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


Study Area

This study was conducted during six summers from 1988 through 1996 on Ellesmere Island, Northwest Territories, Canada (80° N, 86° W). There, Wolves prey on Arctic Hares (Lepus arcticus), Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus), and Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi), and live far enough from exploitation and persecution by humans that they are relatively unafraid of people (Mech 1988, 1995). During 1986, I habituated a pack of Wolves there to my presence and reinforced the habituation annually.

The pack frequented the same area each summer and usually used the same den or nearby dens, but pack composition varied annually (Mech 1995). The habituation allowed an assistant and me to remain with the Wolves daily, to recognize them individually, and to watch them regularly from as close as 1 m (Mech 1988, 1995; National Geographic 1988). During 1759 h of observation, we noted each time an individual Wolf interacted with another Wolf, except for pups, which were not distinguishable from each other.

"Standing over" (SO) is a low-intensity display in which one Wolf casually approaches a recumbent Wolf and stands over or along side the recumbent Wolf so that the standing Wolf's groin is positioned above the recumbent Wolf's nose. I found no set pattern of behavior before or after SO by either the active Wolf or the recumbent Wolf — SO took place in a variety of contexts.

In "hugging," which I have never seen described in wild Wolves and only once in captives (Goodman and Klinghammer 1985), an individual Wolf puts its front legs around the head and neck of another while each lies on its side chest-to-chest, or on its haunches facing each other, or side-by-side on haunches with one placing front legs around the other's neck.

Only a few instances of SO were observed each year. Therefore sample sizes were too small for statistical comparisons by sex and age class within years. Pooling across years for statistical comparisons was inappropriate because opportunities for participation by Wolves of various sex and classes varied among years.

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