I have not personally heard of a
gamma wolf, but in the scientific nomenclature the term omega wolf is often used.
The omega wolf is one or more wolves, male or female, that occupy the lowest
position in the pack hierarchy. This wolf often plays the role of the scapegoat.
They can be male or female wolves, at least yearlings and often older, as pups do
not feel the pressures of the hierarchy until they are older.
Traditionally, there are alpha, beta, and omega wolves. The alphas are at the top,
betas in the middle, and omegas at the bottom of the pecking order. The rest of the
pack picks on omega(s). The omega role is more pronounced in captive packs where that
individual can not disperse and is forced to live with the pack.
In the wild, we tend to see that if life is dismal at the bottom
of the order then that bottom-dwelling wolf leaves the pack. Life is often not
so bad even for an omega wolf when food is readily available as it is in Yellowstone.
The Rose Creek Pack has many older members, though
few if any seem to be pushed out.
But we have also observed aggression by dominant members that pushes an
omega to disperse. The classic example thus far in Yellowstone is the case of
Number 39 in the autumn of 1997. She left the Druid
Peak Pack amid a climate of intense aggression brought mainly by her daughters, 42 and
40, upon her.
Currently the Druid Peak Pack has 3 females edging on toward two years
of age. It will be interesting to see if 40 and/or 42 become very aggressive toward
these individuals, either around mating season or next summer.
My feeling from observing a lot of wolves is that the
dominance/submission relationship and how it plays out is very dependent upon the demeanor
of the dominant leaders of the pack and their tolerance for the subordinates, and most
particularly the omega wolf. It is rarely predictable and very often does not play
out the same in different cases.