Alpha, Beta, Delta, Omega – sounds like some college fraternity that couldn’t pick a name. These are the names that have been used to describe the wolf pack hierarchy for many years, until more recently. The human race has a habit of wanting to put things into categories and nice little tidy boxes with well-meaning labels. However, the more research into this specific topic revealed something particularly interesting when it comes to wolves. There are no labels, no boxes, and no categories. Everything is done for the good of the pack. All of the disputes, the howling, the playing, the hunting – it is all done to ensure the pack’s survival and continuation of the future generations. If this sounds simple and underwhelming, it is. But it is also what makes packs successful.
Wolves have existed for such a long time doing what they do, adapting and changing with their ecosystems, ensuring pack survival. There are leaders, and there are followers in that pack, just as there are in most similar species. For a very long time, it was thought that the Alphas were the leaders of the pack. To be clear, there are leaders, those who take the lead in a hunt, those who get to eat the good bits first, and those that lay down the law and make sure that the subordinates know where they stand. But every wolf in the pack has something they do, some better than others, some because that is the place they have been put in and have to do what is required. The “higher” in the pack, the more freedoms are enjoyed.
There is a breeding pair in the pack which was typically thought of as the alphas, but this has been proven to be more of a “mom and dad” type of scenario, as usually only the one pair mate. There are betas, those who are the “generals” of the group, or the second in command, just under the “alphas.” Then, of course, there are the subordinates, those who have their places in the pack that still have important jobs to do. There are the babysitters who watch the pups when the pack is out hunting or enforcing their territory. There is typically one omega, the lowest wolf on the totem pole, who has done something to get themselves demoted to this position. While they do tend to get the most negative attention, they also serve a purpose. The omega is a necessary position in the pack that, if done well, tends to alleviate tension in the pack, as they will instigate play, which helps to keep the pack focused on the necessary things. Depending on pack size, there can also be scouts, hunters, protectors/watchers, and many other positions.
Typically, a pack consists of 6 to 10 wolves, but there have been packs that have had a lot more, such as one of the packs that was in Yellowstone National Park. However, as you can imagine, not everyone stays with the original pack. Usually, the males will leave to find or create a pack of their own. Sometimes the females will be swayed away from their pack by an outsider male. While pack dynamics can change many times throughout the life of one generation, a good leader will keep the pack going, and it will be successful. This is the ultimate example of working together for the greater good of the group.
For now, reach for the stars, believe in yourself, and howl at the moon for the sheer joy of it. Forever Follow the Wolf.Written By Samantha Ford
National Geographic Documentary – Inside the Wolfpack
The Hidden Lives of Wolves