When you think of someone who is a “lone wolf”, what do you think of?

Someone who carves their own path in a new and creative way? 

Someone who commits a crime on their own?

Someone who doesn’t want to socialize with others and lives on the outside? 

When we look up the term in the dictionary, we get: “a person who prefers to work, act, or live alone.” This term has been used since the early 20th century – at first to describe people who were loners and didn’t interact with others, but more recently we’ve heard it to describe lone attackers.

What inspired this phrase? Wolves are social animals, right? 

Yes, they are. Wolves are highly social animals that live in packs, but not all wolves stay with the same pack their entire lives. This, however, doesn’t mean they prefer to be alone.  

Young adult wolves who end up leaving the pack they were born into usually do so to form a pack of their own. That’s a big difference here – lone wolves don’t leave because they want to stay alone, they leave in order to find a mate, their own territory, and form their own pack. 

These “lone wolves” are actually called “Dispersers.” They play an important role for wolves as a whole: they’re the ones who keep wolves healthy by bringing new genes into the mix with different family groups. 

They also bring the wolf population into new areas. As they leave their home territory and head out in search of new surroundings and a mate, it allows them to settle in new, unoccupied space. They may travel hundreds of miles to find their new territory.  

So really, a “lone wolf” isn’t one who wants to be alone because they don’t like being around others. They’re a wolf who elects to be alone temporarily as they try to find a mate and find a place to have a family. They are the key to the genetic survival of the species.

Not quite so scary after all, are they? Like with many things about wolves, the idea seems to come from a misunderstanding of what wolves actually do.