About a Wolf's Sense of Smell

By Jennifer Mangaly; Updated April 24, 2017
Tundra wolf

In North America, the most common species of wolves are Grey wolves and the Mexican Grey wolves. Wolves usually live in packs of five to eight wolves and use a variety of methods to communicate with each other. Wolves communicate through howling, visual poses and body language. However, their most fully developed sense and communication form is their sense of smell.

The Facts

An animal who is downwind of wolf can tracked by its scent. In good weather conditions, a wolf can smell its prey from about 1.75 miles away. As the pack of wolves moves closer towards the prey, they will maneuver ahead of the prey for final confrontation. Just by its a sense of smell, a wolf can find and identify other pack members. Scientists think the wolves maybe able to tell the age and gender of the wolf by the scents. They can also avoid other predators or enemies by this detection system.


The wolf has two scent glands, one near its rear and another near the base of the tail.These scents can be used to mark the wolf's territory, which can range from 50 to 1,000 square miles. The dominant wolves in pack (both male and female) use raised leg urination to mark the trail with urine and feces every 100 yards. They tend to mark the boundaries of their territory twice as much as the center. These boundaries tell the other wolf packs to stay away and that the area is already occupied. One wolf pack will defend its territory from another wolf pack, if necessary.


A wolf's long nose holds the key to its incredible sense of smell. Wolves have a sense of smell about 100 times greater than humans and they use this keen sense while hunting.
Compared to domestic dogs, most wild wolves have even higher level of scent recognition. In a wolf, the part of the nose that is receptive to smell is nearly 14 times greater than a human nose. Although the wolf's nose excels at scent detection, the smelling surface must be folded many times to fit in such a small area on the wolf's face.


Wolves, like some breeds of dogs, like to roll themselves in a foul-scented items, like a rotting carcass. They first lower their heads and shoulders, then rub to coat the rest of their bodies and fur with the scent. Scientists don't know exactly why wolves "scent-roll," but they have several theories. One theory is that the wolves want to familiarize themselves and the rest of the pack with a particular scent. Another theory is that scent-rolling disguises the wolves' own scent for a particular purpose. The final theory is that scent-rolling makes the wolf appear more attractive to other wolves.


Pheromones are chemical markers that are used to communicate with other wolves. Specialized glands located on the end of the tail, toes, eyes, sexual organs and skin secrete these pheromones, which produce an individualized scent, similar to a human fingerprint. By smelling these pheromones, male wolves can tell when female wolves are ready for mating.

About the Author

Jennifer Mangaly holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in professional writing and international studies. She graduated with honors from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She has worked as a consultant writer and editor for over eight years for a variety of corporate and non-profit clients.