Wolves are skilled and ferocious hunters, but when it it comes to relationships, they're real softies. When a playmate or partner leaves the pack, the wolves that are left behind will howl and howl and howl.

In a new study, researchers report that wolves will give their leaders and their closest allies a longer and stronger serenade if they leave. Those howls could be sonic breadcrumbs, meant to help a lone wolf find its way back to the pack. They could also be a long-distance message that simply says: "I miss you."

"What exactly their motivation is, we will never know," said Friederike Range, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and one of the authors of the study in Current Biology. But "there is an emotional response in there, for sure," she told NBC News.

How much howling?

Range and her colleagues have been studying the group dynamics of timber wolves for years. In the newly published study, they observed how nine wolves from two packs living at Austria's Wolf Science Center changed their howling, depending on which member of the pack was absent from the group.

The researchers took each member of the pack away from the rest for a walk, and counted the howls from the remaining members for 20 minutes.

The howling would begin as soon as the departing wolf went out of sight. Wolves are social animals with a strict hierarchy. So if the wolf was a leader, more howls were recorded. And if the departing wolf was friendly with another member of the pack, its pack buddy sang a lengthy song.

The calls are similar to "children calling for their parents when the parents leave," David Mech, an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota who has been studying wolves since the late 1950s, explained in an email to NBC News. "To me it is communication."

Socially savvy 

Dogs, the cuddlier relatives of the wolves, also howl. But wolves are more socially savvy, and their howling serves more strategic functions.

Mech, who was not involved with the new study, once observed howling behavior in 15 wild wolves that were separated during a hunt. He described the phenomenon in his 1966 book "The Wolves of Isle Royale."

"After howling, the pack was then able to assemble again," he explained. Mack said the newly published study provides "experimental evidence" supporting his view that the wolves' howls helped them regroup.

Sometimes, wolves howl when they are stressed. Not these wolves. Range's colleague, Francesco Mazzini, tested the saliva of the howlers for cortisol, a hormone that's abundant in stressed-out animals. He found a slight increase in cortisol levels when a leader left, but no increase when the wanderer was a "preferred partner."

Wandering wolves who are leaders will often call back to their pack, but Range's wards didn't. While they were out and about, they ignored their packmates and just enjoyed the walk, she said.

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Responses to "Lonely wolf? Wolves howl when they miss their friends (Video)"

  1. then explain why my dog howls when she hears a siren from a firetruck or ambulance . I think it is also to let other dogs/wolves know where their territory is and to stay away.

  2. Anonymous says:

    my pack of mini schnauzers howl like wolves when the doorbell rings. the youngest has a freaked out sound to her howl like she has no idea what is going on but thinks she needs to do what the others are doing.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I can't get over how similar these wolves are to my Siberian Husky, both in looks and mannerisms. My husky howls like this any time I leave her and when I return she is all over me sniffing and licking. If I leave again the howls start once more.

  4. Anonymous says:

    We had laid a trap line earlier in the season (now this was many years ago) on this day it was my first time back on snowshoes since I messed up my knee two weeks earlier so there was some places I could not go .. So anyway on this day we did our western line I noticed a moose had gotten on our trail as long as it was in front of me I was ok, being the slow one and now I was alone, I started paying closer attention to what was happening around me, I noticed a fresh trail coming down the hill then I seen the tracks it was a BIG wolf well that was ok it too was in front of me and it was following the moose .. I found a place I could build a fire until my buddy got back gathering fire wood I come upon more wolf track's I thought oh great I might be in trouble here but oh well there was nothing I could about it now, so I went on with what I was doing then I heard the fist howl it was from the wolf that was on the trail then I heard another on, then another, and another and another there were seven in all coming from all directions they each took turns a howling they were on a hunt have you ever been in the middle of a wolf hunt? I have heard wolves howl all my life mammas teaching babies how to howl, just talking back to one another like what you are talking I just listening to them, but this was a different type of howl it was scary but still it was awesome. The first one the leader got the moose to leave the trail then they herded that moose into deep snow where it could not move anymore then after of all the howling for little over an hour it went suddenly QUITE and that was a scary feeling they had made their kill I would not give that up for a free shopping spree at Nordstrom all I can say is IT WAS AWESOME and if I was younger I would do it again. And that's for your story on howling.. Jeanette Rose Windwalker

  5. Anonymous says:

    My siberians begavwd very similarly. I remember one instance, I had to take one of my older males who had been sick to a get that was about 50km away to be put to sleep. He howled as he went. I got home and received a phone call from my neighbour asking what was wrong. When I explained my neighbir said the other 5 huskys howled and howled. But it wasn't their normal howl. She said it was a really mournful sorrowful and haunting sound. One she had never heard from them before. One not heard since. It turned out the time they howled was the same
    time that Chief gave his final howl.

  6. Their beautiful voice flow right thru me. Yes, I believe with my heart and soul that the Wolf does, in fact, long for the company of their loved ones...just as We do. They are Soulful Beings.

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