A wolf pack is organized in a hierarchy and the highest are the alpha wolf and beta she-wolf. On the contrary, the lowest are the omega wolves. This type of social structure helps to promote unity and social order in the pack, it also helps reduce conflicts and the likelihood of aggressive behaviors that can occur among members of the pack.
In spite of everything, an omega wolf can become an alpha wolf, although the top of the hierarchy does not change very often. All the members of the pack have a task to fulfill and this understanding makes pack hunting more effective.
All this organization allows wolves to hunt large animals, something that a lone wolf could never achieve individually. Therefore, wolves usually respect this order, except in the mating season in which some wolves can get to fight with the alpha wolf to try to mate with the beta wolf.
Alpha Wolf behavior
It shows a pose and attitude corresponding to its status – erect body, head and tail raised, erect ears. The alpha animal also demands important privileges – such as the right to devour prey before the other members of the pack. The rest of the wolves, less dominant, will have a submissive attitude towards the alpha animal: lick the leader’s muzzle, shrink their bodies and place their heads, tails and ears lower than the upper limbs.
What is also interesting is that there are two separate hierarchies within any wolf pack, one for the males and one for the females. In addition, it is becoming less clear that the male is the one who makes all the decisions and, in many cases, one could speak of matriarchies where the alpha female decides where to go, when to hunt or when to rest.
How is the alpha wolf established?
Rank order is established and maintained throughout a series of ritualized fights and postures best described as ritual intimidation. Wolves prefer a psychological war to real combat and high rank is based more on personality or attitude than on size or strength. How the range is maintained and enforced varies widely among packs and among individual animals. In large packs full of treatable animals, or in a group of young animals, the rank order may change occasionally or constantly, and may even be circular.
Loss of rank can occur gradually or suddenly. An older wolf can simply choose to step aside when an ambitious challenger shows up, changing the rank without spilling blood. Or the older animal may choose to fight with different degrees of intensity. While a high percentage of aggression do not cause damage and are rituals, some fights can cause injuries. The loser of such combat is often driven from the pack, or, rarely, can be killed. This type of occurrence is more common in the winter months, when it is the breeding season.