Maybe it’s for their close coexistence with people through the ages. Or maybe it’s because of their shared origins with dogs (after all, the dog is man’s best friend). Let’s take a look at the structure of wolves and see if a pack of wolves is a group or a family.
Normally, herd animals are just animals that move together in a group. However, important conditions arise between these canines. A pack of wolves has a special hierarchy. They basically need to work together to bring down their prey.
Wolves live all over the world. But their herd numbers are much smaller today. This is because of man. The declining number of wolves has mainly to do with conflicts between farm owners and wolves. Due to the enormous ecological success of wolves, there are many subspecies. The main perception, however, is that there are 14 subspecies in which the wolf is divided.
These subspecies have several differences. Due to this, an adult wolf can vary in weight between 10 and 70 kg. The large variation in weight between the different subspecies is the reason why some of them hunt larger animals. As a result, they must have a larger herd to succeed in the task.
In the United States, for example, a pack of wolves with as many as 30 animals has been sighted. For this subspecies of wolf, it is common for them to organize into groups of 20. Small specimens such as the Iberian wolf ( Canis lupus signatus ), form flocks of a maximum of 7 animals. This means that the number of wolves in a herd depends largely on their subspecies and it varies enormously.
The prevailing cultural perception explains the wolves’ social life through the alpha male. This wolf reaches the top of the hierarchy in the herd by showing his physically superior strength over the other males in the herd. The truth is that among many experts studying wolves around the world, this popular notion of the alpha male is now being questioned.
It was David Mech, one of the greatest experts on this breed, who coined the term during his first studies in the 60’s. He also now rejects its use. Mech’s studies were based on artificial herds in captivity, and not on how the wolf herd works in the wild.
According to Mech, it would be much more appropriate to talk about the breeding of males and females. The leader of the flock is not the one who defeats the rest, but the one who reproduces. The fact is that there is not much competition, because the rest of a wolf pack is usually the offspring of the breeding pair.
This means that a pack of wolves never ceases to be a family. Some parents live with their offspring until they are ready to continue their life on their own. Wolves get between 3 and 8 puppies per litter. This is enough for them to be able to form a herd only of their offspring.
However, there is an alpha male in groups in captivity, where the individuals are not family members. In its wild state , the alpha male can also occur in large flocks, as is the case in Yellowstone. To form such large flocks requires several propagating pairs, and thus more competition arises.
In large flocks, group strategy is a basic factor. The wolf will use different strategies to reach the fast mammals they usually hunt. In summer, for example, they will try to bring their prey into rocky areas, swamps or rivers.
During winter, on the other hand, the mere presence of a wolf can make a deer get so nervous that it gets stuck in the snow. These large flocks are known to hunt large prey, such as the dreaded American bison.
In the wolf pack, younger wolves can often act as spectators to learn. Although there are no established roles, wolves use their physical differences when it comes to hunting. You can see that the females, who are lighter, often guide the running herd. The heavier males are usually the ones who chase the prey once it has been separated from the herd and disoriented.
The alpha role is anecdotal. In fact, it seems that no wolf is under anyone else’s command. Everyone seems to know what to do when the time comes.