It started with a simple enough question, "Why are these dogs sneezing so much?" But the subsequent research has led to a fascinating theory: The dogs, specifically African wild dogs in Botswana, use their sneezes to vote on pack activity, reports Atlas Obscura. "The sneeze acts as some kind of signal that shapes decision-making," Reena Walker, a student at Brown University and a research technician at the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, tells National Geographic. She is co-author of a new study on the dogs in the journal The Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The team didn't set out to study sneezing, but quickly became intrigued by what looked like a quorum. Following five packs, they were able to document that when an alpha dog sneezed during a "rally," or gathering, a total of three sneezes among the group resulted in a hunt. When a lesser dog sneezed, that number rose to 10, but still ultimately resulted in the decision to hunt. African wild dogs are among the world's most endangered species, per the BBC, and are considered opportunistic predators who hunt animals such as gazelles. Quorums, by the way, are also used by meerkats and other social carnivores, another researcher says, though sneezing seems to be unique to the dogs. (Check out what this guy sneezed out.)