Zombie: The Ultimate Pack Hunter?

Wolves hunt in packs. One wolf is no match against the formidable majesty of an elk. But a pack of wolves can take down the beast without much effort, and share in its spoil. At first glance, zombie behavior seems to match that of wolves—hunting in packs, following their prey until it becomes fatigued, and sharing in the bounty. However, differences remain. This is Monday Mayhem, and these are my thoughts regarding zombie pack hunting.

Zombie pack hunters
Zombie pack hunters

Except for a few films, the majority depict zombies as pack hunters. The typical scenario involves a human stumbling in the midst of a zombie infested feeding ground and becoming the quarry in a quick game of cat and mouse against a horde of undead.

For the pack hunter idea to hold true, it would mean zombies would have to exhibit some form of intelligence in order to coordinate attacks against their victim. Given what we know about zombies—their lack of intellect, agility, and cooperation—coordinated attacks seem unlikely.

Wolves, on the other hand will organize into groups, stalk their prey, and give chase until it falls by the wayside. Should the prey enter a body of water, the pack will lay low while two or more of the ravenous killers stand guard by the edge.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Another difference with zombies and known pack hunters lies in their organization. A pack’s classic configuration contains an Alpha. He’s the dominant male that leads the pack to perform dastardly deeds of horror. Chimpanzees demonstrate this attribute in the wild when two males vie for the top position in the clan. A good example of the Alpha male conflict plays well in the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

So if differences exist between the animal kingdom and zombie packs, what kind of hierarchy do the undead follow?

Zombies function on instinct. Yes, very much like animals. The main component to their internal makeup is their sense of tracking. When one of them spots a potential victim, others in the vicinity respond likewise. You might want to call it a built-in GPS. You can see this behavior at work in movies such as Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later.

Other than I Am Legend, which some consider a vampire flick, the Alpha male is missing in popular zombie movies. If anything, the undead act upon external stimuli in a uniformed and structured fashion. If one smells human, they all smell human. Thus, the chase begins. Soldiers can eliminate the front line of an advancing undead army, but zombies are too dumb to know when to give up. They’ll continue forward until every human becomes the evening’s main dish.

Inasmuch even I would enjoy seeing zombies emulate wolf pack behavior, the undead have their own agenda. I’m sure one day someone will come up with the idea of having an Alpha male leading a pack of zombies through an apocalypse. Until then, we have to wait and enjoy what we currently have at our disposal.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

What do you think of zombie packs? Do you think Alphas leading the horde would prove even more terrifying?

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23 thoughts on “Zombie: The Ultimate Pack Hunter?

  1. I’ve never heard the I Am Legend/vampire thing, though looking at it now . . . I can see that.

    That would be a pretty awesome take on it, but then you’d get into all of the ‘mindless’ stuff. Talk about redefining a genre!
    😀

  2. Does not the idea of pack-hunting zombies then presume the zombies themselves are life forms vs. simply organic hosts to a bacteria or virus (or nanobots) that control motor functions? But… yeah, turning zombies into life forms would allow the concept of instinctual individual “thought” that could include not only a pack mentality but also the resulting drama of hierarchial social competition…. and then develop that one zombie who somehow has that quirky genetic mutant collection of DNA, that becomes…. self-aware. Return to humanity… fade to black.

    • I think that we can consider the behavior of the zombie as an expression of the animating virus/spirit/Venus probe voodoo rays. So when we speak of “the zombie’s” actions, we are actually talking about whatever the animating agent is or is doing. In this way, “pack hunting” could mean a behavior shown in zombies by their internal agents.

  3. I think that pack hunting zombies is a perfectly valid option. However in order for this to work the zombie has to have a certain level base intelligence remaining.

    Traditional zombies tend to act more like a flash mob than pack hunters. Each zombie is working independently listening for some disturbance. They really don’t work in a coordinated fashion the way wolves do. When a disturbance occurs they converge on that spot similar to the way Piranhas converge on the smell of blood in water. This is not pack mentality it is “groupthink”. It is not coordinated.

    I plan to explore true pack behavior in my serialized novel Day 42 (DayZ of DiZeaZe), once I get back to writing it. I have been sidetracked of late.

  4. I think if a zombie mass had an organized leader, they’d be horribly dangerous – I mean, they’re bad all by themselves, but a well-armed contingent of thinking, organized alive humans could do well-enough for themselves. Anything above instinctual (smell human-eat human) and even organized, well-armed humans are toast (or rather the snack on the toast! 🙂 ) – at least until they manage to regroup. Could you imagine if they were fast zombies with a leader?? Yikes!

  5. This is very interesting indeed, but I must disagree with your central tenet that zombies hunt in packs (other than perhaps Big Daddy as an Alpha in LoTD). In my opinion, every zombie is an autonomous agent looking out only for itself. However, much like ants and other social insects, the behavior of many zombies together produces what’s called “emergent behavior.” For example, one ant along is lost, seems to have completely random movements, and will usually die fairly quickly. When a colony of ants works together, even though every single ant would be lost and purposeless, the group as a whole hunts, builds structures, and so on. How can this be, and why might zombies be like this?

    The answer lies in the fact that complex emergent behavior in a group can arise from a simple set of rules used by each individual. (See a nice demonstration at http://math.hws.edu/xJava/CA/CA.html.) The rule may be as simple as “If I am close to another individual like me, keep a certain amount of distance. If it turns, follow. If there is no one in front of me, follow the individual behind me. If there is no one next to me, seek food and navigate toward it.” In these simple rules (or something very much like them), we get the flocking behavior of birds, for example. One bird by itself is kind of stupid, but together you have the Swallows of Capistrano.

    I believe zombies would work the same way. Since every zombie is a mindless entity, it would be contradictory to say that (a) one of them would be differentiated enough to be a leader or that (b) any other zombies would recognize that zombie as a leader anyway. Far more likely, and far more in keeping with other beings in the natural world with little or no cognitive power, is that part of being a zombie is being imprinted with certain rules like “When possible, pursue food and eat” and “when individual next to you moves, and you have no eating to be done right at that moment, follow that individual.” This way, if one zombie spots prey and goes after it, even the zombies who didn’t see the prey follow along and BAM! Instant “pack hunting,” but with no need for intelligent behavior.

    Thoughts?

  6. Hello Jack
    I’m glad you brought this subject up. I think you ought to read ‘The Common Cold: A Zombie Chronicle’ – just for full disclosure, it’s my book 🙂 In it I approach this subject using 2 forms of zombie, the lurcher and the fast ‘cheetah’. The Cheetah acts like a lioness hunting (not just stumbling across prey) and the lurchers are like the males of the pack and are attracted to the smell of brought down prey – it’s a sharing scheme. Don’t want to say too much more as a spoiler but there’s an element of telepathy as well.
    BTW – my favourite films when I was younger were the planet of the apes – sometimes a little too moralistic, especially the later ones, but I did enjoy the social development of them over time.
    Regards
    David

    • Good catch! Big Daddy was different in that he didn’t have to prove his leadership to the pack since they all naturally gravitated to his commands. Also, for him to be an Alpha, he would have had to show dominance over the horde. If anything, he displayed empathy to his fellow zombies not being challenged in his position.

      Land of the Dead is an awesome movie. Romero filmed portions of it in the Toronto downtown core. I’m familiar with the buildings and area, and it’s surreal watching it as the hub of a bloodbath!

  7. The closest I can think of this behavior is somewhat illustrated in Stephen King ‘s pseudo-zombie novel “Cell”. Without being spoilery: there is an “afflicted” individual who appears to hold power over the others and even restores some semblance of communication between them.

    Other than that, another great idea has been brought up. Thank you for this post! You’ve really inspired me in my own writing.

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