A new study has found that canid species -- from wolves and coyotes to dogs and foxes -- communicate with their own “howling dialects.”
A team of international researchers narrowed down 21 types of howls, linking their different pitches and fluctuations to specific species and subspecies, according to a new paper published in next month's edition of the journal Behavioural Processes.
"We found that different species and subspecies showed markedly different use of howl types, indicating that howl modulation is not arbitrary, but can be used to distinguish one population from another," the researchers wrote in the study.
In other words, howl types or "dialects" are similar to how we humans have different languages around the world.
The researchers used computer algorithms to analyze more than 2,000 howls collected from both captive and wild animals in Australia, India, Europe and the United States. The result is what’s being touted as the largest quantitative study of its kind.
According to their findings, some howls were noticeably different while others were only slightly different. The timber wolf’s howl, for example, is described as heavy, flat and low-pitched. It differs from the critically endangered red wolf's howl that frequently has a high, looping vocal.
Dr. Arik Kershenbaum, a researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and lead author of the study, hopes this new research will not only aid in better tracking and managing of wild wolf populations but also will help us better understand our own language development.
“Wolves may not be close to us taxonomically, but ecologically their behavior in a social structure is remarkably close to that of humans. That's why we domesticated dogs -- they are very similar to us," he said in a statement. "Understanding the communication of existing social species is essential to uncovering the evolutionary trajectories that led to more complex communication in the past, eventually leading to our own linguistic ability."
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