Saturday, April 23, 2022

A Day In The Life Of A Wolf

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Behavior

Ed Hessler

Many of us would like to know how critters spend their time day-by-day, hour -by-hour, even minute-by-minute.  With the advent of smaller and smaller recording devices, sometimes on animals, sometimes on permanent cameras in their habitats we can, including night-watching (infra-red). All of these are relatively non-intrusive data collection methods.

MPR posted a story and video (25m 34s) about one day-in-the life of a wolf (photos taken every 5 minutes). By the way it was 91 degrees that day. The accompanying story provides some details about the day, what the wolf did, including travel long distances, and eat. Additionally, it includes a brief history of the technology that allows us to do this.

The wolf is named O2L.

And if you want to dig a little deeper, this report from the Minnesota DNR on wolf populations in the state is a start.
Even with these limited data, one day, one wolf, one season, one sex you could, if you wanted, develop a time-activity budget, the time the wolf spent during the day on different activities, e.g., grooming, feeding, moving, inactivity, etc. This would require considerable viewing of the tape and deciding on categories; checking and re-checking. The resulting pattern is what is known as an ethogram

But to develop an ethogram for the general category of wolf is a much different matter and would require an inordinate amount of observational and analytical work. You would want males, females, juveniles, seasonal information, and time. I turn our attention to an ethogram developed for a closely related species, Indian stray or free-ranging dogs which provides an idea of what is involved.

The research is briefly reported on by animal behaviorist Raghavendra Gadagkar in his column, More Fun than Fun which he writes for The Wire (October 13, 2021). It is titled What Do Dogs (and Other Animals) Do All Day and All Night?
"The ethogram," Gadagkar reported" came from the combined observations of all the members of (the) ‘Dog Lab’ for 12 years. ... the latest count for the total number of unique dog behaviours is 177 – and counting. But the time-activity budgets were (developed using) the method of instantaneous scanning (described earlier in the column and developed by Gdagkar). Her data constitutes 5,669 sightings over one year.

To make these sightings, Arunita (a graduate student) walked day and night, in predetermined routes and at randomly chosen spots, in several suburban regions of West Benga..... Whenever she saw a dog, she noted, initially in her pocket notebook and later on her phone, the age, sex and behaviour of the dog as well as the date, time and location of the sighting. The observational design included great attention to sampling methods to avoid bias.

The time budget (ethogram) was developed using the sightings and (I love this) "clever statistical techniques," which I translate as gritty work. Gadagkar spares us those details.

You may be interested in the most common activity category: inactivity. It was commonly thought that the dogs were nocturnal, creatures of the night. Turns out they are equal opporunity users of a day, dividing their activity time about equally between day and night.

In closing, Raghavendra Gadagkar comments on how this research might be used as well as inform us on what science is, i.e., its nature. He writes, " Clearly, a scientific understanding of dogs will tell us much – not only about dogs and how we should adapt to them but also about evolution in general and domestication in particular. Being found everywhere and easy to observe and experiment with, dogs are well-suited for both basic research in ethology and behavioural ecology and to produce knowledge relevant to society, especially in the context of human-animal conflict. And yet, so few scientists in India study dogs. Part of the reason seems to be that we have a very narrow definition of what is respectable science and even of science itself."

Some of these comments find parallels in the study above reported on the day in the life of a wolf. The column closes with a lovely statement "about the passionate young researchers being trained in the dog lab" and I add ditto for the wolf researchers here in Minnesota. "May their tribe flourish!" 

The first part of the essay must be read if you find yourself taken with this kind of research, The author describes his own careful PhD. research on insects in the "wild" of a garden and what what was involved and how he did it, including his effort to keep his own biases from intruding. 

Wiki has an entry about the author in which he and his work is described. He is a scientist of some accomplishment.



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