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Why do wolves howl?

A grey wolf lays on the ground.
Jane Lindholm
Vermont Public

Why do wolves howl at the moon? Do wolves have different howls? How were wolves domesticated into dogs? How do wolves run fast for so long? What kind of habitats do wolves prefer? Why are people scared of wolves? Do they eat people? How do we protect them? But Why visits the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York, where education director Regan Downey answers kid questions about these apex predators.

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • Wolves and dogs are canids (part of the larger dog family). They share a common ancestor, but at some point dogs and wolves branched off. Scientists think they split from a common ancestor between 12,000 to 40,000 years ago. 
  • There are different types of wolves. Gray wolves are split into many subspecies in different parts of the world. The Himalayan wolf has unique adaptations to live at high altitudes and there is a debate on whether it’s a sub-species or its own unique species.
  • Wolves can live in a variety of habitats: desert, tundra, woodlands - even in rainforests. But they don’t do very well in places where there are a lot of people.
  • Wolves can hear howls up to ten miles away over open terrain. Howls help wolves communicate where they are to other wolves, but wolves sometimes just howl for the fun of it and to strengthen their pack bonds. 
  • Wolves like perfume! In the wild wolves like to roll in strong scents. As a form of enrichment, the Wolf Conservation Center will spray perfume on cardboard to put in the wolf enclosure so the wolves can roll in the smell.
  • Whether or not you are afraid of wolves might depend on your culture. In a lot of European culture wolves are something to be feared. In many Native American cultures wolves are considered friends. 
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.

But Why is a project of Vermont Public.

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