Who is Who in a Wolf Pack?

So, just about everyone knows the roles of Alpha and Omega in a wolf pack. It conjures images of a big buff wolf dominating himself over the other wolves and the tiny omega being picked on by the rest because it’s weaker. This is a false image that society created. Wildlife researchers never knew how complex the hierarchy of a wolf pack until recent years. The average wolf pack size ranges from eight to twelve wolves from a single family unit.

gray-wolf-closeupAlpha – The leaders of the pack are the alpha male and alpha female. A pack begins with this mated pair and only they can reproduce. All members of the pack that follow are the progeny of this first pair. Contrary to popular belief, these wolves are not always the biggest or strongest. However, they are the most dominant and that’s what distinguishes them as the leaders. Alphas carry themselves differently from the rest of the pack with their heads and tails erect over the others. The alphas also display bold, colorful fur markings that are attributed from their diet. Top pickings of the prime organs from a kill do play a role in their fur colorations, as well as their distinct scent that sets them apart from the rest of the pack. If that weren’t enough, even the alphas’ howl is different from the rest. In the choir of howls, they are low and deep in tone and control when the rest of the pack should join in or stop communicating. They may not start the howling, but they quickly take command just like in everything else. The alphas make the decisions on where to sleep, what to hunt, and where they move. They are the nucleus of the pack family.

2a-wolves-photo-holdsworthBeta – Second in command are the Betas. These are the strongest, biggest, and boldest of the pack because they are the enforcers. Sometimes in a pair, and sometimes alone, they reinforce the decisions of the alphas and acting as their bodyguards from the rest of the pack or outside danger. Like the alphas, their scent markings are distinct due to their diet. However, their colorations differ slightly. Along their back, the colors will be broken instead of the bold continuous markings of the alpha. Their howls are also low, but not as low as the alphas’ and they howl for longer periods than the rest to add strength and continuity to the chorus.

two-wolves-638x0_q80_crop-smartMid-Ranking Wolves – Below the beta pair is another pair of slightly less dominant wolves. This pair has a vital role for large packs. The female instructs the other lower ranking females on proper conduct, while the males do likewise. They also serve to make the pack appear larger in number than they really are. Their diet varies more, so their scent markings change constantly. In howls, you can hear them making yipping and barking noises to create the illusion that there are more wolves in the choir than there really are. They receive orders via the betas from the alphas and are always alert to anything new or strange. The more dominant in the pack often rely on them to be aware of their surroundings.

93dd4aeefa8f65ee78d149d921265329Specialists – In every pack, there are wolves who serve a special role in pack operations, just like the beta. You have the hunters, who are often female because of their small size. The hunters instruct the pack on hunting techniques and run drills for the pack prior to going out on hunts. These huntresses also organize the hunt as they are happening. Then, there are the nannies who look after and instruct any new pups that are born into the pack.

jim-and-jamie-dutcher-the-alpha-male-gray-wolf-canis-lupus-dominates-the-omega-wolfOmega – Last but certainly not least, as the omega wolves. They are crucial to pack survival and are responsible for defusing pack tensions and minimizing injuries. In a sense, they are a punching bag for the rest of the pack, but also a court jester. Like any family, wolves quarrel and fight. From an early age, the potential omega sees this and learns how to attract attention towards itself by playing games or acting like a clown. Through instinctual learning, they are able to calm the situation with body posture, facial expressions, and vocal sounds. Even during feeding time, they play a key role in making sure that no wolf gets more than their fair share by allowing themselves to be chased away from the carcass and positions shift around the meal. Without this defusing, the hungry wolves could turn on each other and injuries could occur. At the end, betas allow the omega to feed on some prime portions of the carcass for its efforts. In howls, the omega’s is the most tuneful. It’s vocal patterns range from high to low and bring harmony to the pack’s bouts of howling.


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