A wolf’s ears

Their ears are like radar. They can smell a man from three to four kilo­metres away. And their eyes… they can see through everything,” Ion Maxisimovic says in Wolf Hunter, a doc­u­ment­ary film by James Morgan.

Wolves are built to move and that in­cludes an aero­dy­nam­ic head fea­tur­ing a sleek muzzle lead­ing to tri­an­gu­lar-shaped ears that are gently roun­ded on top. Each ear can be in­de­pend­ently ro­tated cre­at­ing op­tim­al an­ten­nae for pick­ing up sounds.

According to Wolf Watch UK, do­mest­ic dogs can hear up to six­teen times bet­ter than hu­mans. Experts say a wolf’s hear­ing is even more acute and that they can hear noises ten to six­teen kilo­metres (six to ten miles) away on open ground. It’s also sus­pec­ted that wolves can hear fre­quen­cies as high as 80 kHz com­pared to a human’s up­per range of 20 kHz.

Wolf pups open their eyes when they’re around two weeks old and be­gin to hear sounds after three weeks.  Ears play an im­port­ant role in wolf body lan­guage and com­mu­nic­a­tion. Wolves cock their ears to in­dic­ate alert­ness, ag­gres­sion, play­ful­ness or sub­mis­sion.  And, along with eyes, ears, mouth, hackles, tail and pos­ture, ears con­vey mood, status, sexu­al in­terest and intent.

Dogs evolved from wolves and, over the cen­tur­ies, have been bred to ful­fill the de­sires of hu­mans, wheth­er that be as com­pan­ion, work an­im­al or simply the trendy fash­ion ac­cess­ory of the day.

These red wolf pups are only a few days old and are not yet able to see or hear. Their ears are still soft and floppy.
Photo by Ryan Nordsven, US Fish and Wildlife Services.

Studies show that a large pro­por­tion of people are at­trac­ted to dogs with floppy ears and short­er, roun­ded muzzles. These are ju­ven­ile char­ac­ter­ist­ics that all dog and wolf pup­pies have. As wolf pups grow, how­ever, their ears stand up­right and their snouts lengthen, where­as many dogs’ do not.



The top photo shows an adult red wolf wait­ing to be trans­por­ted to a site for re­lease into the wild. It’s well be­yond the puppy stage and its ears are erect. The po­s­i­tion of the ears, the eyes and the gen­er­al pos­ture of the wolf shows that it is stressed. Photo by B. Bartel, US Fish and Wildlife Services