Why do wolves howl?

BBC Wildlife contributor Stephen Mills answers your wild question.

Timberwolf, (Canis lupus occidentalis), Mackenzie Valley Wolf, Deutschland, Germany

Actually, wolves both bark and howl. Researchers have identified at least 11 types of wolf call – the yelp, whimper, whine, whine-moan, moan, growl-moan, growl, snarl, woof, bark and howl.


With the exception of the howl, these are all short- to medium-range noises communicating intimate emotions, and are directed mainly at family members.

While the bark is used as a threat or protest – for instance, when a human or other large predator approaches the den – howling is a relatively low-frequency, elongated call designed to carry over large distances. On the open tundra, wolves can hear a howl from 11km away.

Howling probably has four main purposes. It helps pack members to stay in touch and coordinate movements across their enormous home ranges (normally 200-600 square kilometres, but occasionally much larger); it enables groups to advertise their presence and claim on a territory, avoiding unnecessary encounters with rivals; it may help lone wolves to locate potential mates; and it apparently strengthens social bonds within the pack when performed in chorus.


Young wolves can travel huge distances once they leave home. The record is held by a Minnesota female, who covered 4,117km in search of company. A good howl might have helped her.