The Myth of the Alpha Wolf

Alpha Title

Wolves. They’re so badass, right? Solo warriors. They answer to nobody but the pack. Like furry soldiers.

I’ve recently started working out regularly. Like anything that’s interesting to me, I’ve started reading about it almost constantly. Articles, updates, posts, blogs, magazines, tweets, books, you name it. Through all this research, there’s one image that comes up time and time again; the alpha wolf.

You know the drill. The idea that the world is there for the taking, so take what’s yours. Grab life by the balls. Dominate every space. Yadda yadda.

Now I’m not really a fan, I’ve got to be honest. I hate the phrase ‘spirit animal’, but if you stuck a gun in my mouth and asked me, I’d say (after the gun was removed, obviously) that it’s a fox, or maybe an owl. Foxes are cunning, and they always outsmart the bigger, better resourced farmer. Owls read. Well, they do in my world. And they’ve got night vision. And they can turn their heads an exorcistic 270 degrees. And they swallow prey whole, then barf up the carcass. Seriously, google that shit. I’ll wait…

Anyway. Wolves. They’ve become a huge totem for macho, alpha male culture. They’re right up there in this exclusive club along with the lion, gorilla, tiger, and bear. Yet putting wolves in this category is erroneous.

Wolves are actually familial creatures, who live in semi-nuclear family packs. Sadly for Johnny Big Guns and his Lifting Crew, they’ll need to move to another mascot. Wolves may actually better suited to the ideals of Taylor Swift.

 

Haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate

Where does this notion come from?

In the 1940s a gentleman named Rudolph Schenkel published a groundbreaking paper titled Expressions Studies on Wolves. It detailed his ideas about “the sociology of the wolf” (find it for free here) based on his observations of a group of wolves in Switzerland’s Basel zoo during the 1930s and 1940s. He saw that a pack of wolves tended to have a dominant male and female at the top of the group. As he said:

“Its core comprises the bitch wolf, presumably the only mature one of the pack, and the male “lead wolf.” ”

Researchers that came after him tended to follow suit with regards to observing wolves in zoos, and concluding the presence of an alpha based on domination and taking control. One such man, a wildlife biologist named L. David Mech, released his own book in 1970 titled The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviour of an Endangered Species. His findings were based on what he observed from wolves in Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park in the 1960s.

So both these studies helped to create and then perpetuate the idea of the alpha wolf. And yet both studies (and studies like them) only focused on wolves in captivity.

That’s the equivalent of studying a group of children in an Amish household, then using this evidence to talk about all of humanity’s children. Everywhere. Africa? Amish. Australia? Amish. Bhutan? Amish. This doesn’t take into account the variables, which are legion.

Variables, I tell you. Bloody everywhere!

 

"Vaariiiaaabllleeeessss"

“Vaariiiaaabllleeeessss”

How did this end?

Since this time, many different types of observations and studies have taken place, including some by Mech himself (who has since gone back on what he stated in his original findings). These have all concluded wildly contradicting information about wild wolves, mainly drawing the conclusion that the ‘alphas’ in a group tend to actually be the parents.

It turns out that wolves tend to pair off and mate for life. Consequently, the hierarchical order is pretty well established. Male wolves don’t need to batter any rivals and go for the jugular on any upcoming males. That would be crazy. They’d be killing their kids. Won’t these kids want to one day inherit the family group? Well, no. No they won’t. Instead, the youngsters will one day pair off with their own mates and start their own lives.

And the cycle continues…

 

"Woooooolf"

“Woooooolf”

So what is an alpha wolf then?

Alpha wolves are family men, pure and simple. They aren’t violent to their own kids. They don’t beat around their pups, far from it. They have been observed letting their pups win during play-fighting as a way of helping their pups grow and learn. They care for the pack, leading by example, and hunting for their family.

That’s not to say that wolves are cuddly fathers only. The vicious and deadly side of the wolf we know is very much based on fact. They can take down prey bigger than them, such as caribou or bison. They will passionately defend their territory if threatened, even going so far as putting their life in harms way to save their little ones or loved one.

They’re the 1950s fathers that time forgot. Putting a roof on the table and bread over their head. Wait, that doesn’t sound right…

 

"Working stiffs"

“Working stiffs – blue collar even”

So they’re still badass?

Yes, they’re still badass. But badass like a dad is badass. Not lone wolf, out for themselves badass. Not Terminator badass. Not Wolverine badass. But Atticus Finch, Mufasa, Bryan Mills (Taken) badass.

A wolf should stand for the ultimate alpha male; the father. Standing at the head of a family with a mother (or another father) and doing the best he can to provide for, protect, and nurture his pups, and love his mate.

What could be more alpha than that?

 

Special thanks to happykanppy, imagerymajestic, nixxphotography and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

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3 thoughts on “The Myth of the Alpha Wolf

  1. The notions we take for granted…

    I saw a weird, engaging film recently called The Lobster – have you seen it? People go to this retirement home and have to choose which animal they’ll be changed into if they don’t pair up with a mate. (Main character chooses a lobster). You can find your animal here: http://thelobster-movie.com/

    Like

  2. Love the owl facts! And I think I’d rather hang out with an owl than a wolf. Not being one of the family, that is.

    Like

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