Q&A: Canines Howling at the Moon

Question:  Dogs, coyotes, and wolves all seem to enjoy howling at the Moon when it’s bright and full. My cat, however, seems to basically ignore it. So what’s up with canines and the Moon?  — AH, New River, AZ

Answer: That’s more a biology question than an astronomy question. But I did find some info about this phenomenon online. The Wildlife Science Center up in Forest Lake, MN says they’re not so much howling at the Moon, as they are because of the Moon.

Turns out that all canines share a love of hunting in a pack. Certain natural conditions make for better hunting, like when the Full Moon provides good light at night. Dogs, coyotes, and wolves are often described as opportunistic hunters. They prefer to expend their energy on a hunt when their chances for success are the greatest.

When these nocturnal predators sense the advantage of increased light, their instincts tell them it’s time to hunt. Howling is one way of signaling the pack, or finding a partner with whom they can hunt. Before a hunt, canines will often gather in a “rally” and howl in symphony in anticipation of the event. It’s a universal canine ritual.

The photo above shows my dog Astro. She’s extremely intelligent. Instead of howling at the Moon, like other canines, she howls at Sirius, the “Dog Star” Sirius hasn’t howled back yet, but she keeps trying anyway. Good dog Astro.

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