Wolf Ecology and Behavior



Wolf Ecology and Behavior
Wolves live in packs, which are complex social structures that include the breeding adult pair (the alpha male and female) and their offspring. A hierarchy of dominant and subordinate animals within the pack help it to function as a unit. Wolves communicate by scent-marking, vocalizing (including howling), facial expressions and body postures.
Wolves can visually communicate an impressive variety of expressions and moods that range from subtler signals – such as a slight shift in weight – to the more obvious ones – like rolling on the back as a sign of complete submission.
Wolves howl for several reasons. Howling helps pack members keep in touch, allowing them to effectively communicate in thickly forested areas or over great distances. Furthermore, howling helps to summon pack members to a specific location. Howling can also serve as a declaration of territory, as portrayed by a dominant wolf's tendency to respond to a human imitation of a "rival" individual in an area that the wolf considers its own. This behavior is also stimulated when a pack has something to protect, such as a fresh kill. Wolves will also howl for communal reasons—similar to community singing among humans.

Wolves, like other canines, use scent marking to lay claim to anything from territory to fresh kills.
The pack is led by the two individuals that sit atop the social hierarchy — the alpha male and the alpha female. The alpha pair (of whom only one may be the "top" alpha) has the greatest amount of social freedom compared to the rest of the pack, but they are not "leaders" in the human sense of the term. The alphas do not give the other wolves orders; rather, they simply have the most freedom in choosing where to go, what to do, and when to do it. Possessing strong instincts for fellowship, the rest of the pack usually follows.
Usually, only the alpha pair is able to successfully rear a litter of pups (other wolves in a pack may breed, but will usually lack the resources required to raise the pups to maturity). All the wolves in the pack assist in raising wolf pups. Some mature individuals, usually females, may choose to stay in the original pack so as to reinforce it and help rear more pups. Most, males particularly, will disperse however.
The size of the pack may change over time and is controlled by several factors, including habitat, personalities of individual wolves within a pack, and food supply. Packs can contain between two and 20 wolves, though an average pack consists of six or seven. New packs are formed when a wolf leaves its birth pack and claims a territory. Lone wolves searching for other individuals can travel very long distances seeking out suitable territories.

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