The popular imagination often associates the wolf with its melancholic howling towards the moon. Even though this image has been told many times in myths and folklore, the truth is… wolves don’t howl at the moon. Scientists have found no correlation between the canine and Earth’s satellite, except perhaps an increase in overall activity on brighter nights.
Why do wolves howl?
Even though there is a lot more to know about wolf’s behaviour, researchers agree on the fact that wolves’ howling is a form of communication with a surprisingly wide range of possible functions: wolves howl to inform about their position, to impress and attract a mate, to gather together the family and even to mourn a member of the pack which died. Howling can also be used by wolves as a long-distance communication: they howl to mark the territory and to warn the neighbour packs about their presence, to scare or confuse the enemies (Harrington and Mech 1979).
Barry Lopez in his book ‘Of Wolves and Men’ tell us the reason why the howling is so fascinating and mysterious for us: “Hearing a howl in the wild—or howls, because wolves harmonize with one another—is a startling experience. Howling rises and falls in pitch, skirting the edges of human music like a men’s choir fed through a synthesizer. Because the sound is both familiar and alien, it seems uncanny—attractive and repulsive at the same time”.
The ‘moon effect’
The origin of the wolf-full moon myth is not clear but it can have several interpretations: wolves howl potentially in vary moment of the day and in the evening. Humans nonetheless are more likely to hear the howling during a quiet evening. Barry Lopez tells us that “howling reaches a seasonal peak in the winter months, during the time of courtship and breeding; it is easy to see how the idea that wolves howl at the moon might have gained credence and played well on the imagination during these long, cold, clear nights when the sound carried far and a full moon lent an eerie aspect to a snowscape”.
In conclusion, a wolf howls for several reasons which are not necessarily connected to the moon. From a romantic perspective, we could imagine that a wolf may howl when the moon is bright in the sky for the simplest reason that he or she feels inspired. After all, the moon has always been an important element also for us: we used to venerate it to increase fertility and farmers were used to observe the lunar phases for planting and harvesting. If the moon has always inspired us, humans, why shouldn’t be the same for wolves?