Contrary to many notions about predators, it would seem that there are many whose success is directly linked to their social organization and more specifically to the role of the social leaders that may direct the group.

Predation is, by its nature, an energy intensive, high risk endeavor. Unexpected events may occur resulting in injuries, which may directly affect the ability of the predator to survive.

Except in the cases of resource constraint, or exceptionally large animals, it makes sense to spread the risk among more individuals. This becomes especially important when sickness or injury may be debilitating enough to prevent hunting and the individual becomes dependent on the group for support during such times. Predators must also be wary of competition from other predators that are inclined to steal their kill. The larger the animal is, the less likely it will be subject to such opportunistic conflicts.

Therefore we find that this same result parallels the size of the social group with corresponding successes against such predations. However, the problem is more difficult with predators since they have to deal with a specific finite resource for food. The more predators are involved, the larger the prey animal must be to nourish them after a kill. Once again, we have an equilibrium point that needs to be considered so that the size of a social group must compliment the availability of prey animals. Too few prey animals will result in the group dying out, or having to separate into smaller groups to survive.

It is also clear that the social environment becomes the training ground for new members, which is especially important for predators since they must be taught the intricacies of prey detection, tracking, and killing. In groups like the wolf, the task of raising the young is essentially a group activity, despite the fact that only the alpha male and female reproduce. This is another compelling case of where belonging to a cooperative group with its attendant rules is clearly a more beneficial arrangement which supercedes the “selfishness” of simply passing on one’s genes.

Interestingly within Grey Wolf groups, there is also an omega wolf that is largely the target for the other member’s aggression. This animal is literally at the bottom of the social hierarchy and will be left to pick over the food leavings of others. It bears considering what would prompt a “selfish” creature to accept such a lowly status within a group.

It should be understood that not all animals interact in social groups and some may only have limited contact with such groups (either as predators or prey). However, it should also be noted that while these animals certainly behave in a self-interested manner, there is none that could be said to exhibit any trait remotely resembling “selfishness”.

In general, cooperative behavior serves several purposes in ensuring that predators are able to hunt prey that might normally be beyond their ability to kill. This ensures that a singular effort can result in enough food for many and thereby mitigate the risks inherent in having to provide multiple kills.

A cooperative group also provides a means by which future mates may be selected and the group organization ensures that the young are protected from external predation. In all likelihood it is these conditions that probably gave rise to group cooperation in the first place, since these animals would’ve shared a geographic proximity and frequent encounters as contrasted with the largest predators that typically have more far-ranging territories.

In having examined these various aspects of biology, I hope that it has become clear that simplistic ideas of “survival of the fittest” or “selfishness” don’t even begin to describe the intricacies of animal adaptations. While there are many animals that operate as individuals, there are numerous examples indicating adaptations from simple “part-time” social groups (schools of fish, and seasonal flocks of birds) to highly complex social groups (wolves, horses, and humans). In all cases, the degree of socialization is also a determining factor in the direction selection pressures have worked to “create” the modern day animals. In many cases, the social aspects of an animal group are inseparable from the individual, since there is no survival capability for the individual outside the group. Therefore, we have to recognize that while these social groups consist of individuals, each capable of acting in their own self-interest, the results will be colored by the group requirements and create a form of “super-organism” that is now representative of the species.