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 Wolf Behavior

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PostSubject: Wolf Behavior    Fri Nov 02, 2012 11:29 pm

The social structure of a wolf pack is all important. Breeding, hunting, and feeding are tied to it, as is territorial maintenance and play behaviour. Generally speaking, there are three separate social structures in the pack; a hierachy of males, a hierachy of females, and a more seasonally related cross-sexual structure. There is typically an 'alpha' or primate, male that dominate other males, and an alpha female that dominates other females. They are also known as the alpha pair which is often the breeding pair but there are a good number of cases in captivity and in the wild where a lower ranking male has bred with the alpha female with the alpha expressing apparent disinterest.

Females may occassionally head packs and they always strongly influence pack activities and sometimes outlast a succession of male alpha animals. It is females, moreover, who decide where to den and thus where the pack will have to hunt for the next 5-6 weeks. Young females are thought to be slightly faster than young males and therefore better hunters under some circumstances.

When the pups are born in spring, the entire pack pitches in to raise them. The non-breeding, lower ranking wolves baby-sit and roughhouse with the pups, teaching what they need to know. Pup discipline, handed out sparingly, is firm but not harsh. When an adult is fed up with an annoying pup, he might gently pin the youngster to the ground until it yelps. It is during these many play sessions that a young pup would soon develop the social skills required to find it own place in the hierachy of the pack.

The social rank of the individual wolves in the pack is enforced by a fascination set of body positions and movements, facial expressions, by intimidation, and by harassment. The order of ranking within the pack is often challenged and therefore it is not all that surprising to see changes throughout the seasons. Although wolves rarely fight to inflict wounds, they use a variety of expressions and body postures in 'ritual confrontations' - fights acted out according to set patterns.

Dominant Postures
Include walking with head held high, tail partly erect, standing stiff-legged, baring their teeth aggressively, eyes directed straight to other wolves. Dominant animals may show raised hackles, may growl, and may side-swipe or body-slam into subordinate animals, sometimes pinning them to the ground. They may show upright ears, or a wrinkled forehead. They may seize the muzzle of subordinates, and nip or bite them.

Dominant animals tend to be the first one to eat at kills, the first to attack in aggressive encounters with other packs, and tend to have breeding rights not enjoyed by lower-ranked individuals but this is not always the case. They usually urinate in a standing position, with raised hind leg.

Subordinate Postures
Include lowered tails (in extreme submission curled right under the body), ears folded back, the peeling of back of lips to form a submissive 'grin', crouching or lowered body positions, and urinating in a squat position.

Subordinate animals may lick a superior wolf's muzzle, or lie on its side, raising a hind leg to expose the groin area or bend its head back to expose the throat area to the superior. In extreme submission, they may urinate on itself. Subordinate animals have been seen whining or squealing in submission to superior wolves, while making timid small steps toward superiors with lifted up.

Often these gestures, recall the behaviour of pups, for example rolling over and exposing the belly, or licking the superior wolf's mouth as if begging for food. By these actions, the submissive wolves seems to be trying to remove the threat by bringing out parental feelings in the dominant wolf. The ritual confrontation confirms the pack leadership and preserve the peace.

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As mentioned in the previous section, the social ranking of pack animals is not fixed; as wolves sexually mature, reach old age, become wounded or ill, or alter alliances with other pack members, the social ranking of each individual moves up or down the lupine social ladder. If one of the alpha pair dies or becomes weakened, the next dominant animal, known as the beta wolf, will take its place.

Wolves are generally very affectionate towards other pack members. They greet each other with excited tail-wagging and face-licking. The alpha male is rarely aggresive with the members of his pack, and can actually be quite tolerant of them, as if encouraging them and keeping up their morale.

ggression between pack members seems to be most common between female members of the pack, especially in captivity. It is most evident during mating season when the alpha female asserts herself and sometimes fight to keep other females in estrus away from the alpha male, and the alpha males fights, less vigorously it seems, to keep other males from the alpha female. It is not known whether it is the alpha male that normally fathers the pups, but they are almost always whelped by the alpha female.

One of the alpha wolf's most important social functions, is to help maintain the even temper and cohesiveness of the group which in turn was one of the reasons why wolves are one of the most successful and prolific creature in the animal kingdom before the interference of men. If the alpha wolf loses his high position to another wolf, he may also lose his ability to serve the pack in this unique way - the function generally belongs to the office of the top wolf, not the individual who happens to hold that rank. In this manner, the wolf is rather unique from the other animals. In fact, their pack dynamic seems to be an ecletic mix of rigidity in that there is an obvious chain of disciplined command and fluidity in that a wolf can easily move up and down and even sideways of that chain depending on the right circumstances.

Lone Wolf

Not all wolves live as part of a pack. A 'lone wolf' is usually a young animal which has left to find a mate and a place to start a pack of its own, but some are old or sick animals that have become outcasts. Some subordinate animals leave the pack as a result of physical and mental harassment, intimidation and hunger from inadequate food supplies while some alpha animal that have been deposed may also become lone wolves.

Lone wolves travel over areas 10-20 times greater than an established pack and travel the longest distance when they are cast out. They keep a low profile when crossing pack territory, rarely howling or scent-marking until they claim their own territory. They may live on the edge of the pack or move away to join existing packs or form a new one. A lone wolf haunting at the fringes of a pack may be chased off, killed or accepted by the pack. Sometimes when individual pack members die, lone wolves may even move in to fill the gap caused by the death.

Life is dangerous for the lone wolf. Deprieved of the protection of the pack and their inability to catch sufficient prey sometimes, many do not survive long.
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