Created By: zarpaulus on October 12, 2012 Last Edited By: zarpaulus on October 22, 2012

The Alpha

Leader of a pack of wolves or similar creatures

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When biologists studied wolf packs they noticed that there were usually a male and female to whom the others deferred, they dubbed those dominant wolves to be the "alpha male and female". In zoos it wasn't uncommon for "lower ranking" wolves to fight their alphas for dominance.

Fiction starring wolves, werewolves, or other social animals or beastmen seized upon this concept. What better way to show the brutality of nature than by having them fight to the death?

Often the alpha female is left out, making it almost always a male position.

In actuality alpha wolves just as often attain their status through intelligence or charisma, dominance battles are rarely fatal, and frequently the alphas are simply the parents of the rest of the pack. The bloody scenes in zoos were the result of several unrelated wolves being crammed together in a small space.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Kiba in Wolf's Rain is essentially the alpha, though Tsume initially disputes his authority.

Literature
  • In The Call of the Wild Buck first has to deal with the near-psychopathic lead dog of his sled team, killing and replacing him. In the end he joins a wolf pack by killing a couple of them, a mention that wolves with his markings were spotted in later years in the area suggests that he became the alpha male.
  • The loup-garou pack in Blood And Chocolate determine who is the new alpha male and "queen bitch" via a battle royale known as "the Ordeal" following the death of one of the old pair. Vivian wins the female Ordeal almost by accident but refuses to take the position and mate with the new alpha male until after her human boyfriend shoots her
  • Kitty Norville's pack was initially led by an insecure murderous rapist named Carl. But he eventually got torn apart by his own pack and Kitty and her husband Ben became the new alphas.
  • In the Mercy Thompson novels, "Alpha" is the actual title used by the leaders of werewolf packs, with defined responsibilities and entitlements. An Alpha's status gives him (and it's Always Male) the ability to issue commands to pack subordinates that they cannot refuse to heed, an enhanced Healing Factor, and a few other powers that facilitate control and protection of his pack.
  • In The Dresden Files the Alphas obviously chose their name with this in mind. Billy and Georgia Borden fill the actual roles.

Tabletop Games

Video Games
  • Many monster species in Monster Hunter have an "alpha male" variant that is bigger and tougher than its fellows.

Western Animation
  • In Up, Muntz's lead dog is named Alpha, and all the other dogs (except for Dug) are named after other Greek letters in accordance to their rank. When Dug defeats Alpha, the others name him the new Alpha.
  • The film Alpha and Omega, naturally. Features a rare example of an alpha female.
Community Feedback Replies: 12
  • October 12, 2012
    Koveras
    • Kiba in Wolfs Rain, though Tsume initially challenges him for this place.
  • October 12, 2012
    Earnest
    See also/Compare Monster Lord, as sometimes the alpha is biologically distinct and superior to rank and file werewolves.
  • October 12, 2012
    SharleeD
    • In the Mercy Thompson novels, "Alpha" is the actual title used by the leaders of werewolf packs, with defined responsibilities and entitlements. An Alpha's status gives him (and it's Always Male) the ability to issue commands to pack subordinates that they cannot refuse to heed, an enhanced Healing Factor, and a few other powers that facilitate control and protection of his pack.
  • October 12, 2012
    Koveras
    If this is only about lupines, you may want to call this one Alpha Wolf to be precise.
  • October 12, 2012
    abk0100
    The description mentions "other social animals", but it's really wolf-centric otherwise.
  • October 13, 2012
    zarpaulus
    The term is usually used to apply to lupines, but I've seen it refer to others.
  • October 14, 2012
    Jallen
    Haven't biologists stopped using the term Alpha and Beta when referring to social rank among wolves? According to the Other Wiki they've moved onto "breeder wolf".

    Non wolf example
    • The Metroid Prime game series has loads of creatures with both Alpha and Omega classifications. Of course being a game this means that they have higher health, special attacks and are generally sub-bosses until late in the game.
  • October 14, 2012
    TonyG
    • In Up, Muntz's lead dog is named Alpha, and all the other dogs (except for Dug) are named after other Greek letters in accordance to their rank. When Dug defeats Alpha, the others name him the new Alpha.
    • The film Alpha And Omega, naturally. Features a rare example of an alpha female.
  • October 14, 2012
    zarpaulus
    @Jallen: From what I've heard most biologists still use the term "Alpha", but they've acknowledged that the primary purpose of those wolves is just breeding.
  • October 14, 2012
    Dawnwing
    Yes, it's determined now that the term "alpha" is no longer accurate in regards to wolves, and the person who coined the term even does not use it anymore since back when he published his book 40 years ago they didnt' realize that most wolf packs are usually a couple and their offspring. According to his website, he actually has asked the publisher to stop re-printing the book but they have anyway.

    So maybe in the description, in the part about how alphas aren't always from dominance fights, you could mention that because of the fact that most "alphas" are simply the parents of the pack and that dominance battles are rare, the term "alpha" is considered no longer accurate for wolves, and the term is being less frequently used by experts.
  • October 14, 2012
    NimmerStill
    Is this just for real animals, or the metaphorical way "Alpha" is used for people, like in Colbert's "Alpha Dog of the Week" segment, or rise to power in things like biker gangs or a Klingon ship, or countless others?
  • October 14, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^ Typically when they're referred to as such.

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