Wolves live in packs and within those packs is a very specific hierarchy. The alpha male and female are the leaders of the pack, the beta wolves are underneath them, and then there are several wolves ranked below them that go all the way down to the omega wolves.
The structure of the pack keeps things organized. It helps maintain the survival of all the wolves in the pack – they work together to bring down prey, dig out dens, and raise the pups the alpha female gives birth to.
For a long time, it was thought that this hierarchy came into play when it came to feeding time. Wolves are feast and famine eaters – when they catch prey, they’ll eat as much as they can in a single sitting and then go several days without food. Wolves are very excited to eat, and maintaining order while devouring prey is important. Stray bites from each other can be a death sentence, as their bite is so strong and does so much damage.
Hierarchy maintains order during feeding time, but in a different way than we initially thought. Originally it was thought that wolves ate according to rank order – the alphas first, then the betas, and so on. Observations of captive wolf packs have shown that yes, usually the alpha pair eats first, but there are times when it’s permitted for the wolves to eat out of hierarchy order.
Sometimes omegas or other lower-ranking wolves get to go first, under the watchful eye of the alpha. Other times they do go in order of rank. One thing is clear though – the alpha maintains order while everyone is feeding to make sure that no one is too aggressive toward each other and things stay calm.
What are the benefits of letting lower-ranking pack members eat first?
Check out the answer in our article here.