Online Myths Busted: Wolf Pack Meme

For and and fun, I spend a lot of time online. And that means coming across a lot of online myths. Most come and go, but a few have staying power, and from time to time, I’ll try and pick those up here and see if the content of the myth holds up.

Let’s start with one that’s really popular on LinkedIn: The Wolf Pack Meme. Here’s the original meme:

Now, let’s start with the obvious: a simple reverse image search shows us that the picture was not taken by “Cesare Brai”, but by Chadden Hunter, an Austrlian-born BBC producer who have worked on some of the channel’s biggest wildlife series (of which there are a lot!), including Frozen Planet, which is when he took the photo. It was taken in Yellowstone, but the caption with the description from the meme, was not published when the picture was, nor is it something written by mr. Hunter. It was added later, by sources unknown.

Now, heading over to International Wolf Center’s website, wolf.org, we learn that not only is the caption not by the person who observed the wolves, but is also wrong. It does not describe wolf behavior.

The behavior we see in the photo is actually very typical, but it is misinterpreted (deliberately to make a point, or due to lack of better info). The wolves are moving single file, with the strongest wolf in front, as is normal wolf behavior in deep snow, as this allows the stronger wolf to clear a path that the other can follow. This conserves pack energy. So it wouldn’t make sense to put the “old or sick” up front.

The wolf in the back has actually done exactly what the caption claims that the pack prevents: it has fallen behind. Maybe it was checking something out. Maybe it is old or sick. In any case, it is dropping behind, not “leading from behind”, and it isn’t the alpha wolf. In fact, there’s no such thing as an alpha wolf, but more on that some other time.

This is a typical case of humans reading behavior and motivations into animals that we want to be there, not that are actually there. The sentiments of the meme’s text isn’t bad (except for the idea that the leader is in back – aren’t you supposed to lead from the front?), but the wolves aren’t proof of the meridity of it.

Another thing this meme is a sign of, along with many other animal memes, is the idea that man must copy nature. But nature doesn’t do one thing. Even if wolves did behave like this, why does that, in and of itself, mean we should copy that behavior? There are many animals out there, who behave in various ways, after all. Ducks are rapists and necrophiliacs, for instance, but I doubt anyone thinks that means we should be, too. This sort of nature fallacy is a lazy form of argument that, instead of arguing why a given behavior is valuable and right for humans, simply finds an example of the behavior in nature and claims that it is valid because it is found in nature.

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