Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
"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 "...is 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
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.
Previous Section -- Results
Return to Contents
Next Section -- Acknowledgments