Research Post #8
Wolf packs - we've got it all wrong (via io9).

So I've been doing some light research into wolf behaviour, and hitting a big snag, over and over again.


A lot of popular writing on wolf behaviour lays out ornate hierarchies within a pack, using terms like Alpha, Beta, Omega, etcetera. But it turns out that popular perception of wolf behaviour is hugely flawed, based on studies of captive wolves thrown together by humans and circumstance and living in a limited space, as opposed to wild packs.  Wild packs, it turns out, don't have alphas and omegas, they have a breeding pair and their offspring. This makes wolf packs closer to a parent goose and offspring than a flock of geese, and means that imagining a rigid and complex dominance hierarchy, constantly challenged and reaffirmed through aggression displays, is humans bringing their own ideas to bear on actual perceived socialization. Which isn't to say wolves don't impose and enforce the dominance of parenthood - at a certain age, offspring are driven from the family pack off to start their own, and there's papers documenting the rough treatment they get as encouragement to leave. But those offspring aren't usually going to wrestle their parents for right to suddenly become the Alpha of the family troupe.


So every article I hit that starts talking about Alpha and Beta and Omega wolves is clearly based on flawed information. And there's a LOT of them like that. I am at the stage in my casual "do a little research on lunch this week" process where I'm going to have to put aside an afternoon with a notebook and parse some much more scientific articles.


The linked io9 article is a fantastic resource into the change of understanding, and books, papers and articles from the initial stance and the more modern theory of wolf behaviour are named and even linked from the article.


But all this has me mulling over our popular attachment to the alpha wolf, a concept born from the artificial packs built in captivity. I'm researching wolf behaviour for Wolf Neighbours (go figure) and artificial packs are a useful thing to understand in the context of that book. So, while the old information is not scientifically accurate, it might help me write both how humans in the book perceive wolves, and how wolves taken out of their element might behave.


Unfortunately research is not always simple or straightforward, but sometimes thinking beyond your initial purpose can help you find a use for misinformation - especially the kind pop culture can't stop perpetuating.


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