African wild dogs use sneezing as a way to determine how many members of the pack are ready to move and hunt, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
There are many ways animals communicate, but there is no doubt this is one of the more unusual. Researchers first noted the behavior while conducting a separate study on the dog’s characteristics.
Researchers found that the more sneezes — or “audible rapid nasal exhalations” — the dogs emitted, the more likely the pack would be to set out on its next hunt. The team came to this conclusion after watching five packs in Botswana engage in a total of 68 gatherings.
Not only are the sneezes used for communication, but they differ based on an individual dog’s social standing as well.
“Rallies never failed when a dominant…individual initiated and there were at least three sneezes, whereas rallies initiated by lower ranking individuals required a minimum of 10 sneezes to achieve the same level of success,” stated the study’s authors, according to NPR.
However, while this process is interesting, the sneezes are hard to properly analyze because they do not count as true votes. This is because each dog is not limited to one sneeze and scientists are not sure if each one is voluntary or some are a natural reaction.
Even so, the findings are important because they shed light on a new process. While the dominant members of a pack hold more power than others, every member has a say in certain decisions depending on how many sneezes they can muster.
African wild dogs are not the only species that makes unique sounds to help with decision making, but they are the only one that uses sneezing as their voting method. Researchers seek to follow up on the study by looking at other animals, and they hope the new findings will bring light to the canines, which are one of the most endangered species in the world.
“They’re absolutely gorgeous animals focused on cooperation and their pack family unit,” says study co-author Reena Walker, a student at Brown University, according to National Geographic. “The more people who are aware [of] how amazing these animals are, the better.”