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Are Wolves Monogamous or Polygamous?

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Wolves are monogamous animals, often mating for life. They will sometimes show polygamous tendencies, mating with multiple partners. This is not done by all wolves.

Gray wolves do tend to stick to just one mating partner for life though, assuming their mate doesn’t die.

In this article, we’ll talk more about wolves mating tendencies, monogamous and polygamous behavior, as well as the different scenarios that may trigger polygamous behavior.

Are Wolves Monogamous?

Wolves are typically monogamous. This means that they will only have one mate at a time. If their mate dies, they will however find a new mate.

However, wolves will at times show signs of polygamous behavior, meaning they may cheat on their mates at times.

Two magnificent wolves in wolf pack in cold winter forest

Do Wolves Mate for Life?

Yes, wolves do mate for life. While it’s only the alpha couple in a pack that’ll produce offspring, the other wolves may also have partners they rely on.

Wolves are usually considered to be a species that is extremely loyal. There are documented cases of wolf packs in which the alpha male dies, but is replaced by another from within the pack, allowing his previous mate to stay at the top of the hierarchy. 

Do Wolves Have Lifelong Partners?

Wolves will have partners with whom they spend their entire lives, if possible. Alpha males will form an alpha couple with a female, who’ll then be the alpha female.

Kira Cassidy, a researcher at the Yellowstone Wolf Project, confirms that wolves often pair up for life. They will stay with their partner as long as possible.

While wolves may be socially monogamous, only partnering up with just one individual throughout their lives, they may mate with others throughout. It’s not uncommon for wolves to produce offspring outside of the official mating pair.

pack of wolves in the winter season

Wolves Are Among the Most Loyal Mammals

Wolves are among the most loyal mammals in all of nature. They are known to mate for life and stay together within a pack.

Because of their loyal behavior, wolf packs can stay around for decades. The longest-lasting pack researched by humans was first found in 1930 – the East Fork (Toklat) Wolves. [1]

Packs to break up at some point, often because of the death of the alpha, or because they’re killed by humans or other predators.

Polygamous Wolves

Most wolves have shown signs of polygamy, mating with other partners than their official breeding partner. Alpha males are typically the ones to show this behavior.

The degree of monogamy to polygamy isn’t known, as it’s difficult to keep track of the mating behavior between all wolves. It’s believed that this isn’t uncommon.

Alpha males may even produce offspring with other partners, as a result of his polygamy.

pack of wolves in the forest

Alpha Wolves Aren’t Truly Monogamous

The idea that all alphas are in committed, monogamous relationships isn’t completely true. Not for all wolves, at least. 

Sometimes an alpha male will take on multiple mates at once to expand his pack size and increase his chances of reproduction success. 

This happens especially when there are many female wolves whom the alpha males find attractive.

Wolves Will Cheat On Their Mate

Wolves do cheat on their breeding partner, yes. How much, or how often, isn’t known. The alpha male will often be the one to have multiple choices, when it comes to mating partners, compared to other males in the pack.

This is due to his high status and rank within the pack. 

While the alpha female (the other part of the alpha couple), may not want to breed, or if they’ve already bred, the alpha male may not be satisfied. Hence, he’ll look for other mates.

wolf-hunting-in-the-forest

Monogamous Wolves Make Better Parents

In a study on the topic of wolves’ mating patterns, specifically monogamy vs. polygamy, the researchers also looked for differences in the offspring.

This is where they discovered, that monogamous wolves make for better parents, raising offspring more successfully. [2]

The study shows how mating pairs who’ve bonded longer, meaning they’ve only mated with each other for a longer duration, showed higher survival rates in offspring. 

The wolf pups produced from monogamous mating pairs, in comparison to polygamous, were simply healthier and had a better chance of surviving.

Only Alphas Will Mate During Breeding Season

The breeding season for wolf packs occurs in January and February. During this time, the alpha male and female are the only ones that will mate with each other. 

This ensures they are producing offspring of their bloodline. 

Other wolves in a pack may copulate outside of their immediate family to produce pups. from different genealogies within the pack, also known as ‘outbreeding’. 

In doing so, it creates diversity amongst an otherwise homogeneous group, which makes them more adaptable when facing adversity.

During the breeding season, alpha wolves (males and females) will typically be more assertive and aggressive towards their pack members. They do this to ensure, that they’re the only ones who’ll breed, and to solidify their position in the pack.

alpha wolf against omega wolf

When Are Wolves Sexually Mature?

Wolves are sexually mature when they reach about two years old. Most breeding occurs in the months from January through March but may occur until June.

The female wolf estrous cycle ranges from January to June, while no estrous cycle was observed from July to December. [3]

When wolves have mated, they’re pregnant for about 60-65 days, whereafter they’ll give birth to around 4 to 6 wolf pups.

What Happens if Wolf’s Mate Dies?

If a wolf’s mate dies, they can either find a new mate, or they can live as a “loner”. They’ll still be a part of the pack, yet they won’t have a mate.

This process is different from male to female.

When alpha males lose their mate, they will still hold the position as alpha (unless they’re too distressed), while they find a new mate.

While this is also true for alpha females, there’s also another possibility: that they’re demoted, as a new alpha male finds his way to the top. This new alpha wolf will then bring its own mate to take the spot as an alpha female.

Related: Do wolves mate for life?

wolf alone in the wild

Conclusion

Wolves are monogamous, most of the time, mating for life. Some wolves show polygamous tendencies, but this behavior has been shown to have negative effects on the offspring.

When it comes to polygamy, it’s most often seen in alpha males, as their rank, authority, and dominance give them more options when it comes to choosing a mate.

About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.

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