Wolf Pack Behavior

A photograph of a wolf pack is commonly shared with an inaccurate description of the behavior of wolves.

 

 

 

In December 2015, a photograph of a wolf pack marching through the snow began circulating via Facebook along with an inaccurate description about its hierarchy:

“A wolf pack: the first 3 are the old or sick, they give the pace to the entire pack. If it was the other way round, they would be left behind, losing contact with the pack. In case of an ambush they would be sacrificed. Then come 5 strong ones, the front line. In the center are the rest of the pack members, then the 5 strongest following. Last is alone, the alpha. He controls everything from the rear. In that position he can see everything, decide the direction. He sees all of the pack. The pack moves according to the elders pace and help each other, watch each other.”

Despite the image’s popularity, however, the attached description of the inner workings of a wolf pack are inaccurate. The photograph shown was taken by Chadden Hunter and featured in the BBC documentary Frozen Planet in 2011, with its original description explaining that the “alpha female” led the pack and that the rest of the wolves followed in her tracks in order to save energy:

A massive pack of 25 timberwolves hunting bison on the Arctic circle in northern Canada. In mid-winter in Wood Buffalo National Park temperatures hover around -40°C. The wolf pack, led by the alpha female, travel single-file through the deep snow to save energy. The size of the pack is a sign of how rich their prey base is during winter when the bison are more restricted by poor feeding and deep snow. The wolf packs in this National Park are the only wolves in the world that specialize in hunting bison ten times their size. They have grown to be the largest and most powerful wolves on earth.

While this description is more accurate than the one shared in the viral Facebook post, some researchers would nonetheless dispute the use of the term “alpha.” In David Mech’s 1999 paper “Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs,” he argued that the concept of an “alpha” wolf who asserts his or her dominance over other pack members doesn’t actually exist in the wild:

Labeling a high-ranking wolf alpha emphasizes its rank in a dominance hierarchy. However, in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none.

Thus, calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or a doe deer as an alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so “alpha” adds no information. Why not refer to an alpha female as the female parent, the breeding female, the matriarch, or simply the mother? Such a designation emphasizes not the animal’s dominant status, which is trivial information, but its role as pack progenitor, which is critical information.

This photograph is “real” in the sense that it shows a pack of wolves in Wood Buffalo National Park, but the pack is not being led by the three oldest members and trailed by an “alpha” wolf, as implied by a viral Facebook post. Instead, one of the stronger animals leads the group in order to create a path through the snow for them.

Popular

The Beauty Of Female Body In Vibrant NSFW Photographs By David Dubnitskiy
This is what happens to your body when you stop having sex. No. 3 makes me really scared.
10+ Sexiest Women In Politics You Didn’t Know About
The 40 Most Perfectly Timed Photos You’ll Ever See. You’ll Feel Awful For #25.
Prostitution during the Vietnam War: 30 Color Candid Snapshots Capture Vietnamese Bar Girls from between the Late 1960s and Early 1970s
30+ Fun Photos To Fill Your Weekend
12 Of The Most Terrifying Paintings Ever Created
20+ Art History Memes That Prove Nothing Has Changed In 100s Of Years
10+ Unbelievable Gender Transitions You Won’t Believe Show The Same Person

Latest

A Mother Left Her One-Year-Old Baby Behind In An Empty House. Ten Years Later She Came Back And Demanded…
Chinese Sculptor Spends 4 Years Sculpting World’s Longest Wooden Masterpiece
The Winners Of The Greatest Photoshop Battles
20 Disturbing Pictures Of The World’s Most Polluted Waters
Funny Comics By Polish Artist
Stunning Entries For The 2018 Nat Geo Travel Photographer Of The Year Contest
Pull And Lose Weight! The 5 Best Exercises For Burning Belly Fat
Here’s What The Shape Of Your Fingertips Reveals About Your Personality, What Type Are You?
10+ Times Animals Turned Into Strange Hybrid Creatures In Photoshop