Why Wolves Howl at the Moon: Truth or Fiction?

Why Wolves Howl at the Moon: Truth or Fiction?
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Why Do Wolves Howl?

Similar to the way that humans communicate with one another, wolves use howling as a tool to talk to their pack. But what does their howling mean? And is there any truth to the idea of wolves howling at the moon?

Whether wolves are howing to let their pack know where they are, or are using it as a way to warn rival packs not to enter their territory, wolves use barking, growling, whimpering and of course, howling, to talk to their fellow packmates.

Wolves by nature, roam through the forests and across great stretches of land to find food, so howling is their way of staying in contact.

L.D. Mech, a wildlife research biologist who has studied various species of wolves, discovered that wolves can hear as far as 6 miles or 9.6 km from their current location when in the forest, and up to 10 miles, or 16km when in open tundra.

This allows them to stay in contact at all times, and to keep their pack safe and connected, even when they are far apart.

Different Types of Howls

Wolves have many distinct types of howls. Drawing similarities again to different tones of speech that humans have, wolves have distinct howls that they use as a means to communicate.

Some of the distinct howls that can be heard from wolves include:

  • Lone howl: used to either locate their main pack or to warn other packs in the area that they are nearby
  • Confrontational howl: used to warn nearby packs to keep their distance
  • Chorus Howl: when a group of wolves howl at differing intervals together; often used to intimidate other packs

Do Wolves Really Howl At The Moon?

Many movies and stories have depicted wolves howling at the moon. But according to researchers, a full moon alone has not been proven to be the reason behind the howling.

Wolves do call to one another any time of the day, but they can be heard more easily in the evening when they are more active and communicative.

Since the full moon offers more light for the wolves to see by, and the fact that wolves are a nocturnal animal by nature, their howls are simply a part of their being more active on more brightly-lit nights.

Learn More About Wolves

The sound of wolves howling at the moon is thrilling, but the idea that the full moon causes them to howl is just a myth.

However, do not let that discourage you from continuing to enjoy these very special members of the animal kingdom.

Organizations like the International Wolf Center and Wolves Ontario offer various special events and educational programs that allow you to learn more about these magnificent creatures, as well as providing programs that are trying to help preserve our wolf species from extinction.


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The Gray Wolf in Montana, by Rose Kivi

Photo: Michael Lorenzo