Social relationships of wolves
Wolves develop from pups at an incredible rate. Pups are born, in late April, after just a two-month pregnancy. They are born deaf, blind, and weigh no more than a can of soda pop. At this time, pups can do basically just one thing – suckle their mother’s milk.
Within a month, pups can hear and see, weigh ten pounds, and explore and play around the den site. The parents and sometimes one- or two- year old siblings bring food back to the den site. The food is regurgitated for the pups to eat. By about two months of age (late June), pups are fully weaned and eat only meat. By three months of age (late July), pups travel as much as a few miles to rendezvous sites, where pups wait for adults to return from hunts.
Pups surviving to six or seven months of age (late September) have adult teeth, are eighty percent their full size, and travel with the pack for many miles as they hunt and patrol their territory. When food is plentiful, most pups survive to their first birthday. As often, food is scarce and no pups survive.
A wolf may disperse from its natal pack when it is as young as 12 months old. In some cases a wolf might disperse and breed when it is 22 months old – the second February of its life. In any event, from 12 months of age onward, wolves look for a chance to disperse and mate with a wolf from another pack. In the meantime, they bide their time in the safety of their natal pack.
From birth until his or her last dying day, a wolf is inextricably linked to other wolves in a complex web of social relationships. The ultimate basis for these relationships is sharing food with some, depriving it from others, reproducing with another, and suppressing reproduction among others.
Most wolves live in packs, a community sharing daily life with three to eleven other wolves. Core pack members are an alpha pair and their pups. Other members commonly include offspring from previous years, and occasionally other less closely related wolves.
Pups depend on food from their parents. Relationships among older, physically mature offspring are fundamentally tense. These wolves want to mate, but alphas repress any attempts to mate. So, mating typically requires leaving the pack. However, dispersal is dangerous. While biding time for a good opportunity to disperse, these subordinate wolves want the safety and food that come from pack living. They are sometimes tolerated by the alpha wolves, to varying degrees. The degree of tolerance depends on the degree of obedience and submission to the will of alpha wolves. For a subordinate wolf, the choice, typically, is to acquiesce or leave the pack.
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