Wolves Are High Stakes Gamblers
It’s time for another Fluff Piece Friday. In case you’re new to this, the fluff piece is about animals that are sometimes featured in horror, and that deserve a little love as well. This week we are going to talk about wolves.
When we hear the word wolf, some people think of majestic animals howling toward the moon, others see them as blood thirsty pests. Both of these can be true, but I like to think of them as animals who are trying to scrape out a life in the wilderness where food can be scarce; animals that are smarter than we give them credit for and who have formed tightly knit packs to increase their odds of surviving. A dog is considered man’s best friend but the wolf is something else: usually, the enemy. But one thing we didn’t know is that wolves are gamblers, while our familial pets are more cautious when it comes to food.
I have often heard the trope ‘only gamble with what you can afford to lose,’ and walking through a Vegas casino usually puts knots in my stomach, I can’t afford to lose much. While on the other hand I see people sitting at the slot machines, pulling that handle (or pressing the button) hoping for reels to land in their favor, and so it is with wolves.
In a recent study researchers at the Wolf Science Center in Ernstbrunn, Austria, tested seven wolves and seven dogs all from different packs. The animals were trained that under each upside-down bowl was a tasty food pellet. But under a second bowl, would be a nice juicy piece of meat or an inedible stone: a 50-50 chance of being either one. What did this study find?
In 80% of the trials, the wolves chose to gamble trying to get the meat, while the dogs only chose to gamble 58% of the time, taking the more cautious route. What’s the reasoning behind this?
Wolves’ lives are hard. They have to stalks and hunt their prey which is risky and dangerous. It is better to have a bold wolf that can take down large game, rather than cations wolves that only get mere morsels; a rabbit won’t feed the pack. If there are several wolves, gambling it is more likely that the reels will hit for one of them, thus they all share in the winnings. Dogs, however, broke away from the wolves thousands of years ago when they were domesticated by humans, and the price they pay for a more steady supply of food, is their lives are regulated by us.
This study falls into line with other papers that look at animals with an uncertain food supply. Chimpanzees that hunt other monkeys and feed on seasonal fruit are more likely to gamble.