Wolves are primarily monogamous, as they have one set primary mate for life.
However, alpha wolves in particular also have a tendency to cheat, so pure monogamy is pretty rare with wolves.
As with most mammals in nature, monogamy in wolves is not as firmly set in stone that you might believe.
Wolves are among the rare monogamous mammals in nature (only 3-5% of all mammals are believed to be monogamous), although they will still be polygamous, especially alpha males.
Are Wolves Monogamous or Polygamous?
1. Alpha Wolves Are Not Truly Monogamous
While many people tend to believe that alpha wolf males are purely monogamous, that isn’t the case.
Pure monogamy is very rare, especially with mammal species. Wolves are believed to be on the list of the most monogamous mammals in the world.
And it’s a fairly short list that consists of only wolves, apes, gibbons, barn owls, bald eagles, and some other species.
Wolves are among the more monogamous mammals in nature. Once the alpha male picks his alpha female, it is thought that the two will mate for life, as long as their health situations allow it.
However, it will happen very rarely that the two animals will stay together, especially as alpha wolves wander away from the pack.
Alpha wolves are very adventurous in nature. They like freedom and don’t like to be completely bound and tied to the pack. So occasionally when they feel the need to, they will stray away and find other interesting venues they can explore, especially when they are breeding and they’re looking for sexual partners.
And since his alpha female can only bear children to the alpha male only once a year, the male might become sexually frustrated and full of sexual energy that he has to release.
That’s why he will seek other female partners, meaning that alpha males are rarely purely monogamous.
And when the alpha wolf male leaves his original pack, it is not unusual for the male to find another partner and start a completely new wolf pack with the new partner. This means that polygamy is quite common with wolves, especially with male wolves that are still sexually active.
Other non-alpha males of the pack are also potentially polygamous. When the alpha male is polygamous, it gives the other males more freedom to find other mates for themselves, too, since the pack structure is not as strict as it was before.
2. Most Alpha Males Are Still Loyal for Life
Even though some alpha males might leave their original mates, the vast majority of alpha wolves will take care of their offspring and their mates for the rest of their lives.
This means providing for the family, especially in terms of food, and protecting it from other wolves and potential threats. The alpha male wolf will be prepared to die for his pack if he has to.
The vast majority of alpha males will have one designated mate for life, and then occasionally seek other sexual opportunities that might not change the structure of the original pack at all. Rarely, the alpha male will leave his original pack and create a new one with the new mate.
The relationship between the alpha male and the alpha female is by far the most important relationship of the pack. All other members are reliant on this relationship, and if it’s not a strong one, the rest of the pack will suffer.
But wolves are among the species that have an unusually strong bond between the male and the female, which will remain intact for the rest of their lives, even if the wolf might have other sexual partners.
Eventually, no matter the degree of polygamy with wolves, most will return back to the original pack and take care of it further.
3. Wolf Pups Do Better With Monogamous Couples
A recent study has found that wolf pups will have a 20% better chance of surviving if it is raised by a monogamous, stable wolf partnership.
This study comes as no surprise, though.
The main role of the alpha male is to provide for the pack and for his family, and once he’s away and not with the pup and the mother, it’s harder for them to get food. And wolf pups will need food more constantly in order to survive.
The alpha female, on the other hand, has to keep a close eye on the wolf pups for the first few weeks and maybe months, so she can’t really provide food as effectively as the alpha male can.
When the alpha male is away from the pack and chasing other partners, it creates a shortage of food for the pups, which ultimately can lead to their death.
Wolf pups that were raised by a monogamous couple also fared much better in later life and were thought to be more likely to be monogamous themselves. They learn new skills better, go hunting earlier, and are able to stand up for themselves against other animals and potential enemies much earlier.
4. Wolves Are Still Among the Most Monogamous Mammals
Despite the fact that some alpha males might seek other sexual partners than the alpha female, wolves remain one of the most monogamous species and are loyal to each other, especially when compared to other species.
They mate for life, which is a rarity in nature and is not practiced by many species around the world. We as humans are also not monogamous, even though we like to believe we are. The truth is that polygamy is more common than monogamy in today’s world, and it’s likely that wolves have a more loyal structure than us.
Wolves are loyal creatures, although some alpha males will still practice polygamy, especially when they can’t breed with their original mate.
The responsibility of the alpha male is still to take care of his pack and ensure their safe survival, which is fulfilled by the male no matter his status – whenever he can.