How is Wolfpack organized?
Human beings have respected and even worshipped the wolf for millennia. Though the number of wolf-worshippers has dwindled over the years, wolves still command a certain amount of respect. Anyone who follows pop culture or sports knows that wolves represent a lot of desirable qualities like courage, resilience, and honor. But wolves are more than just a symbol. A lot of their behavioral traits have proven to be of scientific interest. Out of these, the most prominent and probably the most recognizable is how they work in a tight-knit and efficient group - the wolfpack.
Researchers have found that the average wolfpack bears an uncanny resemblance to human extended families. Unlike many other animals that lead solitary lives apart from mating, once a wolf forms a bond, it doesn’t break until it dies. Besides, just like humans do, adult wolves bring up wolf pups. Sometimes, wolves even take care of their pups’ pups, or their ‘grandpups’ if you will. In this article, we will delve deeper into the structure of a wolfpack and its function in everyday life.
The general structure of a Wolfpack
In general, carnivores are not the most social of animals - to them, fresh meat is more valuable than anything else. However, wolves have always had to survive in unique and unforgiving habitats. This challenge has led to the evolution of the wolfpack, as they slowly realized that they would be much stronger together than alone. The wolfpack is easily the most complex social unit in the animal kingdom, apart from human families. Wolves behave differently towards their parents or their siblings, just like humans do. The wolfpack has plenty of rules to follow, but the most important one is that anything they do should be for the good of the entire pack. The pack has certain hierarchical levels with wolves on the lower levels bowing down to the ones on the higher levels. However, a sense of unity among the pack prevails.
If you want to feel like a true member of the American Wolves pack, make sure you always wear a wolf necklace for the other wolves to recognize you.
The oldest, most crucial wolf of the pack is the Alpha. There is sometimes an Alpha pair, the most aged male and female. Next in the hierarchy are one or two adult wolves who are poised to take over the role of Alpha once the current Alphas die. These wolves are the Betas. Below the Betas and above the lowest rank, there is no strict ranking system in place. These wolves in the middle usually have varying roles depending on the requirements of the pack. The lowest rank is the Omega wolf. The Omega wolf leads the most challenging life and takes the fall for any of the pack’s mistakes.
In most cases, females are less important than males of the same rank. This social ranking system is only observed in adult wolves. Pups are excluded from the system until they attain maturity and start hunting.
How wolfpacks are formed
In essence, wolfpacks are the equivalent of human families. So a wolfpack is formed when a male and a female that aren’t part of a pack decide to mate and have pups. Wolfpacks are also created in the rare occasion of an Alpha pair being overthrown. Sometimes, if the conditions are particularly unforgiving, Omegas can leave a pack and start one of their own. Dominant pups can leave the pack when they become adults instead of taking the usual route of becoming a Beta and then an Alpha. New packs being formed are relatively rare, as existing wolfpacks will most likely be hostile. Also, it will be hard to claim territory.
The Alpha Wolf
The Alpha, or more often the Alpha pair, is the dominant couple of the pack. The Alphas are usually the only wolves in the pack who mate and have pups. Hence they are sometimes called the breeding pair. In rare cases, when the environment is suitable, and prey is easy to come by, multiple wolves will have litters. Since the Alphas are the highest-ranking wolves of the pack, they have command over every other wolf of the pack. The other wolves, in return, recognize their supremacy and follow their lead. In the rare event that a lower-ranked wolf decides to challenge an Alpha for dominance, they fight each other. If the lower wolf loses, the pack chases it away, it becomes a lone wolf or forms its pack. If the Alpha loses, it almost always leaves along with its mate and creates a new wolfpack.
The Alpha pair make every decision for the pack. They decide on when to hunt and how, as wolves sometimes hunt in a formation and with different strategies. They also make territorial decisions. More often than not, wolfpacks stay away from each other’s territories. They do everything they can to keep it that way, such as marking their territories. However, every once in a while, an Alpha might see fit to invade another pack’s territory. The most common cause is a lack of prey. When such an encroachment occurs, a fight takes place. The defending wolves do not shy away from killing - it is only in self-defense.
The Alphas don’t always put the pack before them. After a hunt, they get the first and most significant share of the spoils. This privilege is irrespective of how much work they put in. However, the Alphas typically lead the hunt.
You can't pretend to be a true leader without wearing a wolf ring. It is the sigh of your leadership over the pack.
The Beta Wolf
The Beta wolf or pair is the second-in-command to the Alphas. A Beta couple’s primary role is to take control of the pack if the Alpha male dies. As is expected, every other wolf in the pack except for the Alphas answer to the Betas. A Beta’s day-to-day roles aren’t as well-defined as those of an Alpha or Omega. However, its position in the pack is more stable than that of the mid-ranking wolves. The behavior of Alphas and Betas often bears similarities to how people commanding organizations behave. The Alphas carry themselves with the most poise and attitude while the Betas do the same on a lower scale.
Though Beta wolves are in prime position to assume control of the pack, only rarely would they directly challenge an Alpha. Like any other wolf, they understand their role and are loyal to the pack. Moreover, Beta wolves usually show no interest in the potential position they could reach. In some unusual cases, Betas have been observed to be friendlier than usual with the lower-ranked wolves to gain their support.
Similar to any society, the distribution of ranks in a wolfpack follows a bell curve. The roles of wolves ranked between a Beta, and an Omega are quite vague. However, this proves to be an advantage more often than not. Just like any commander needs his army of soldiers, an Alpha pair needs their pack of nameless wolves. But that doesn’t mean that these wolves have no rank at all. There are fine rungs within these middle ranks, and there are constant quarrels to climb ranks. It is rare for a mid-ranking wolf to rise enough to displace a Beta. However, the possibility of being demoted to Omega status is genuine. However, the fights for dominance are minor. In general, these wolves take care of the pack and have varying responsibilities.
The Omega Wolf is the diametric opposite of the Alpha. While the Alpha has supreme control over the pack, every wolf in it can assert its dominance over the Omega. While there may be more than one Omega in a pack, they never bond with each other, unlike Alphas. This behavior is because the Alpha pair never allows two Omegas to mate, presumably because Omegas have the least useful characteristics of the pack, and as such, their pups would be more of the same. When in the presence of other wolves, Omegas keep their heads bowed down, and their tails tucked between their legs. This behavior is exhibited by any wolf facing a higher-ranking wolf.
The Omegas always get the last pick after a hunt, even going hungry if there’s not enough for the other wolves. If they try to take more than their share, the others hound them until they give up. However, their role is a lot more critical than that of most mid-ranking wolves. Omega wolves often initiate play with the pups, pretending to be prey so that they can be “hunted.” They sometimes do this with adults, too, to lighten the mood of the pack. During these play sessions, they always concede defeat, in true Omega fashion. Sometimes, the other wolves just need to let off some steam, and they take to asserting dominance over the Omega. The Omega has no choice but to endure the relentless biting and scratching. This isn’t necessarily bad, though - being a part of a pack has its benefits.
The wolfpack is more complicated than we think. In long-lasting wolfpacks, we can observe the kind of camaraderie that exists between old friends. Some researchers even claim that some wolves’ actions are based on something close to emotion. At its base, however, the need for a wolfpack arises from the need for survival. The “lone wolf” is often unnecessarily romanticized. In reality, a lone wolf leads a harsh and unforgiving existence, and then either joins a pack out of necessity or dies.