A recent study revealed that apparently wolf species have more than 2,000 distinctive howls that work as “dialects“, each corresponding to a particular species. Quite similar to humans, which is not that surprising since they also organize and behave like people.

A group of scientists from the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and India distinguished and classified more than 2,000 different recorded howl from 13 canid species and subspecies such as wolves, coyotes, jackals and domestic dogs.

A gray wolf in the wiild. Photo: The Christian Science Monitor/National Park Service/AP

By the use of a software algorithm that reduced the howls in 21 types depending on sound patterns and pitch fluctuations which were linked to different species, subspecies and populations, researchers were able to find that each wolf species uses its own howl type in ways that are specific to them (which is the fact that resembles human dialects and behavior). For example: timber wolves have low, flat howls; while red wolves have a high, looping howl.

Most of the identified dialects are distinct, but several share similarities. The howls of red wolves and coyotes explained their propensity for interbreeding since their vocal dialects overlapped significantly. The scientists said that their findings could aid in conservation efforts.

Originally, researchers wanted to study the vocalizations of non-primates in order to understand how our own systems of language evolved. But instead, they chose wolves since their behavior in a social structure is similar to ours. Arik Kershenbaum, lead researcher from the University of Cambridge, explained this by arguing that we domesticated dogs because “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 leading to our own linguistic ability,” he added.

Currently, Kershenbaum and colleagues are using new recording methods to try to figure out what the howling types actually mean. They are working on research at Yellowstone National Park in the US using multiple recording devices, he said.

He also said that the findings could help track and manage wild wolf populations better, as well as help mitigate conflict with farmers.

Source: University of Cambridge