Alpha (ethology)  

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Image:Jupiter and Thetis.jpg
Jupiter and Thetis (1811) by Ingres, Thetis is depicted in the painting by Ingres as pleading at the knees of Zeus: "She sank to the ground beside him, put her left arm round his knees, raised her right hand to touch his chin, and so made her petition to the Royal Son of Cronos" (Iliad, I).

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In social animals, the alpha male or alpha female is the individual in the community whom the others follow and defer to. Where one male and one female fulfill this role, they are referred to as the alpha pair. In some groups, the alpha males and females are overrepresented in the genetics of a population if they are the only ones who breed successfully.

Chimpanzees show deference to the alpha of the community by ritualised gestures such as bowing, allowing the alpha to walk first in a procession, or standing aside when the alpha challenges. Canines also show deference to the alpha pair in their pack, by allowing them to be the first to eat and, usually, the only pair to mate; wolves are a good example of this. The status of the alpha is generally achieved by means of superior physical prowess; however, in certain highly social species such as the bonobo, a contender can use more indirect methods, such as political alliances, to oust the ruling alpha and take his/her place.

In humans, the expression refers to a man who is powerful or high on the social ladder, similar to hegemonic masculinity. In Western cultures, the term is usually pejorative and describes a man who is overtly or affectedly masculine to the point of rejecting any affront to his ascribed status.

Beta male and omega male

In the power hierarchy of the animal group, two other roles also are defined and named. First, the Beta male, which is the contender, subservient to the alpha male, but only after testing. The betas act as second-in-command and can either be dethroned alpha males or future alphas if they persist in challenging the regnant alpha male. The term Omega male is an antonym often used in a deprecating or self-deprecating manner to refer to males at the bottom of the social hierarchy. An omega male will be subservient to both the alpha and the beta males.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Alpha (ethology)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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