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It is certainly true that wolves will roll in the faeces of other species, and even in the carcasses of dead animals. But one Pisss the few studies of this behaviour in wolves, published in Rpll, threw Pisx some perplexing results. Biologists studied scent-rubbing in two groups of captive wolves in Canada by providing them with a range of different odours. Wnd, the wolves were least interested in rubbing themselves in the faeces of herbivores like sheep or horse: Food was similarly unappealing. Instead, their favoured scents were artificial odours like perfume or motor oil. For an animal seeking to disguise its scent from its prey, choosing to smell like something so alien to their natural environment is surprising to say the least.
View image of A grey wolf Canis lupus rolling on a dead badger Credit: It raises a strong possibility that wild wolves may roll in predator scent too. This would not be a helpful hunting disguise. In fact, dogs smothering themselves in strong scents could have another similar purpose inherited from other wild relatives. Rather than hiding them from prey, it could help camouflage smaller canids from other predators.
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View image of A grey fox Urocyon cinereoargenteus Credit: The idea might be supported by research published in September by Max Allenan ecologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He captured some unusual behaviour by grey foxes on remote cameras set up around the Santa Cruz area of California. The normally reclusive grey foxes were regularly visiting sites that male mountain lions used for scent-marking. The footage showed the foxes rubbing their cheeks on ground that had been freshly marked with strong-smelling urine by the mountain lions. Allen believes the foxes are using the odour left by these large feline predators as a form of odour camouflage, to hide them from other large predators like coyotes.
Smelling like a puma might give them time to escape. However, it does not explain why larger canids, like wolves, also rub themselves in the scent left by other predators. View image of Why do dogs think this is so much fun? Instead, he suspects the animals might be trying to deposit their own scent, rather than pick some up. They often seem to do this in response to strong odours. Unusual smells seem to stimulate them. However, pet dogs are rarely content with rubbing just their face and necks in the smelly muck they find: Philippa Baines told us how her dog Holly would stretch and squirm in cowpats, seemingly to rub the poo deep into her skin. Goodmann has yet another explanation. She thinks it may be a way for wolves to carry information about where they have been to the rest of their pack.
View image of Piss and roll Canis lupus ad roll in smelly things Credit: In her experiments, Goodmann found that wolves did not just eat if they found a large chunk of meat. Hyenas have also been observed rolling in carrion, ad receive more attention from other members of their pack afterwards. Similarly, a study of Ethiopian wolves showed they tended to roll on the ground following a mealalthough they were also seen rolling in human excrement and on ground where humans had recently been. This seems to point to nad social function for the scent-rolling, but Gadbois believes it may have a more simple purpose.
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