Even gray wolves like to cool off in the summer with juicy watermelons, as long as those melons are stuffed with pig ears, cheese and dog biscuits. The Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana raises the canids in captivity for research and educational purposes. Every July, the wolves get a watermelon filled with goodies.
This wolf's name is Renki.
Wolfgang, the watermelon-wielding wolf shown here, gets more than just a snack. He puts his natural instincts and abilities to use when presented with the challenge of digging treats out of a melon.
"Giving the wolves enrichment materials, like watermelons, presents the animals with an opportunity to make choices," Elizabeth Rose, the Wolf Park's managing director, told Discovery News. "Giving animals in captivity the chance to make choices helps reduce boredom and keeps their minds in shape, as well as their bodies."
Although wolves tend to hunt livelier prey than watermelons in the wild, the animals use many of the same motor skills and social behaviors they would use while foraging, hunting and sharing a kill.
Renki tends to get the most exited when he gets his watermelon treat, Rose said.
Renki defends his melon, much like a wild wolf would defend a hunk of elk. The Wolf Park staff explains the animals' behaviors to visitors during the melon party.
The Wolf Park opened in 1972 and has held the Watermelon Party for 13 years. The idea for the party came after park staff noted that the wolves were looking longingly at watermelon slices that the humans were eating during a July 4th celebration.
Rose noted that normally the staff don't eat in front of the wolves. However, on that 4th of July someone decided to let the wolf try some watermelon and a tradition was born.
The wolves will receive another seasonal treat in autumn, when the Wolf Park throws the Pumpkin Party.
Life isn't all fruit parties for these wolves. They help scientists research the behavior of canids, the animal group that contains dogs.
Some recent research has focused on the ability of wolves to learn from other wolves, as well as comparisons between dog and wolf behavior in relation to humans.
An Australian shepherd dog may be able to outwit an Irish setter, but research suggests wolves are really the top-dogs in intelligence compared with their domesticated cousins, according to Rose.
Now for a human intelligence test: What is the linguistic connection between this cantaloupe and Fiona, the wolf that is gnawing on the melon?
Answer: The word cantaloupe derived from the Italian for "singing wolf."
The village of Cantalupo, Italy may be where the melon was first bred. The village might have gotten its name from wolves that once roamed the area.
Now, real singing wolves rarely howl around Cantalupo, Italy for the same reasons that wolves face danger in many areas around the world.
In the U.S. wolves were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2011. Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Wyoming now allow some degree of wolf hunting.
Despite humans, wolves still maintain a huge range over North America, Europe and Asia. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature list gray wolves as a species of least concern.