Wolves are an extremely social animal. They exist as a social unit called a pack.
Wolves travel and hunt in a group and perform almost all other activities in the company of fellow wolves.
The pack, the basic unit of wolf social life, is usually a family group. It is made up of animals related to each other by blood and family ties of affection and mutual aid.
The core of a pack is a mated pair of wolves – an adult male and female that have bred and produced young. The other members of the pack are their offspring: young wolves ranging in age from pups to two and three-year-olds.
Pack sizes vary, most packs have 6 or 7 members, although some may include as many as 15 wolves. The size depends on many variables including the current numbers of the wolf population, the abundance of food, and social factors within the wolf pack.
Within each pack is an elaborate hierarchy. It may consist of a single breeding pair, the Alpha male and female, a lower group consisting of non-breeding adults, each with its own ranking, a group of outcasts, and a group of immature wolves on their way up. Some of the younger wolves of the pack may leave to find vacant territory and a mate.
Individual wolves in a pack play different roles in relation to the others in the group. The parent wolves are the leaders of the pack – the alpha male and alpha female. (Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet.) The alpha male and female are the oldest members of the pack and the ones with the most experience in hunting, defending territory, and other important activities.
The other pack members respect their positions and follow their leadership in almost all things, The alpha wolves are usually the ones to make decisions for the pack when the group should go out to hunt or move from one place to another.
The other Pack members all have positions in the hierarchy inferior to those of the alpha male and female. The young adult wolves, who are the grown-up offspring of the alpha pair, have their own special roles under the leadership or their parents. Some of them me able to “boss around,” or dominate, their sisters and brothers because they have established themselves as superior in some way. This superiority might be physical-larger size or greater strength – but it can be based on personality Dominant wolves in the pack usually have more aggressive and forceful personalities than their relatives of the same age.
The juveniles and pups-wolves under two years old do not occupy permanent positions within the pack hierarchy. They all take orders from their parents and older brothers and sisters, but their relationships with each other change frequently. During their play and other activities, they are constantly testing one mother to find out who will eventually be “top wolf” in their age group.
Relationships among creatures that live close together in groups are often very complicated, like members of a wolf pack. Studies of captive wolves and wolf packs in the wild have shown that many complex rules of behavior seem to govern the way that the animals relate us each other, the methods that wolves use to communicate with fellow pack members are also quite elaborate – see Wolf Communication