The social hierarchy of a pack is well-established and constantly reinforced through gestures and postures.
The Social Hierarchy of Gray Wolves
A formidable predator, the gray wolf can grow to be 7 feet long from nose to tail and weigh up to 175 pounds. This canine is known to be extremely social and intelligent, living and hunting in packs that vary in size relative to the abundance and size of prey. The gray wolf hunts on the tundra, steppes and woodlands of Europe, Asia and North America. Despite their name, gray wolves vary in color from white in the arctic to yellowish brown to near black farther south. Larger packs form where there are many large ungulates such elk and moose. In , packs as large as 30 individuals have been documented.
The social hierarchy of a pack is well established and constantly reinforced through gestures and postures. The dominant individual, or alpha wolf, signals its status by carrying its tail higher than other pack mates. An individual’s position in the hierarchy is fluid, changing as pack members grow, age, weaken, form alliances with one another or successfully challenge for rank.
Breeding is also relative to rank. If prey is scarce, often only the top ranking pair will breed, the dominant female terrorizing other females into not mating, sometimes even physically attacking them. The entire pack cares for the young, playing with them and regurgitating semi-solid food for them.
Early men seem to have respected the wolf as a fellow pack hunter, reflected in a number of early mythologies, (Romulus and Remus, the mythological founders of Rome, were reputed to have been saved and reared by a wolf), but as agriculture expanded, the animal eventually came to be persecuted as a threat to livestock.
All but a few isolated populations were extirpated in the lower 48 states, and the species was listed as Endangered in America in 1974. However, some populations have recovered, and the population was de-listed in 2007.