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What is a Delta Wolf? (Wolf Hierarchy Explained)

A delta wolf is one that is third in command in a pack of wolves, next to the Beta Wolf. They rarely become the alphas, but they sometimes branch off and form a pack of their own.

Three wolves walking together
A Delta Wolf is the third in command of a wolf pack.

A Delta Wolf is strong. It can take command if the alpha and beta wolves are not around or if they are busy. In rare occasions, a delta wolf may challenge the alpha, and then rule over the current pack. If it loses, it has to leave the pack.

What is a Delta Wolf’s Rank in a Wolf Pack?

The delta wolf’s rank in the pack is third, and it follows the alpha and beta wolves. The alpha wolves are a couple of parents that built the pack, which includes the Luna Wolf, or the female alpha. 

As third in command, the Delta Wolf is next to the Beta Wolf. A Beta Wolf is the second most powerful physically, and it is also brave enough to lead its pack. 

If the beta wolf is injured or killed, the Delta Wolf will rise up in position and lead the pack when the alpha wolves are not there.

Delta Wolf vs Alpha Wolf

The alpha wolves (male and female) are the leaders of a wolf pack. By comparison, a delta wolf is the third in command, and is unlikely to become the alpha unless they break away and form their own pack. 

Here are the duties of the alpha wolf: 

  • Dominance over the rest of the pack
  • Breed and produce pups
  • Eat first after a successful kill

It is also the responsibility of the alpha wolves to protect the pack. They are the ones that attack if they feel that other animals, including other wolves, are a threat to their family.

The Delta wolf, on the other hand, has no other obligation but to follow the orders of the two alpha wolves.

Omega Wolf
The alpha wolves are a pair-bonded breeding pair at the head of a wolf pack

Delta Wolf vs Luna Wolf

The Luna Wolf is also an alpha wolf—it is also referred to as the alpha female. It is the partner of the alpha male. Her main responsibility is to bear pups for the male. 

Delta wolves do not mate with the alpha male. If they do, it is rare. They would only mate with the alpha male if they are females, and if the Luna wolf is dead.

Is a Delta Wolf an Omega Wolf?

Delta wolves and Omega wolves occupy different parts of the social hierarchy within a wold pack. The Omega Wolf is at the bottom of the pack, whereas the delta wolf is nearer the top.

A delta wolf is a viable successor or challenger to the alpha wolf once the alpha becomes old and weak, and they sometimes break away and form their own packs. By contrast, omega wolves are followers and are unlikely to challenge the alpha for position.

wolf pack
Although there is some distinction based on physical characteristics, most non-alpha wolves fulfil the same role within a wolf pack

How Do We Know About Wolf Heirarchies?

The hierarchy came about after a study that Rudolph Schenkel made in 1947. He published a book that he called Expression Studies on Wolves

The study provided groundbreaking insights as to how wolves behaved. He studied captive wolves and found out that there was a hierarchy. 

Do Deltas Wolves Mate?

In a wolf pack, there is a breeding pair, like parents in a human family. The breeding pair do not let the lower rungs of the wolf pack breed, as it would cause genetic problems. Delta wolves therefore sometimes break off and form their own packs.

Since the wolves pretty much operate close to human capacity, the parents, or the breeding pair, are in charge of everything—from security to shelter to food. They are the ones that breed and protect their young. 

Once pups are old enough, they take the lead or build a family of their own. The wolves will eventually venture out, as inbreeding causes genetic problems.

wolf
A delta wolf may leave the pack to form their own pack

Why The Ideas of Alphas and Deltas are Outdated

According to the founder of the International Wolf Center, David Mech, the term “alpha, beta, and delta” are now outmoded in relation to wolves.

In reality, there are parent wolves—the breeders. Then there are the pups. That is all there is to it. Then there is the Lone Wolf. These are wolves that live by themselves, and they are living a dangerous life. 

A Lone Wolf has no pack of its own. It is likely to suffer from food scarcity and territorial attacks. A Lone wolf becomes alone when an offspring leaves the pack. There are other wolves who choose to leave if the pack cannot hunt for enough food for everyone. 

Summary

The delta wolf is third in command, next to the Alpha and Beta. Once the Alpha is gone, the Beta will take over. The Delta wolf is likely to go on its own to raise a pack. Or, it can challenge the Alpha and win, then take over the pack. 

In reality, these are no alphas or betas, or deltas. Wolf families are nuclear, which means they operate in the same capacity or social structure as humans. These terms and roles were widely misunderstood in the 20th century.

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