For the last few years, I’ve dug into a lot of research on wolves for a werewolf book I want to write. It’s been both interesting and alarming to see how much actual pack culture is different from the tropes we see in movies and TV about werewolves.
Typically in werewolf media, we see a pack that is led by an all-powerful Alpha Male. He’s stronger and meaner than the other werewolves and that’s why he’s the go-to leader. He knows how to get the job done. Though many people believe by default this is also how wolves act in nature, that is not the reality of the situation at all. Wolf packs are usually led by an Alpha pair, who are a mated male and female wolf. In some cases, the female wolf will actually be the more aggressive of the two and the one that tends to keep the pack members in line. This is not necessarily the female establishing her dominance, it’s more similar to the way your grandmother might keep you and all your cousins in line at a family gathering. The mated pair that leads the pack more or less serve as the “parental” units of the pack.
A single male alpha as the lead of a pack is just something that has been fabricated over the years, and is likely more of a reflection of human culture, than that of wolves. I’ve gotten to the point that when I see this trope reinforced over and over again in TV shows and movies, I have a hard time watching them. This trope also tends to make it easy to exclude or leave out female characters, since male characters tend to be the central focus of the trope. Female wolves are essential to the pack’s life, and therefore I think it would be good if fiction also reflected that.
Packs also share other similarities with human families, as many smaller packs are just the mated alpha pair and their cubs. As I mentioned before, packs are often like human families, whether related or adopted, and function in somewhat similar ways.
In the wild, packs will fight for territory sometimes, especially if food becomes scarce in one area or if another pack seems to be dying out. Packs can die out for a variety of reasons, including harsh winters, fighting with other predators, cubs being eaten by competing predators. These are things you can think about as you craft your werewolf story.
Obviously, fiction does differ from reality, but many of the tropes that surround werewolves are both erroneous and create stories where female viewpoints often get lost or are nearly non-existent. If you are looking to do more research on wolves in the wild, there are a number of books written about wolf packs, especially those in Yellowstone. Yellowstone also releases a yearly fact sheet about the packs in their area, that gives an account of how many wolves are in their packs, what sizes they are, what color their coat is, etc. The Yellowstone wolves tend to be a unique opportunity for humans to closely monitor and learn more about wolves, since they were only recently re-introduced into the park and there is so much activity in Yellowstone.