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"Standing Over" and "Hugging" in Wild Wolves, Canis lupus


Behaviorists disagree on the meaning or significance of SO. Schenkel (1947, translation by F. H. Harrington) saw SO in his captive Wolves only during "peaceful" times and did not seem to regard it as a dominance-related posture. He believed that SO " probably derived from the presentation of the genitalia by the young, behaviour that is released (stimulated) by the licking by the mother." However, I never saw any genital licking associated with SO. Zimen (1982) listed SO as one of 48 postures he observed but stated nothing more about it except that it was a "neutral" posture. Goodman and Klinghammer (1985) listed SO in the following categories of behavior: aggressive-elicited; aggressive-food related; aggressive-sex related; care-giving, care-solicitation; greeting; and play-agonistic. I did not see any hostility or aggressiveness associated with SO, but my observations were made only in summer, the nadir of Wolf breeding physiology (Seal et al. 1979). R.O. Peterson (personal communication), during 28 winters observing Isle Royale Wolves, saw seven cases of SO, four of which were between breeders; he concluded that "SO came out as a pretty minor behavior, and depending on context appeared to have significance in dominance expression and courtship." Derix et al. (1994) grouped SO with behaviors they considered sexual in their captive pack.

Three clues from my data (Table 1) about the significance of SO are (1) that any pack member could be an active or passive participant, (2) the breeding female, post-reproductive female, and breeding male were most involved, and (3) in at least some of the cases, genital or inguinal sniffing was involved. From these data, I propose that SO is a posture that simply informs each Wolf of the reproductive status of the other, i.e., gender and degree of reproductive maturity and readiness.

Goodman and Klinghammer (1985) interpreted hugging as an agonistic, greeting, or courtship display. However, in the context in which I observed the behavior during summer, it appeared more to be a deliberate display of friendliness and affection than to fit in any of the other categories. I cannot explain why I only observed hugging in 1990, and an aborted attempt in 1992 (Table 2), except that in 1990 there were three adult Wolves and only a single pup in the pack. Thus food competition was minimal.

These observations greatly extend information about Wolf behavior, previously only described in captive situations, by placing the behaviors in their natural context. The hypotheses offered about their interpretation can be used to explore further their significance.

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