Don’t let me be Misunderstood…….

(Originally posted 5/3/16 at Studying Seals: Elana’s Wolf Behaviour Research)

Wolves, loathed by some, loved by others. With ‘old wives tales’ and stories like ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is there any wonder that many people fear these demonised creatures? Some people who have never even seen an actual wolf imagine them as fury filled masses of fur, claws and teeth, snapping, growling and crunching through flesh and bone! Yes, wolves have big claws and teeth, and they are very capable of crushing bone, they snarl, growl, snap their jaws……….yet, anyone who spends time around them realises that all these morphologies and behaviours that are ingrained as ‘evil’ in the imaginations of fearful people are, in fact, just tools for communicating and preventing conflict – let’s look at this in more detail using an example of two wolves in mid quarrel………


Tala grasps Nuka’s muzzle tightly in her jaws! (Photo credit: M Collins & ER Hobkirk)


Nuka responds with a wide mouth gape and stares right at Tala – he did not like her taking hold of him! (Photo credit: M Collins & ER Hobkirk)


Nuka pushes Tala back with his paw and reaches in for a jaw snap! (Photo credit: M Collins & ER Hobkirk)


Tala refuses to back down and stares at Nuka intently as he lowers his posture – both baring their teeth and mouths a-gape! Tundra (bottom right) remains quite unimpressed. (Photo credit: M Collins & ER Hobkirk)


Tala nips Nuka’s face! (Photo credit: M Collins & ER Hobkirk)


Tongue flicking ensures……… (Photo credit: M Collins & ER Hobkirk)


One final baring of teeth at one another before calm is restored………note Nuka’s lower position……..they know their place. (Photo credit: M Collins & ER Hobkirk)

These images may look alarming, they may look frightening, terrifying even, especially when watching the actual sequence of events and hearing the growls, whining and snapping of teeth! It can appear that one or both wolves are about to be left with nasty facial wounds, it appears that the quarrel is about to escalate to a full attack, which could result in death! But, this does not happen – within approximately 30 seconds (in this case) both wolves returned to a neutral state, unharmed, but with each wolf knowing its place within the pack. For centuries these demonised images of wolves have given them a bad reputation – vicious killing machines – but, they are not. All these aggressive looking behavioural displays are purely the way wolves communicate with one another – to another species these displays are sometimes difficult to decode and understand, and many animals are generally afraid of what they do not understand, which may explain a large portion of the negativity that plagues wolves – flip these displays on their head for a second – humans smile to greet each other in a friendly manner – baring their teeth, in particular their canine teeth – a wolf may misread this as a threat……….

For those of you who may be familiar with the 60s band ‘The Animals’, I’ll leave you with this!

I’m just a wolf whose intentions are good, Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood!!


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