Wolves May Not Need to be Smart to Hunt in Packs

By Veronique Greenwood | October 26, 2011 3:31 pm

Wolves have been observed working together to ambush a prey animal, leading researchers to consider whether they are displaying foresight, planning, and other signs of impressive smarts. But new work suggests that as long as each wolf obeys a couple simple rules, the seemingly complex behavior emerges naturally, without any need for higher intelligence.

Using a computer model, researchers had each virtual “wolf” follow two rules: (1) move towards the prey until a certain distance is reached, and (2) when other wolves are close to the prey, move away from them. These rules cause the pack members to behave in a way that resembles real wolves, circling up around the animal, and when the prey tries to make a break for it, one wolf sometimes circles around and sets up an ambush, no communication required.

Just because certain aspects of pack hunting could be emergent—arising from the interplay of certain basic rules—rather than the fruits of intelligence doesn’t mean that they necessarily are, nor does it mean that wolves are dumb. But it does suggest that pack hunting isn’t necessarily the reason that wolves form packs, which opens up space for evolutionary biologists to jump and discuss why, if not for hunting, wolves live the way they do.

[via New Scientist]

Image courtesy of Doug Smith / US Park Service


  • Julie

    Emergence. My favorite behavior!

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Heh. That was basically the discussion in the Discover Web dept.

  • http://www.nullnor.com nullnor

    im pretty sure it’s the druidpeak wolfpack. i know that picture. i think the bison got away.

    i disagree with the article. watch the youtube video the battle of kruger. in that video those lions did many things. they had a complex system of communication, vocal and touch. and they had a plan to scare off the adults while going for the smaller prey. not to mention it was more or less a training exercise for the cubs.

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    @nullnor: As Veronique said, this doesn’t in any way mean that wolves are not intelligent, just that complex- and strategic-looking hunting behavior could emerge from simple rules in the absence of intelligence. So if you ever find yourself surrounded by wolfbots that seem to be slyly surrounding you, take heart! They may just be dumb drones following two simple rules.

    According to the NPS, it’s Mollie’s wolf pack, in Pelican Valley. http://www.nps.gov/yell/photosmultimedia/Wolves-of-Yellowstone.htm


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar