If you’ve been looking for a way to scientifically disprove the bros at your local pub the next time they start a discussion about pecking order, it seems as if your time may have arrived.
Because here’s the thing: wolf packs don’t actually have alpha males (or females) at all.
Thanks to the term itself and all of the ensuing pop culture references, the truth has been lost – which is that wolf packs are more of a family unit than anything.
Most wild packs consist of two parents and their offspring, and though the adult wolves are in charge, it’s because they’re the parents and the only full-grown wolves, not because they’re “alpha.”
Thomas Cable, the leader of the Voyageurs Wolf Project, explained in more detail to IFLScience.
“For a while, there was a big emphasis on the hierarchy within a pack which has been replaced, to an extent, with the idea that packs are largely familial units. But I think it is easy ot go too far the other way and think of wolf packs as a nice happy family where everyone gets alone. And certainly that can be the case, but there also is fierce competition between pack mates for resources and wolves often disperse from or leave their packs, likely due, in part, to competition for food and other resources with their pack mates.”AdvertisementAdvertisement
The term alpha male began while researching captive wolves, who behave very differently from those living in the wild.
When animal behaviorist Rudolf Schenkel wrote about wolves in 1947, he was describing the animals he observed at Basel Zoo in Switzerland. There, he saw that the highest-ranked male and female formed a pair and that the hierarchy could change, and his work gave credence to the idea of the “alpha wolf.”
Prior to that there was Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe, a Norwegian zoologist who worked with chickens in the 1920s. He referred to those at the top of the pecking order in the coop as “alpha hens,” which referred to the dominant female in the group.
Roosters, interestingly, are not part of the pecking order conversation at all.
Almost all research completed on wolves was done on captive animals, and the researchers involved have all come forward saying it is outdated – particularly the idea of the alpha male dominant wolf.
In 1999, Dr. L. David Mech, a scientist and wolf researcher, published a glut of research disproving the misunderstandings surrounding wolf social behavior. He observed wild wolves on Ellesmere Island, Canada, and published the fact that the “alpha” pair were simply the parents of the remainder of the pack.
“In natural wolf packs, the alpha male and female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and the dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none.”
Young wolves eventually split off from their family units to find opposite-sex partners and breed, forming new packs.
Wolf partners are largely monogamous and do not change partners except in the case of death. Despite popular belief, there are also almost no fights between male offspring and their fathers, either.
“Most wolf pairings involve single wolves merely meeting up with potential mates and pair-bonding with them.
I know of no situations where two or more males fight to gain access, although that is a very hard situation to observe in the wild.”Advertisement
So, to become an “alpha male,” a wolf only has to convince a lady to mate with him for life.
Good luck out there.