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January's full moon is known as the wolf moon. Do wolves really howl at a full moon?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The first full moon of the year comes later this month, and it has got a name.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

January is the time of the wolf moon. The "Old Farmer's Almanac" says it got the nickname because wolves were likely to be heard howling in midwinter.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOLVES HOWLING)

MARTIN: But - and I confess, I have wondered about this - do wolves really howl at the moon?

MICHELLE MANCINI: They don't necessarily howl under the full moon. There's not a mystical element behind it.

MARTIN: That's Michelle Mancini with the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania. And she says the pack may be howling during full moons for other reasons.

MANCINI: Being that they're not true nocturnal animals, their eyesight isn't super great at night. It's a little bit better than ours, but it's not super high-powered night vision, so they're more likely to actually succeed at hunting under the light of the full moon when it's bright out. And then they might rally the pack together to come to dinner.

INSKEEP: Plus they're winter animals, she says. So they do howl more during the colder seasons simply because they are excited and happy. The lore has Celtic roots, according to Peter Plavchan, a physics and astronomy professor at George Mason University.

PETER PLAVCHAN: It was thought to be that if you heard wolves howling during the January full moon, they were hungry, so it got the nickname of the wolf moon.

MARTIN: In the tradition of the lunar calendar, each month's full moon has a nickname - like February is the snow moon, and June is the strawberry moon.

INSKEEP: So when the wolf moon rises later this month, you can join the pack in looking skyward.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOLVES HOWLING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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