What is a wolf pack mentality?

Pack Behavior

An alpha wolf displays dominance over an omega.
An alpha wolf displays dominance over an omega.
Jim & Jamie Dutcher/Getty Images

A pack mentality of extreme loyalty and devotion to the group binds the wolves together as a unit, despite times of scarce prey or violence. For example, while the alpha wolves rule the roost, they ensure that any pups get their fill of food before the others dig in.

Wolves exhibit visible signs of the strength of their pack behavior through unique body language. You can tell a wolf's rank in the pack simply by looking at how it holds its body. Alpha wolves stand more erect with their tails held higher, while lower-ranking ones slouch toward the ground.

Submissive wolves even relieve themselves differently from alphas. An omega wolf urinates in a squatting position. Alpha males, on the other hand, do so standing up with their legs raised. If a dominant wolf approaches a more submissive one, the latter may lower its ears, pull its tail between its legs or show its throat or groin to demonstrate subservience. When greeting a more dominant member, the lower-ranked wolf may lick the other's muzzle like a servant kissing a king's scepter.

Along with these internal displays of wolf pack mentality, wolves are also intensely territorial. A pack's terrain may include thousands of square miles, and crossing into another's domain opens the door for confrontation [source: Mech and Boitani]. How do wolves know where their land begins and ends? By following their noses. Wolves detect smells 10 times better than domesticated dogs and 100 times better than humans [source: Discovery Channel]. Two hundred million olfactory nerve cells within their snouts detect minute information about where scents came from and how long they've been there [source: Discovery Channel].

Wolves scent mark by urinating on targets above the ground, such as a tree stump. This tells intruders that they're crossing boundaries and provides the wolves with olfactory sign posts to help with navigation. Defecating also releases hormones and leaves behind visual territory indicators. In addition, wolves scratch at the marked areas to add another layer of scent [source: Mech and Boitani].

With all of these canine superpowers, no wonder wolf packs from across the world have survived and stuck together for thousands of years. To learn more about wolves and other animals, visit the links below.

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  • Busch, Robert A. "The Wolf Almanac: A Celebration of Wolves and Their World." Globe Pequot. 2007. (July 14, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=iUVJsGY9Q-8C
  • "How Animals Do That." Discovery Channel. Oct. 2, 1999.
  • Lopez, Barry Holstun and Bauguess, John. "Of Wolves and Men." Simon and Schuster. 2004. (July 14, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=-3FTLxW09K0C
  • Mech, David L. and Boitani, Luigi. "Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation." University of Chicago Press. 2003. (July 16, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=_mXHuSSbiGgC
  • Whitt, Chris. "Wolves: Life in the Pack." Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. 2003. (July 16, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=x4DLA4TE_rAC
  • Wilson, Don E. and Ruff, Susan. "The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals." UBC Press. 2003. (July 16, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=qNFgzIPGuSUC