You can find a host of wolf packs within high school and college athletic programs. And why not? In a battle of mascots, North Carolina State University's Mr. Wuf would devour Sammy the Slug of University of California-Santa Cruz hands down.

However, in nature, wolf packs are less about ferocity and more about order. The complex wolf pack dynamics more resemble those of a teenage clique than a group of wild beasts. Of course, they still stalk prey, such as elk or rabbits, and get into vicious fights with each other, but you'll discover that these canines follow an incredibly sophisticated group hierarchy.

Wolf Image Gallery

Wolves naturally organize themselves into packs to maintain stability and assist with hunting. These are often groups of three to seven wolves led by an alpha male and alpha female [source: Busch]. From there, the couple's pups and possibly younger, unrelated wolves comprise the rest of the pack.

The pack leader isn't necessarily the alpha male [source: Busch]. The alpha female takes the reins in certain groups since wolf rankings are based on strength and the ability to win fights, not gender. Although other wolves within the pack may copulate when prey abounds, the alpha pair are normally the only ones to mate. Multiple female wolves in the same pack can cause problems, however, since they fight with each other more often than males [source: Busch].

The beta wolf comes next. Beta wolves act as the second in command, taking over if the alpha male dies and possibly remating with the alpha female. When an alpha grows weak or too old to effectively lead the pack, the beta wolf may challenge him or her to a winner-take-all brawl.

On the bottom rung of the ladder, you have the omega wolf. As the name implies, the omega wolf is the weakest and the least cared for in the pack. Bullied by other members, the omega wolf will receive the brunt of the aggression in the wolf world, particularly during inter-pack fighting [source: Busch]. Sometimes, this antagonism climaxes to the point that the omega wolf will leave the pack and go it alone. Aside from being the pack's punching bag, the omega wolf also instigates play among the wolves to ease tensions.

In this dog-eat-dog (or wolf-eat-wolf) environment, what's the prevailing pack mentality? Do they hate each other or simply have a severe way of showing affection? Get inside a wolf's mind and find out the answer on the next page.