The prevailing view of a wolf (Canis lupus) pack is that of a group of individuals ever vying for dominance but held in check by the alpha pair, the alpha male and the alpha female. Most research on the social dynamics of wolf packs, however, has been conducted on non-natural assortments of captive wolves. Here I describe the wolf-pack social order as it occurs in nature, discuss the alpha concept and social dominance and submission, and present data on the precise relationships among members in free-living packs based on a literature review and 13 summers of observations of wolves on Ellesmere Island, Northwest Territories, Canada. I conclude that the typical wolf pack is a family, with the adult parents guiding the activities of the group in a division-of-labor system in which the female predominates primarily in such activities as pup care and defense and the male primarily during foraging and food-provisioning and the travels associated with them.
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Alpha status, dominance, leadership, and division of labor in wolf packs