Through the chill of winter
running across a frozen lake
Hunters hard on his trail
all odds are against him
With a family to provide for
but there’s one thing he must keep alive
Will the wolf survive?
(Excerpt from Los Lobos fine tune “Will The Wolf Survive?”)
On their own, probably not, For the most part, wolves are social creatures and prefer the company of members of their own species. Just like us humans, you’ll occasionally run into a loner or two but in the wolf world, they’re usually few and far between.
Believe it or not, your average wolfpack is not a group of German submarines (although I can see the similarities) but rather a very structured and highly complex group of wolves who have banded together to make life in the wild a little easier for all of them.
For the most part, your run of the mill wolfpack usually consists of anywhere between six and eight members. Naturally, this can vary widely depending on a bunch of things like the amount of prey available, the size of the territory in which they roam and how many other competing wolfpacks are in the area. For instance, let’s suppose that for whatever reason, the wolves prey such as elk has vanished and they have taken to eating smaller things like rodents and such. Add to the mix that there are a lot of other wolves in the area competing for the same food sources. Nature, in its infinite wisdom, will cause the alpha female in the pack not to cycle and it might be awhile before any new pups are born. One less mouth to feed makes it easier to survive. Of course, the opposite is also true, if food is plentiful, chances are that more pups will born.
Leader Of The Pack
As with most other animals that tend to hunt or travel in packs, one usually emerges as the leader. In wolf terminology, these are referred to as the alpha male and alpha female. Most of the time, these are the only two in the pack that are allowed to mate and bring little wolf pups into the world. They are also usually the only two members of the pack who are genetically unrelated. We all know what too much inbreeding can do and nature has seen fit to keep that from occurring if at all possible. There are sometimes when brother wolves will mate with sister wolves but those occasions are rare and usually only occur when no other options are available over long periods of time.
In rare instances, some packs will have males that emerge that are also allowed to mate with the alpha female. These are referred to as beta males and are usually the brother of the alpha male.
We all know that with leadership comes responsibility. The alphas of the pack are the ones who decide when and where the pack will travel, the play schedule for the pups and when and where to hunt.
There is no “I” in team
Learning the value of teamwork starts early for the wolves. The younger females in the pack often go through a false pregnancy and wind up playing a sort of wet nurse to the alpha female if there are many pups to care for. The younger males often bring food or stand guard over the den and the younger pups when they go out hunting. Very few make it on their own and each pack member takes on their own set of responsibilities to ensure that the greater good is being served.
When you live that close to each other, there’s bound to be disagreements or squabbles. Even we humans have probably got into a spat with our family members or close relationships in our lifetimes. Wolves are no different. When disagreements do occur, there’s usually a baring of the teeth and a bunch of snarling and snapping at each other. Should it be so serious as to escalade into a full fledged fight, the alpha male will often step in and break things up. Should one of the members prove to be a habitual offender and cause too many problems, other members of the pack will often gang up on him/her and run them off to fend for themselves or to try and join another pack.
Not On My Turf
Well established wolfpacks are also very, very territorial and will battle to the death against other marauding packs intent on invading their well established boundaries. Long time pack members are fiercely loyal to each other and will often try and keep the pack together even in the event that the alpha male or alpha female meet an untimely demise.
Just like us humans, wolves have their own little telltale signs to indicate how they are feeling and what their status is in the pack. Chances are, you’ll never see the alpha male or female rolling on their back in front of the other members of the pack. This might be construed as a sign of weakness or submission by the other members and plant an idea in their head that they are vulnerable.
In humans, we can often tell how another person is feeling by reading the expression on their face. To some degree, the same can be said for wolves. Scientists have observed that when a wolf pins its ears back and draws it lips away from its teeth, they are feeling a little insecure about the goings on. If its ears are forward and you get a full glance of their pearly whites, it’s probably time to move on. That’s a sign of full fledged aggression and the threat of attack is imminent.
Howling at the moon
We’ve probably all seen a picture of the lone wolf howling at the moon. Its ears are back, its head is pointed skyward and its mouth is like a little “o” as it bays its lonely cry.
The thing is, as romantic as that sounds, they are not “lonely” at all. What they’re really trying to do is locate other members of their pack and when their cries are answered they usually gather and howl as group.
All in all, wolfpacks are pretty much a microcosm of what it takes to survive in the world. Family, friends and cooperation go a long way in making life just a little bit easier, no matter what species or circle you happen to travel in.
Did You Know?
That wolves live a feast or famine lifestyle? They have been known to go for two weeks without food with little or no side effects.
That your average pack of six wolves will usually eat about 800 pounds of meat in any given month. That’s about two elk and a small deer thrown in for an appetizer.
That in one sitting after a fresh kill, each adult wolf will scarf down anywhere between 21 to 32 pounds of fresh meat at a time? They then stagger away much like a drunk in the night only to return to the carcass many times over the next days to pick it clean before killing again.
(If anybody can tell me if this should be re-titled wolf pack, please let me know. Thanks.)