I saw this on Facebook. Is it true?

Photograph showing a wolf pack marching through snow, posted by Gary Moss on 'February 8 at 5:11 pm', with the text mentioned below

pretty cool
A pack (wolves): The first 3 are the older or sick and they set the pace of the group. If it was on the contrary, they would be left behind and lost contact with the pack. In ambush case they would be sacrificed.
The following are the 5 strongest. In the center follow the remaining members of the pack, and at the end of the group follow the other 5 stronger.
Last, alone, follows the alpha wolf. It controls everything from the rear.
That position can control the whole group, decide the direction to follow and anticipate the attacks of opponents. The pack follows the rhythm of the elders and the head of the command that imposes the spirit of mutual help not leaving anyone behind.

  • 36
    The author of this has apparently never broken trail through snow. That's a LOT harder than following a broken, packed trail.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 21, 2016 at 6:19
  • 22
    Don't you just love people writing authoritatively about something they know nothing about it? :-) Feb 21, 2016 at 12:35
  • 11
    How do people just make this crap up?
    – Insane
    Feb 22, 2016 at 1:20
  • 7
    @Insane - Because it has a feel good moral. Some people when called out that it's not truthful, will even reply 'That doesn't matter! It's the story that matters!'.
    – dwjohnston
    Feb 22, 2016 at 1:28
  • 9
    @dwjohnston Maybe I should take up blatant-misleading-info-graphic-writing as a hobby.
    – Insane
    Feb 22, 2016 at 1:29

2 Answers 2


No, the pack is led by the alpha (breeding) females.

The picture is taken from the BBC 2011 documentary Frozen Planet. This Guardian article which features pictures from the documentary describes the picture as:

A massive pack of 25 timberwolves hunting bison on the Arctic circle in northern Canada. In mid-winter in Wood Buffalo National Park temperatures hover around -40C. The wolf pack, led by the alpha female, travel single-file through the deep snow to save energy. The size of the pack is a sign of how rich their prey base is during winter when the bison are more restricted by poor feeding and deep snow. The wolf packs in this National Park are the only wolves in the world that specialise in hunting bison ten times their size. They have grown to be the largest and most powerful wolves on earth

emphasis by me

Snopes has an article on the picture which also include the history of the post, and also a note about the use of the term "alpha" for wolf packs.

  • 8
    -1 because your sources don't support your interpretation. Your interpretation is that "the pack is led by the alpha (breeding) females," but you linked to the snopes.com article, which explains that alphas don't actually exist.
    – user4216
    Feb 21, 2016 at 17:07
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    "wolves [...] that specialise in hunting bison ten times their size" I'm confused by this statement in the quotes. The typical mass of a bison is about 900kg (with some up to 1200kg), whereas the typical mass of a wolf is around 45kg. If a bison is only ten times the size of a wolf, that's either an unusally small bison (it would make sense if they were going after juveniles, I suppose) or a scarily large wolf. Feb 21, 2016 at 21:59
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    @slebetman That figure of 79kg is the largest wolf ever found in North America, so isn't a representative number. Wikipedia says that male timber wolves average 48kg in BC and 40kg in Yukon. Feb 22, 2016 at 4:10
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    @BenCrowell The Snopes article merely says the term alpha exists only in the same sense human parents are alpha over their children. It's not so much wrong as it is misleading.
    – Insane
    Feb 22, 2016 at 9:15
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    @BenCrowell, a. Does the answer refute the claim? Yes it does, regardless of whether the concept of "alpha" wolves exists or not, the pack is not led by the elders, but by some of the strongest females in the pack. b. Snopes doesn't say that alpha wolves don't exist, but that the term breeding is better to describe them, which is the reason I added "(breeding)" in the first line. c. A BBC documentery is not a scientific paper, and it's reasenable for them too use popular terms, like alpha, even if they are not accurate, or even outdated.
    – SIMEL
    Feb 22, 2016 at 9:45

The screenshot included in the question contains a block of text with a long interpretation by someone named Gary Moss. Moss's interpretation is that packs of wolves have alpha animals, which go in back, while older, weaker animals go in front. Supposedly the alphas "control the whole group" from behind.

The whole concept that a wolf pack is led by an alpha animal turns out to be incorrect. The alpha concept was based on studies of animals kept in cages, where they don't behave normally. It was debunked in a 1999 paper by L. David Mech. Here is the abstract of the paper:

The prevailing view of a wolf (Canis lupus) pack is that of a group of individuals ever vying for dominance but held in check by the "alpha" pair, the alpha male and the alpha female. Most research on the social dynamics of wolf packs, however, has been conducted on non-natural assortments of captive wolves. Here I describe the wolf-pack social order as it occurs in nature, discuss the alpha concept and social dominance and submission, and present data on the precise relationships among members in free-living packs based on a literature review and 13 summers of observations of wolves on Ellesmere Island, Northwest Territories, Canada. I conclude that the typical wolf pack is a family, with the adult parents guiding the activities of the group in a division-of-labor system in which the female predominates primarily in such activities as pup care and defense and the male primarily during foraging and food-provisioning and the travels associated with them.

Mech, L. David. 1999. Alpha status, dominance, and division of labor in wolf packs. Canadian Journal of Zoology 77:1196-1203. Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

  • 9
    This is really a response to another answer and not an answer to the question. Feb 21, 2016 at 19:13
  • @kundor: Thanks for pointing that out. I'll edit my answer accordingly.
    – user4216
    Feb 21, 2016 at 19:39
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    @DJClayworth: The material about alpha animals is in the original question, not just in Ilya Melamed's answer.
    – user4216
    Feb 21, 2016 at 19:45
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    The abstract itself is not enough to suggest the Mech paper "debunks" the alpha-pair theory.
    – Daron
    Feb 21, 2016 at 23:57
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    @HC The presence of an "alpha-male" is much easier to determine in animals such as gorillas where breeding males are physically different from non-breeding males. However the standard view on such cases is that the alpha male is not exactly the leader of the group. They are "in charge of" keeping away other breeding males but not in charge of where the troop goes next etcetera.
    – Daron
    Feb 23, 2016 at 11:26

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