What I learned This Week: Don’t Call Them Alpha Males

One of the joys of running a blog is learning new things. This week’s lesson comes from blogging about OR93, the late wandering wolf who came to California from Oregon.

A cliche in the study of wolves is the “Alpha Male” the idea that one wolf in the pack controls all the other males and forbids them to breed.

Not So says L David Mech, whose book The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species helped popularize the term. A fact he regrets.

The fact is, Mech says, that “alpha” implies a winner or a loser while the leaders of a pack are mostly parents and their offspring. Most packs are simply a breeding pair and their descendants.

As He puts it:

“The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature, at least partly because of my book “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” written in 1968, published in 1970, republished in paperback in 1981, and currently still in print, despite my numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it. Although most of the book’s info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years then in all of previous history.”

One of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf. “Alpha” implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words they are merely breeders, or parents, and that’s all we call them today, the “breeding male,” “breeding female,” or “male parent,” “female parent,” or the “adult male” or “adult female.” In the rare packs that include more than one breeding animal, the “dominant breeder” can be called that, and any breeding daughter can be called a “subordinate breeder.””
For details, see www.wolf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/267alphastatus_english.pdf and www.wolf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/247Leadership.pdf

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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