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Social Behavior and Structure Empty Social Behavior and Structure

Post by Strong on Tue Aug 30, 2011 10:49 am

Social Behavior and Structure

In popular literature, wolf packs are often portrayed as strictly hierarchical social structures with a breeding "Alpha" pair which climbs the social ladder through fighting, followed by "Beta" wolves and a low ranking "Omega" which bears the brunt of the pack's aggression.

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This terminology is based heavily on the behavior of captive wolf packs composed of unrelated animals, which will fight and compete against each other for status. Also, as dispersal is impossible in captive situations, fights become more frequent than in natural settings. In the wild, wolf packs are little more than nuclear families whose basic social unit consists of a mated pair, followed by its offspring.

Northern wolf packs tend not to be as compact or unified as those of African wild dogs, though they are not as unstable as those of coyotes. Southern wolves are more similar in social behavior to coyotes and dingoes, living largely alone or in pairs. The average pack consists of 5–11 animals; 1–2 adults, 3–6 juveniles and 1–3 yearlings, though exceptionally large packs consisting of 42 wolves are known.

Wolf packs rarely adopt other wolves into their fold, and typically kill them. In the rare cases where strange wolves are adopted, the 'adoptee' is almost invariably a young animal of 1–3 years of age, while killed wolves are mostly fully grown. The adoption of a new member can be a lengthy process, and can consist of weeks of exploratory, non-fatal attacks in order to establish whether or not the newcomer is trustworthy.

Social Behavior and Structure 3713

During times of ungulate (hoofed mammals like elk and bison) abundance (migration, calving etc.), different wolf packs may temporarily join forces. Wolves as young as five months and as old as five years have been recorded to leave their packs to start their own families, though the average age is 11–24 months. Triggers for dispersal include the onset of sexual maturity and competition within the pack for food and breeding.

Order is maintained by a dominance hierarchy. The pack leader, usually a male, is known as the Dominant Male, and tends to initiate pack activity and lead the group on hunts. During a hunt, the Dominant Male will guide its movements and assume control at critical moments.

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