Over the course of our evolution, humans have converted one of utmost vicious predators into some of our most loyal allies. The wolf may have given way to the modern dog, but it doesn’t mean that it died off. In fact, they are more alive than ever (except for some endangered species), as scientists from the University of Cambridge reveal that wolves have a whole plethora of howling dialects.
Wolves and their dialects
According to the team of researchers led by Zoologist Arik Kershenbaum from the University of Cambridge, wolves have more than 6,000 different dialects in which they howl, each depending on the species and subspecies of canine.
But there researchers didn’t only look (or in this case listened to) at wolves; they also studied such canid species as jackals and coyotes. The different howls were then divided into 21 types depending on their pitch fluctuations and sound patterns.
Every single species apparently has its own uniquely identifiable howl, resembling how we use dialects. For example, the rare, endangered red wolves have a high pitched, looping howl, while timber wolves have a very low and flat howl.
The initial focus of the study was to understand how our own language system evolved. By focusing on wolves, creatures very socially similar to humans, the team can at the same time better understand how our language system evolved and they can help track and manage wild wolf populations better.
Machine learning and wolf howls
By examining canine howls from Australia, Europe, India, and the US, the team got the 6,000 individual dialects, but for the sake of the experiment they reduced the number to 2,000. Domestic dog howls were also compiled from YouTube.
All the data was then introduced into a machine learning program meant to separate the howls into different types. Because previous classifications were attempted via the human ear, they always came out lacking. By allowing an unbiased machine to do the classification this time, a far better classification was performed.
The study also revealed some similarities between the unique types of howls, leading the team to conclude that it may be the result of interbreeding. This led them to theorize that interbreeding could be a danger to the proliferation of some species.
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