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

Don’t Give Up; Lessons From Chernobyl

Chernobyl Title

So before we go any further, let’s clarify something; ItchyQuill is not currently writing from Chernobyl.

We aren’t that mad.

But we are intrigued by this place.

For those not aware or who’ve forgotten, Chernobyl was the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in the history of the world. This year it will be thirty years since it happened, and various scientists have released findings about what has happened to the creatures there. Some of it is very surprising, and I think it has a lot to teach us about life.

In my epic quest to segue seemlessly between largely unrelated topics, lets see what conclusion we can reach from looking at how some of the animals of Chernobyl have fared in the past few decades. What lessons can they teach us?

 

"Avoid humans"

“Avoid humans”

 

Boaring

Boars are fascinating . Incredibly versatile creatures, they survive on a diet that largely consists of what they can forage. They rummage and search for things in the earth that they can eat, such as mushrooms and truffles (not the kind of chocolate, but the pungent fungus that serves as middle class crack and a fancy pants Pizza Express topping).

The problem is, truffles and mushrooms also tend to be pretty fantastic absorbers of radiation. They act like sponges, picking up as much of the radioactivity as possible, and then holding onto it and contaminating anything that eats them.

Enter the Boars.

In Germany, this has started causing a problem. See, boars are pretty regular features on the menu, especially in the region of Saxony. A recent study of boar meat showed that around 1 in every 3 boars is so contaminated, it’s not fit for human consumption.

Don’t worry, all meat is thoroughly tested to make sure none of this gets into the food chain. That also means around 33% of the boars that are killed with the specific intention of being eaten end up as nothing more than kindling.

This has caused a problem for hunters in the region, who are now asking the government to compensate them for the money they’ve lost by not being able to sell their game. Poor, poor hunters.

 

Wouldn't want to take the fun out of killing defenseless animals...

Wouldn’t want to take the financial incentive out of killing defenseless animals…

 

Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground

And so, we shouldn’t be eating the boars. OK, I can do that. I can cut them out. My doctor said I should cut down on red meat anyway. Big woop.

But what about the other animals. No, no, not the ones you want to shoot and / or ride. What about the little ones? The funguys and gals?

Apart from evidence of a few bugs, there seemed to be a general absence of the typical critters. Bear in mind, ants already survived a mass extinction some 65 million years ago. So, when it comes to being tough, ants practically wrote the book.

Not only this, but it turned out that leaves and trees that fell decades ago were still not decomposing in the contaminated areas. Over all, floor coverage was thicker here.

This originally baffled scientists who, in their Sciencey way, decided enough was enough, and started sciencing ways to figure this out. In their wisdom, they left out two types of mesh bag filled with leaves; bags with a normal mesh, and bags with a slightly finer mesh. After a year, they measured to see how much the contents of each bag decomposed. Surprisingly, neither showed anywhere near the level that was expected. In fact, in the most contaminated areas, they found the rate to be 40 times less than normal. But there was a difference between the two types of bag too. It turns out that the leaves in the bags with a finer mesh were actually decomposing slower, but not a lot slower.

‘What does this mean?’ I hear you cry. Well, it was taken to be evidence that though the presence of larger insects such as ants is important in decomposition, a much larger role is played by fungus and microorganisms. Why?

 

"It's science"

“It’s science, that’s why”

 

Bark at the Moon

So what does this all mean? Why would you title the post as ‘Don’t Give Up’?

Do I look like a bloody fungus to you, huh, punk?

Well, let’s look at the population of animals in the areas where humans have been forced to flee. Radiation levels are ridiculously high. So high, in fact, that it is anticipated the regions affected will not be suitable for humans again for millenia.

But how about the animals? The fuzzy foxes and mussy mooses?

There is no escaping the ionisation of flesh and matter that takes place when radioactivity is high. Yet, some scientists claim, the advantage of having no human interaction has actually out-weighed the negatives of radiation.

Let me say that again:

It is preferable to be in a radioactive wasteland so long as humans are not present.

The reason being that we mess with the eco-system so badly, we are actually more destructive than radiation.

Several species of animals, from wolves to bison, have found a new lease of life now that the anthropoid virus has abandoned them. But they’re not the only ones.

As a conservation experiment in the 1990s, several Przewalski’s horses (who at that point were all but extinct in the wild) were introduced to the area to see how they fared. Turns out, it went pretty darn well, and now there are dozens.

Of course, the true extent of the damage the radioactivity is having may not be apparant yet. Cancer, for example, can be a slow burner. And effects from it can take time to show their face, making it hard to relate it to a single cause. There could be other symptoms too that we are decades away from seeing.

 

"I can't be the only one who thought Zombie?"

“Zombies?”

 

The Lesson

So, what can you learn from all this?

Never give up.

That’s right.

Some of these animals were driven to the point of near extinction. Then a bloomin’ nuclear reactor went and exploded and they must have thought ‘well call me Susan, looks like my time’s up’.

And yet it wasn’t. It was just beginning.

In fact, it was right there waiting, all along.

One tragedy, one terrible event, and yet in the aftermath we have the chance to start again.

As they say:

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Well, I’ve followed this mantra all my life, thought with a little twist. I’ve actively sought to push myself to my own personal limits, and never shied away from a challenge. If anything, I’ve tried to see what can destroy me, and have so far not succeeded.

The big stuff can seem epic and tragic, and whitewash you into believing that all is lost. Hold on. In our darkest times, we are still capable of getting back to the better times, the best of times. Where there is light, there must be darkness. That symbiosis is part of the beauty of life.

Relish it. Cherish it. Never let it stop you. Just push on and look forward to what’s waiting for you round the corner. The longer you live, the longer your chance to see wonder.

Therefore, I’ve got a different quote for you. This one’s from Graucho Marx.

“I intend to live forever. Or die trying.”

Why would you want to miss out on the chance to do that?

 

For more info, visit some of these websites. The statistics and research, as well as the inspiration for this post, come from the following websites:

Radioactive Boar in Germany: IFLScience.com

Radioactive Boar in Germany: Telegraph.co.uk

Chernobyl Anniversary: NBCnews.com

Dead Leaves Not Decaying Near Chernobyl: IFLscience.com

10 Facts About Ants: i09.gizmodo.com

30 Years After Chernobyl, Wildlife Returns: LiveScience.com

 

Special thanks to cooldesign, Rosemary Ratcliff, sakhorn38 and Victor Habbick @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016