Spitfire was chowing down on a bison that had tumbled over and died of natural causes.
Big Gray, with a full belly, was not far away.
He is the new alpha male of this splintered pack.
[See the postscript below if you are interested in the evolving dynamics of the Lamar Canyon wolves in the wake of some recent tragic events.]
On a hunch I separated myself from the ‘feeding frenzy’ of the wolf paparazzi and drove down the road a ways to a spot I hoped Spitfire might wander by on her way back up to the den area.
Patience is a virtue, they say; sure enough, in due time she came trotting toward me.
She was on an angle to skirt my presence by a reasonable distance. But I sensed a change in her demeanor as soon as she hopped up onto the road.
Her eyes locked on my camera lens and would not let go.
The angle between us shrunk a few degrees and Spitfire lowered her head. I was still under the impression that she was just slinking past me on her way up over the ridge.
And then suddenly…
“Oh my God!” a lady’s voice behind me exclaimed. “What should we do?”
“Don’t run,” I said, “wolves don’t attack people.”
I kept my eye glued to the viewfinder of my camera and continued firing away at 7-8 shots a second as she got closer and closer.
The irony did occur to me that I could have just uttered words that would be chiseled on my tombstone.
Ten yards in front of me Spitfire stopped beside a bush and in a universal language communicated loudly & clearly.
In the wild, scent marking with a raised leg is reserved for alpha wolves. In the male that is called, appropriately enough, a “raised leg urination” (RLU). Sub-dominant males squat to urinate.
Similarly, only the alpha female usually raises her leg to urinate. In her case, like Spitfire’s above, it is called a “flexed leg urination” (FLU).
The importance of noting this posturing in wolves is that from a distance one can begin to discern pack structure. In this case, with the Lamar Canyons, there are two females who are still working out their dominance relationship, although it is generally thought that Spitfire’s sister, Middle Gray (who recently gave birth to pups), has the upper hand.
At any rate, this is one feisty gal who has indeed captured my heart. I think she was just happy to see me!
I hate to leave my wolf friends here in Yellowstone but I am on my way to Miami to pick up my own little “wolf pup.” An 8-week old black & red German Shepherd with internationally titled WORLD-CLASS champions on both sides of her family tree.
Think I should name her ‘Spitfire’?
The Lamar Canyon Pack: A Brief Retrospective
The Lamar Canyon Pack was decimated last year by hunters.
Two male brothers, alpha 755M & beta 754M, dominated the pack along with the world-famous “rock star” female, alpha 832F (aka F-06).
754M, the 2nd-in-charge male, ventured outside the Park and was legally shot in Wyoming. Shortly thereafter, 832F, not known to wander but who may have been looking for the ‘lost’ 754M, was similarly gunned down in the same general area outside the Park.
Subsequently, alpha male 755 left the pack so as not to mate with his daughters. He has apparently hooked up with an unknown female and currently they travel in and out of the Park.
The deceased 832F’s two daughters, Middle Gray and The Black Lamar Female (aka, Spitfire) now form the nucleus of the once-thriving Lamar Canyon Pack. A male from outside the pack, known only as Big Gray, has taken over the alpha role. Middle Gray is pregnant but not by Big Gray.
Just recently another brother (859M) to the two Lamar females has returned to join the pack and seems to be tolerated by Big Gray. A few ‘dope slaps’ by his sisters and some intimidating looks from Big Gray, and the pecking order was instantly worked out, with 859 at the bottom.
Actually, it is never as simple as it sounds. First, this group of four does not rise to the level of a “Pack” anymore, since technically a wolf pack requires some of the members to be offspring of a breeding pair, and no one has seen the litter yet. Right now they are simply referred to by wolf biologists as the “Lamar Canyons.” That designation may change in short order.
No one even knows for sure who the sire is. Although, they know that it is not Big Gray. The location of the den – the same one used over and over again – is known from plane overflights, and many wolf watchers, including myself, have seen the sisters lugging chunks of food back to the den area.
UPDATE: two black wolf pups have just been sighted! It is still not clear who their sire is but we now know proof positive that it is not Big Gray, as two grays cannot produce black pups. The mystery continues…