Wolves have pointy ears because they didn’t undergo the same changes to their bone structure that happens during domestication, which is why dogs have more rounded ears. The pointy ears also allow wolves to hear better in a wild environment.
Around 14.000 years ago when wolves were domesticated, all wolves still had pointy ears. But once domestication began, a variety of changes to stem cells of domesticated wolves started to occur.
This meant that domesticated wolves eventually became dogs and developed a weaker jaw structure, flappy ears, and a slightly altered bone structure. This process is believed to be due to thousands of years of domestication which today means that the differences between domesticated dogs and wild wolves are vast.
Why Did Wolves Retain Pointy Ears?
It’s the result of thousands of years of domestication and changes to the stem cell structure of domesticated animals.
To better understand this process, it’s worth taking a closer look at the evolution of dogs, coyotes, and wolves as species.
Around 15-20.000 years ago, dogs and wolves evolved from an extinct wolf species. Because they shared common ancestry, they retain several features that made them look practically the same, with some minor differences initially.
However, with domestication, those differences started getting bigger and bigger.
It’s widely believed by some theories that when humans formed camps, they left uneaten larger pieces of meat around, which attracted wolves which didn’t have the capability to catch the prey on their own.
This meant that the only wolves that came close to these camps were wolves with lower adrenaline levels, making them much easier to tame than wolves with higher levels of adrenaline. Because of the lower levels, these wolves that came close didn’t develop the strong “fight or flight” mechanism.
These wolves had less adrenal glands, which also means they had less stem cells, making them easier to domesticate.
And because they had less stem cells, which meant the wolves carried some defects such as smaller jaws and ears that were not as pointy as of “normal” wolves. And with domestication, these features became more and more pronounced with inbreeding to the point that we can see today.
What Do Wolves Use Pointy Ears For?
The main purpose of the pointy ears is to help them hear better in their environment, allowing them to hear further and clearer.
Because the ears are pointy, the airways inside their ears are unobstructed, which means more sound will be able to enter the wolf’s ear which will result in better hearing.
Dog species that have floppy ears will not hear as well as wild canines do. You might have already seen your dog with floppy ears lift its ears up as it tries to hear what is happening in the distance. This is because it’s trying to provide more airway towards its ears to hear better.
Wolves have this “feature” already built in with their genetics. It’s very unusual to see a wolf that doesn’t have pointy ears, and those who have slightly less pointy ears are considered slightly defective since it hinders their ability to navigate nature better.
Why Do Some Dogs Have Pointy Ears, Then?
Some dog species have retained pointy ears because they were domesticated in such a way that humans used them for hunting, which required them to have better hearing.
The dog species with pointy ears include Australian cattle dog, Belgian sheepdog, Finnish lapphund, and others.
As you may see, these species were all used for keeping the farmer’s herds together and also for hunting.
Dogs with floppy ears, on the other hand, are mostly not great hunters since their hearing will be obstructed by their big, floppy ears that cover their ears.
But there’s another potential reason as to why some dogs retained the pointy ears.
And this is the possibility that some wolves with more stem cells were also domesticated and they retained pointy ears because they were not bred with species that had less stem cells.
This is a theory that was only developed a few years ago but Darwin was already interested in the factors that caused some dogs to have floppy ears and others to retain the pointy ears.
Darwin also argued in his famous book On the Origin of Species that this phenomenon occurs due to domestication and the issues connected to it. However, even though his suspicions were close to today’s theories, he was unable to confirm the precise reason as to why some dogs still retained pointy ears.
How Large Are a Wolf’s Ears?
A wolf’s ears might be from one inch large to several inches, which will differ from individual to individual.
Most wolf species, though, will have relatively large ears that are larger than most ears of dog species.
Most adult grey and red wolves will grow ears that are 2-3 inches large and sometimes even larger. It’s interesting to observe that the smaller the wolf is, the larger its ears will be, which is something surprising.
Another interesting feature that a wolf’s ears have is the ability to turn them in a 180-degree manner. This feature is also found in dogs, and when a wolf turns its ears, it will use it to show some of its emotions.
A wolf will be able to turn its ears forward, sideways, upwards, and even downwards, but the latter will only happen rarely. Like they use their tail to show their emotions, ears can also sometimes be gauged in order to “decipher” what emotions a wolf is going through.
To conclude, the reason behind the wolf’s pointy ears has a complex history that’s still not very well understood.
Today, we can make some claims according to some theories that have been presented to us by researchers, but the real information and evidence are still not very well discovered.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that domestication played an important role in the development of a dog’s ears and why wolves retained pointy ears while dogs developed floppy ears.