Wolves primarily use their tails to gain balance when moving around, but it also has other uses – it is often used for social signaling, as wagging the tail can give off various signals to other wolves about how the wolf feels.
According to Lee Jackson, the curator at the National Zoo, the wolf will wag its tail out of excitement and happiness, just like dogs do.
But unlike dogs, who wag their tails for their owners, wolves will wag their tails when they show submission to more powerful members of the pack.
Let’s take a look at the different uses of the wolf tail and the purpose of the tail for a wolf.
Why Do Wolves Have Tails?
There are several uses of the wolf tail and in some cases, the tail has a similar meaning and purpose to that of the dog tail, but it also has some other important uses that wolves have for the tail that other animals don’t.
Arguably the most important role of the tail for the wolf is to give it balance when it moves, allowing it to move more swiftly and navigate easily among obstacles.
A wolf’s tail is shorter and slightly thicker than that of a dog, but the main purpose still remains the same: balance.
When a wolf moves around, it will wag its tail from side to side. The movement of the tail will oppose the movement of the body to counter the sway that is created by the force of the movement of the body. The stronger the swaying movement of the body, the stronger the wolf will have to move its tail to contain the balance.
Think of it like a plane’s rudder. It helps the plane stay on the right track, just like the tail of the wolf does. It allows it to keep a single, narrow track as compared to other animals like dogs, which have a slightly wider track.
Having a narrower track allows wolves to stay more concealed in nature and it doesn’t give away to other animals that it’s a wolf – instead, the other animals would think that they are the tracks of another animal, allowing it to stay more relaxed and thus unprepared for a potential wolf attack.
Another important use of the wolf tail is to help it move around more efficiently, especially when turning sharply or when running.
The faster the wolf runs and the sharper the turns it makes, the more vigorous the movements of the tail will have to be.
It will help the wolf balance the movement of the body and the body of the wolf will not sway from one side to another as strongly as it would without the tail movement. This can help them to retain energy.
That’s why wolves are so agile and powerful predators. They’re very efficient with their movements and will not waste energy needlessly.
The tail is also important when turning in a completely new direction. When turning sharply, the wolf will use its tail to counter the movement of the turn and balance the body, allowing the wolf to turn faster and not use as much energy in the process.
The tail is just another piece in the wolf’s anatomy, but one of the more important wolves as it allows the wolf to move swiftly and conserve energy when moving, which makes it a more efficient predator on the whole.
3. Social Cues
The wolf’s tail also plays an important role in giving away social cues, and it is seen as one of the clearest signals of submission, especially when wagging it excessively.
Weaker wolves show submission to other, stronger and more powerful wolves.
This submission is an important part of the wolf social structure, which has a clear hierarchy: at the top of the wolf society are alphas, followed by betas. Below them all are omega wolves, which have to adjust to alpha and beta wolves and follow their social cues.
The omega wolves often show signs of submission, which strengthens the wolf pack structure and gives the leading wolf members of the pack a clear idea as to who is in charge of the pack.
One of the main and clearest ways of showing submission is by excessively wagging one’s tail.
If you add to that the submissive body posture, downward head, and whining, then you have these clear signals that a wolf is an omega wolf rather than an alpha or a beta.
So the tail also has a role to play in social interactions and is an equivalent of our social cues which we do with body posture and speaking.
What Would Happen to a Wolf if it Didn’t Have a Tail?
The life of the wolf in the wild would be much tougher and more complicated without a tail. It would not be able to move as swiftly as efficiently in the wild, making them worse hunters, but also easier targets to attack.
The tail plays an important role for the wolf’s movement, and it is one of the most important parts of the wolf’s body when they are predating on other animals.
It gives them a slight advantage over other wild animals when chasing, as it makes them faster and more efficient when turning sharply or when running fast.
This means that without a tail, a wolf would lose the ability to regulate its movement and make it a slightly less capable hunter.
They would also be a bit more vulnerable to other animals and attacks from other wolves and other animals, as they wouldn’t be capable of escaping.
Read Also: What Colors can Wolves Be?
The wolf’s tail seems like a small and unimportant body part for the wolf, but it has many important uses for the animal.
The most important use of the tail is for improved movement. It gives the wolf balance when running and moving around. It is also an important social symbol that some wolves use to show signs of submission.