Energizing For The Hunt
 
Wolves are among the most social of all animals, and one of the best times to observe their rich, expressive interactions is while they are revving up from sound sleep, preparing to hunt again.  Like most people, wolves seldom jump up from sleep and head straight off to work/hunt in high gear. Typically there is a 10-15-minute or longer sequence of sleepy-eyed false starts and a building mix of play, rough-housing, dominance, chorus howling, and other socializing before the wolves finally depart.    
 
During the summer months (May-September), they are most likely to do this pre-hunt socializing at a den or rendezvous site, where they base their activities while provisioning the young pups. During the rest of the year, they travel more-or-less continuously as a group, without any bases, and are thus likely to do it wherever they wake up. Probably the greatest value of this behavior is in helping to maintain the intimate familiarity that enables group members to cooperate closely.
 
The following early April 2009 scenes show the Toklat family of Denali National Park waking, socializing, and then starting off on a hunt over a period of almost an hour. One wolf was missing at the time, but 11 were together again in the subsequent observations through late April.  
 
Below: The wolves are sleeping on a ridge; three of the 10 are outside the photo at lower left.
 
 
Below: The black pup in the above photo gets up and walks down the ridge to other sleeping wolves. The charcoal-gray alpha male wakes up at that location and goes to the upper four, still yawning. Apparently he wants to wake his mate (uppermost of the four) and start the group on a hunt.
 
 
Below (2 photos):  She ignores him and continues to sleep. The other three do not seem very enthused either. One of them snarls his displeasure, even though his target is the alpha male and likely his father. A snarl like this would elicit at least some pull-back from most of the other wolves, but the alpha male does not flinch a bit. He looks the young wolf straight in the eyes as if ready to reprimand him.  But then (second photo) he simply plops down with this wolf and the other three for more sleep.
 
 
 
Below:  The black pup comes back up the ridge and pesters the upper five.  At first they are able to ignore him but then begin stirring.        
 
 
Below:  Two of the tans are awake and the charcoal-gray alpha male howls, but the alpha female (top) and another of her young are still asleep.
 
 
Below (2 photos):  Finally all are stirring, albeit rather sleepy-eyed.
 
 
Below (3 photos): Further down the ridge, one pup yawns ...
 
              
 
... while two other pups try to keep their eyes open, but only one succeeds.
 
              
 
              
 
Below (2 photos):  Some of the wolves begin to mill around and scan the surrounding terrain.  
 
 
 
Below:  A black pup howls as others “talk” and frisk with each other.  
 
 
Below:  The ridge comes alive with howling and (lower center) a display of dominance.  Yet (bottom), a pup is still sleeping!
  
 
Below: A closer look at the adult and submissive pup in the above photo.
 
                          
 
Below: The alpha male howls with the others while separated 100 ft (m) downslope from them.
 
                          
 
Below (2 photos): A half dozen of the wolves, mostly pups, wrestle and play. The two black pups are probably both males.  Go back to some of last summer’s blog entries (e.g., Aug. 9, Sept. 22, 2008) to see what these big, strapping (and still growing) 11-month-olds looked like then.  
 
            
 
            
 
Below: Two tan pups approach their father (charcoal-gray alpha male) submissively, with their mother (light tan) standing just behind them.  Another tan pup interacts with the two black pups.
 
            
 
Below:  A submissive adult female - the largest wolf of the group - leads with the alpha male just behind as the wolves finally begin to depart on the hunt.
 
 
Below:  The other wolves follow but are strung out unevenly because of continuing bouts of play and rough-housing, such as by the group of pups below.
 
 
Below (2 photos): The alpha male now leads the front-runners. He stops to ponder a steep downslope ...
 
 
... then suddenly takes off at a full run down the slope, apparently just for the fun of it.
 
 
Below:  The wolves continue through deep snow in a nearby area.  They have now settled down solely to the difficult business of hunting.  Three can be seen here, including the alpha male (right-center) and a black pup.  Another wolf is ahead and the rest are behind.  
  
              
 
May 1, 2009
Wolves of the Toklat (East Fork) family howl together in Denali National Park, prior to resuming their hunting activities after a period of sound sleep.  Five other wolves are outside the photo.  April 2009.