This research paper is on the behavioral characteristics of wolves and specifically the scent marking behavior. Almost all animals in nature have their own natural behavior which is unique to them. As for the case of wolves, the scent-marking territorial behavior comes about when a wolf urinates or defecates to mark their territory.
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This is done such that the outsider wolves are barred from getting into other packs that they do not belong. The scent marking behavior is also a way through which wolves detect preys as well as enemies that want to attack them. However, the territorial issues are responsible for most of the deaths of wolves because of fights between packs or enemies. All in all, the scent-marking behavior is classified as an important aspect in wolves’ behavior as it is used as a form of communication.
Wolves otherwise referred to as the grey wolves form the largest members of the Canidae family. They are descendants of a general ancestor common to all carnivores like dogs, bears and cats known as Creodont about a million years ago.
Of all the canines, grey wolves are the largest and can weigh more than 100 pounds. “The further north the wolves are found the larger they will be, with males being 20% larger than females. A wolf can grow up to 5.5 feet long and 2.5 feet tall and on the average its tail grows from 15 to 19 inches” (Mech and Boitani 185). The wolf has gray fuzz with elongated tawny-colored legs and borders and a tapered chest.
Wolves are extremely social predators existing in groups called packs. “Packs differ in sizes but on the average it has seven or less wolves depending on their population, availability of food and social factors affecting the pack. Hunting, travelling and resting is done together as a pack” (Mech and Boitani 190).
There is a highly structured hierarchy within each park. “It comprises of an alpha male and a female, a sole breeding pair, a lesser group of non-breeding adults with each having its individual position, a group of outcasts and immature wolves moving to the top” (Mech and Boitani 185).
Younger wolves might move at times to find a territory and a new mate. This paper is therefore an in-depth analysis of the naturalistic observation of wolves and more specifically their territorial nature using scent. Several experiments have been conducted to find out how wolves scent-mark their territories and if at all this scent-marking behavior is of any significance to them. These experiments conducted will act as case studies in this report so as to exactly find out how the scent-marking occurs and its importance if any.
The behavioral characteristics of wolves
Just like most animals, facial expressions and body language is used by wolves as a wy of communicating with each other. communication with another. As a show of superiority the dominant ones will look at the others in the eye as a show of superiority.
As a show of submission the inferior or the minority wolves encircle the dominant wolf with their noses raised up against to it. In the packs, the use of nose, ears and mouth are very significant in conveying feelings. When they want to alert of danger, wolves normally erect their ears and open their mouth wide.
Wolves are mainly carnivores and thus feed on meat only, with their common preys being even large animals such as the deer. To hunt with ease, wolves strategize on preying the weak and sick animals. They easily target the sick, the elderly, the youthful and the less precarious species for the wolves.
They also have unique ways of defending their prey like eating very quickly to ensure that no other animal can steal the food from them. “When they have a kill, they feast on the best parts first and return later for the remains. During scarce times wolves can survive on little scraps for weeks but in abundance they can feed on an average of 5-6 hours”(Mech and Boitani 89).
On the other hand, “when left alone, they tend to eat worms, insects and berries. In summer, they feed on fish, birds and mice since all the targets have moved” (Haines 1). This is such that the indigestible parts of the prey such as bones are hid in the hairs so as to protect the wolf from injury. The allegations that wolves feed on humans have not yet been established empirically.
The scent-marking territorial behavior of wolves
The most notable thing about the wolves is their territorial nature which they do not share with animals that do not belong to the pack. Wolves converse and mark their territories using scent (Peters and Mech 1). Wolves display a very unique behavior of being territorial using scent to mark these territories. “The dominant wolves and especially the alpha male are usually responsible for urinating close to the edges of the territory, on logs, rocks and stumps that are surrounded by the territory” (Peters and Mech 1).
Wolves can have an estimated home range of about 1,000 miles depending on the breed and where they inhabit. One wolf pack can take over an average of 77 square miles no wonder a number of them overlap with others. Their vast movements, coupled with their low population make it difficult for researchers to track them down for study purposes. A pack can cover 10% of the territory each day and they don’t remain idle for long.
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Wolves have a territory that is regarded as the core, usually at the heart of the radius of their array or extremely close to it and half of a particular wolf pack’s time will be used up there. They feel very secure in that area and as a result they always ensure that hideouts where the mothers deliver are very near to the core.
Wolves issue alert signs by means of barking and howling. They also shun being close on one another in the same locality except when they are struggling for food which is insufficient. The fight is meant to increase their influence on that territory in addition to taking control over the food that is in the same locality.
In a study conducted by Zubiri and Macdonald on scent-marking and territorial behavior of Ethiopian wolves, it found out the wolves deposit scent marks after urinating while raising one leg then scratching the ground (Zubiri and Macdonald 356). The scent-marks were noted to be common along territories and boundaries such that an outsider wolf is able to know occupied and unoccupied areas.
At the same time, the scent marking behavior gives them the ability to sense food as well as their enemies thus taking early precautions. Previous research has shown that wolves are able to detect their prey even at a distance of about 3 kilometers. Another study conducted by Paquet indicated that the male adults of the wolves were the main scent-markers although the dormant members of the packs also played part (Paquet 1).
The most amazing thing concerning the scent-marking territorial behavior of wolves is that, it is responsible for over 90 per cent of the deaths among wolves. This happens as a result of fights that crop up due to territorial issues (Paquet 1). The occurrence of the fights is two-fold with the first cause being fights between different territories of the wolves such that the stronger or larger pack wins.
The second type is as result of attack by foreigner, for instance, a lion is able to get access to many of the wolves when they are in a pack rather than when they are a lone. As a result, some of the wolves have decided to be loners despite of their territorial behavior for fear of attacks.
Implications of the Research
The studies conducted on the scent-marking behavior shows that this is one way through which wolves communicate with each other (Haines 1). This is because, the wolves are able to know where to find its pack and also be deterred from entering a different pack. This becomes of essence when they have detected an enemy or they want to share a hunted prey. As a matter of fact, it used as a survival tool.
Limitations of the Research
In most of the studies conducted, the actual chemical found in the urine or faeces to bring about the unique scent has not been identified thus making it difficult to justify. It is also not explained as to whether the other animals other than wolves are also in a position to detect the wolves’ scents.
The behavioral characteristic of scent-marking in wolves is one important asset that the wolves have been endowed with. This is because in addition to marking their territory and acquiring preys, they are able to notice when an enemy is near thus taking early precautions. It can thus be described as a way of communication in the wolf family. It is recommended that more research is conducted on the scent-marking behavior of wolves to find out what exactly is the reason behind this unique characteristic.
Haines, John. The Wolf Pack. 2011. Web.
Mech, David and Boitani, Luigi (2003). Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation. University of Chicago Press.
Peters Roger and Mech David. Scent-Marking in Wolves. 1975. Web.
Zubiri Claudia and Macdonald David. Scent- marking and territorial behavior of Ethiopian wolves Canis Simensis. 2006. Web.