Cry from the Heart

The howl of the wolf. Simultaneously haunting, lonely and lovely. Why do they do it? What are they trying to communicate? It turns out it is love.

Researchers at the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna working with scientists from the Universities of Zürich and Parma wanted to know why wolves howl. Specifically, they wanted to know if stress caused the howl or if it was a conscious result of separation from a companion. These factors had been looked at separately. This study looked at the possibility of both factors. The Word spoke with Dr Simon W. Townsend, group leader at the University of Zurich, Switzerland to learn more.

Collocation: To play a role: This means to have an influence or be part of some larger process.

“Previous research has suggested a false dichotomy between vocalizations either being emotional or to some extent cognitively controlled,” he said. “However, it is very likely both factors play a role.”

English has many words for the groups animals form. Wolves and dogs live in packs. Deer and cows are in herds. Birds makes flocks. However, some animals have words unique to those species: a pride of lions, a mob of kangaroos and a murder of crows.

The researchers took two different wolf packs. Individual wolves were separated. While the wolves walked away, the team looked at the howling behavior of the wolves which stayed. They studied the hormone levels in the saliva and knew which wolves were friends. From this they learned that status and friendship predicted how a wolf would react. When a high-status wolf leaves, the other wolves howl more strongly.

Another influence was whether the wolves saw the other wolf leave. When the wolves saw the wolf leave, the howl was not so strong. Researchers concluded it was more stressful for the wolves when they didn’t know where their pack member had gone. These results surprised the research team the most.

“We were surprised to find that howling behavior was affected more by social factors than underlying physiological ones,” Dr Townsend said.

Dr Townsend believes this study’s findings can tell us about other animals and how they vocalize.

“I think our results provide important insight into the complexity that underlies vocal production in animals,” he said. “Stimulus response mechanisms or emotional-based explanations are not enough to describe why an animal vocalizes when it does.”

Applying human emotions to animals can cause debate. Charles Darwin was the first to suggest that animals have emotions because emotions are needed to survive. This study at least seems to show that animals can show emotion and don’t only need them for basic survival.

Original article by Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team 

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Cry from the Heart Quiz: Medium

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Why do wolves howl? Researchers at the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna working with scientists from the Universities of Zürich and Parma think they have the answer. Wolves miss each other.

“Previous research has suggested a false dichotomy between vocalizations either being emotional or to some extent cognitively controlled,” Simon W. Townsend, group leader at the University of Zurich, Switzerland told The Word.

English has many words for the groups animals form. Wolves and dogs live in packs. Deer and cows are in herds. Birds makes flocks. However, some animals have words unique to those species: a pride of lions, a mob of kangaroos and a murder of crows.

The researchers took two different wolf packs. They removed wolves individually. While the wolves walked away, the team looked at the howling behavior of the wolves which stayed. They studied the hormone levels in the saliva and knew which wolves were friends. When a high-status wolf leaves, the other wolves howl more strongly.

Another influence was whether the wolves saw the other wolf leave. When the wolves saw the wolf leave, the howl was not so strong. Researchers concluded it was more stressful for the wolves when they didn’t know where their pack member had gone. These results surprised the research team the most.

“We were surprised to find that howling behavior was affected more by social factors than underlying physiological ones,” Dr Townsend said.

The question whether animals have emotions similar to humans can cause debate. Charles Darwin was the first to suggest that animals have emotions because emotions are needed to survive. This study at least seems to show that animals can show emotion and don’t only need them for basic survival.

Original article by Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team 

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Cry from the Heart Quiz: Mild

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Phrasal Verb: To turn out: We use this for a situation when something happens which was unexpected. ‘It turns out he was right. We thought he had made a mistake.’

The howl of the wolf. Simultaneously haunting, lonely and lovely. Why do they do it? What are they trying to communicate? Turns out, it’s love.

Researchers at the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in collaboration with scientists from the Universities of Zürich and Parma wanted to know why wolves howl, and specifically if it is an involuntary cry caused by stress or a conscious result of separation from a companion. While these factors had been looked at separately, no study had looked at the possibility of both factors, which as Dr Simon W. Townsend, group leader at the University of Zurich, Switzerland told The Word, was this study’s goal.

Collocation: To play a role: This means to have an influence or be part of some larger process.

“Previous research has suggested a false dichotomy between vocalizations either being emotional or to some extent cognitively controlled,” he said. “However, it is very likely both factors play a role. Interestingly however, very few studies have actually tried to investigate the role of both factors simultaneously. We designed an experiment to look at this.”

English has many words for the groups animals form. Wolves and dogs live in packs. Deer and cows are in herds. Birds makes flocks. However, some animals have words unique to those species: a pride of lions, a mob of kangaroos and a murder of crows.

The researchers separated wolves from two different packs one by one. During the separation period (the wolves were taken for a walk) the team looked at the howling behavior of the remaining wolves and took saliva samples to analyze stress hormone levels. From previous social interactions, researchers could construct a dominance hierarchy and so could figure out which wolves were good friends. When the team put all these factors into a single analysis they found that dominance status and friendship status better predicted howling behavior than stress levels (which were measured through cortisol levels).

The experiment also found that if pack members leave the group, wolves call in an effort to re-assemble the pack. The scientists discovered that if a high-ranking wolf or the partner of one leaves the pack, the remaining wolves howl with greater intensity. And it seems distance is a factor as well. The researchers not only took wolves on long walks but also looked at what would happen with a different kind of separation. Sometimes, the wolf would be led away to a nearby building. When the pack saw where their ‘missing’ member was going, the howling wasn’t as intense. Researchers concluded it was more stressful for the wolves when they didn’t know where their pack member had gone. It was these results that were the most surprising to the research team.

“We were surprised to find that howling behavior was affected more by social factors than underlying physiological ones,” Dr Townsend said.

Dr Townsend believes this study’s findings don’t just matter for the wolf, but can have implications for other animals and how they vocalize.

“I think our results provide important insight into the complexity that underlies vocal production in animals,” he said. “Stimulus response mechanisms or emotional-based explanations are not enough to describe why an animal vocalizes when it does.”

Applying human emotions to animals is typically controversial. Charles Darwin was the first to suggest that animals have emotions because emotions are needed to survive. This study at least seems to show that animals can show emotion and don’t only need them for basic survival.

Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona

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Cry from the Heart Quiz: Spicy

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