Monday, August 4, 2008

Meet Murphy, Our Alpha Female

Murphy is the current alpha female of the clan we’ve been studying for about twenty years (Kate will primarily be posting on the new clan that we just began to watch). Murphy is twelve years old and has been the alpha for a whopping nine years, which means she assumed the throne at the young age of three. Perhaps more impressively, she is a great-great-grandmother, and she just had two young cubs of her own. She has mothered at least sixteen cubs over the years, several of whom she has outlived. Her lineage’s theme is characters from Greek mythology, including Artemis, Hermes, Athena, and her two youngest, Loki and Juno, who are just two and a half months old. It is a bit mind-boggling to think that little Loki is the second-highest ranking hyena in our clan, considering she’s the size of a small puppy and weighs about 6 lbs.

Murphy has a pretty great life when you consider that she rarely (if ever) has to hunt, because she can always just help herself to prey killed by anyone else in the clan (see previous entry). She’s also, not surprisingly, immensely popular. It’s unusual to see her alone because many of the lower-ranking hyenas love to be in the presence of the queen. In the photo, Murphy is the hyena in the center, and you can see her being crowded by four other hyenas. I imagine being The Big Cheese can get a bit tiresome, though, because she rarely gets a moment of peace, and is constantly being presented to, greeted, groomed, etc. Quite frankly it looks exhausting.

Perhaps our favorite thing about Murphy isn’t Murphy at all, but her boyfriend, Midget. Midget is the highest-ranking immigrant male in the clan, but doesn’t have the reproductive record to match. Midget is absolutely obsessed with Murphy, but in the classic male hyena way: he keeps his distance and rarely approaches her. He follows her around constantly—it’s unusual to see Murphy without Midget lurking somewhere in the grass. Come to think of it, he’s more of a stalker than a boyfriend. But a loveable stalker, because he’s always quick to jump up and ward off any pesky lower-ranking immigrant males whom he thinks have strayed a bit too close to his One and Only. It’s tough not to pity Midget, though, because Murphy never so much as bats an eye in his direction. It’s the ultimate case of the nerdy underclassman following around the popular senior girl, who doesn’t even seem to know he exists. But Midge, bless his heart, never gives up his devotion.

1 comment:

Katy said...

Actually, once this year I saw Murphy being very submissive to Midge. She had her ears back and was head bobbing to him! It was very strange and made me wonder whether Murph was slipping. However, every time I saw them after, she was back to ignoring him and all was right with the world.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science