominant pair” or “breeding pair.” This pair is typically in-charge of the pack. Therefore, sometimes, to communicate dominance, they howl. Other pack members showcase their submission by lowering their bodies and holding their tails down.

Mother Wolf With her Cubs
Mother Wolf With her Cubs

Not just howl but sometimes a female wolf may also bark at her pups to warn them in case of potential danger from poachers or other wild animals. Remember the Roman goddess she-wolf who nursed and raised two brothers Remus and Romulus; female wolves can do anything to protect their young ones.

A female wolf may also whimper to signal that she wants to nurse her pups.

Conclusion – Why Do Wolves Howl at the Moon?

Wolf Packs Howling At Each Other
Wolf Packs Howling At Each Other

Now that you know wolves howling at the moon is a big myth, what do you think? Do you still believe a wolf howls at the full moon? The misconception that a wolf howls at the moon was promoted by humans across ancient civilizations stretching from Asia to North America. It’s clearly a “misconception,” as you can see above.

Wolves don’t howl because they are alone. Wolves don’t howl because they are experiencing pain. Wolves howl to communicate with members of their pack or rival packs or other animals.

We agree that they look at the moon when they’re howling; however, we’ve already discussed why wolves look at the moon when howling. A wolf’s howl has nothing to do with the moon or different phases of the moon.

We sincerely hope you found our article on why do wolves howl at the moon useful. If you have a different take or suggestions to share, please feel free to post your thoughts in the comment section below.

Written by:
Editor-in-Chief and lead author at WhyDo

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