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My bad: Alpha wolf term outmoded

Remote camera photo of a black wolf that appears to be a female. Photo captured 5/4/2014 in the same area as OR7. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Remote camera photo of a black wolf that appears to be a female. Photo captured 5/4/2014 in the same area as OR7. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

WILDLIFE -- A few weeks ago I posted news that the Huckleberry Pack wolf shot by a federal Wildlife Services agent was the pack's alpha female.

I supplied the term.  In revealing the necropsy results, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department reported the wolf as a breeding female.

Most readers understood what I meant, but some observers correctly pointed out out that esteemed wolf researcher David Mech had debunked the notion of an "alpha wolf."

Based on his research, Mech says this on his website:

"The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature at least partly because of my book "The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species," written in 1968, published in 1970, republished in paperback in 1981, and currently still in print, despite my numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it. Although most of the book's info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years then in all of previous history.

One of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf. "Alpha" implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words they are merely breeders, or parents, and that's all we call them today, the "breeding male," "breeding female," or "male parent," "female parent," or the "adult male" or "adult female." In the rare packs that include more than one breeding animal, the "dominant breeder" can be called that, and any breeding daughter can be called a "subordinate breeder."

That said, the Huckleberry Pack breeding female killed by officials could have been the only female breeder in the pack, and she may very well have been dominant to others in the pack.  But I won't use the term alpha.



Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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