Science in Fiction: Where’s the Alpha Female?
I read a lot of paranormal romance novels, and especially on Wattpad, quite a few of them involve werewolves, and especially alpha males. But I can’t help wondering… where’s the alpha female? After all, if werewolves are designed after actual wolf packs in any way at all, there should be an alpha male and an alpha female. That’s where the alpha male idea comes from, after all.
I find it interesting that the perfect example in nature of equality between genders is morphed in fiction into a perfect example of sexual dimorphism on the social level.
Wolf Pack Dynamics in Nature:
Wolf packs are usually fairly small, made up of about 3 categories: the parents, the young adults, and the pups. Generally, that means the parents, this year’s brood, and last year’s brood. Occasionally, you’ll have adolescents that will come in and join the pack, but that’s rare, and generally are still less than three years old (to avoid competition for breeding rights).
Packs can get large, but because of the territory required to maintain such large packs, they are rare. I’ve heard of packs getting thirty members (according to the National Wildlife Fund), but those packs will often have territory sizes in the hundreds of miles.
The Myth of the Alpha, Beta, and Omega
The idea of alpha, beta, and omega wolves was popularized by behavior studies of unrelated wolves in captivity. In those situations, wolves–having no previous social structure–fight for dominance to determine their positioning in the group. In nature, this doesn’t happen. Social structures are often very close to what we have in our own nuclear family groups.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t infighting or dominance plays. Frankly, dominance is a necessary part of parenting. If a parent doesn’t have dominance over their offspring, said offspring will walk all over them, be they wolves or people. We’ve all seen it, and it is a major part of dog training.
But dominance rarely plays any part in the social structure within wolf packs. The biological parents generally control the pack, using dominance as a way of controlling and raising their pups. There are generally only two adult wolves to a pack, even if wolves are adopted into the pack.
Wolves in Fiction
Obviously, there’s a lot of this that isn’t terribly useful from an author’s perspective. The more I learn about true wolf packs, the more it just looks like a true nuclear family among humans. But if we do want to pull anything from this, I guess there are a few things we can:
- Packs are led by a male and female, a parental pair
- There is no stratification of social structure beyond that.
- Dominance is used as a means of parenting.
- Fighting and dominance between other members of the pack (not parents) is quite similar to how siblings interact among humans, often involving fighting (play or real), as well as other forms of dominant and submissive behaviors on an individual relationship basis or even situational.