How to identify a ‘Lone Wolf’ : A scientific guide

The Finsbury park attack this week was just the latest in a seemingly endless run of such incidents. Difficult times. Difficult problems. Dispiriting options. Hard times ahead.

I don’t know how to address these things, I’m just a random bloke with a webpage. However, one thing I can help with, is describing the perpetrators. Many people have been angered by the lack of media coverage referring to him as a terrorist, arguing that because the attack was directed at Muslims rather than perpetrated by them, then it can’t be terrorism, because only Muslims do that, if you believe the papers.

There may indeed be an element of this, but as many have pointed out, the individual responsible is alive and will face trial, so legal restrictions are in place regarding what can and cannot be reported, in order to prevent mistrial and so forth.newspaper cover sapshot

Ergo, some of the media coverage has had to get a bit more creative. The Times went all out with their front page splash referring to the individual as a “lone wolf”.

This is a commonly used phrase. But is it accurate? And if so, how are you supposed to know when you’ve got one nearby? Many neighbours and relations of those labelled Lone Wolves often express shock and dismay that a harmless-seeming individual could do something so heinous. Except in this case, admittedly, as the Cardiff neighbours of the accused individual refer to him as a “complete c***“.

So, how do you know if someone is a Lone Wolf? Here’s a scientific guide.


How does the individual in question find food when hungry? If they’re a true lone wolf, they will seek out prey with their highly efficient hearing and sense of smell. Of course, being a lone wolf they will be denied the advantage of group hunting meaning they can’t bring down larger animals, so will be restricted to smaller prey.

If they instead obtain food from the extensive range of options provided by standard human society, then they are not really a lone wolf. Even the subtlest interaction required by most transactions would largely rule out lone wolf status if carried out successfully. If the individual readily consumes cuisine like kebabs, pizzas, curries, burgers etc. while constantly complaining about how the influence of immigrants and foreigners is ‘ruining this country’, then they’re definitely not a lone wolf, they’re just an idiot


A true lone wolf will avoid the territories of other packs, except in certain circumstances (see below), so they are constantly on the move, keeping their presence secret from other wolves by any means necessary. Without a pack to be part of, other wolves are a danger to steer clear of. It means lone wolves have to cover hundreds of miles of terrain to find food and safety.

If the individual in question lives as a member of a community or family group with no obvious issues or conflict beyond the everyday, if they aren’t driven from their homes to pursue a solitary existence on the margins of human settlements, then they aren’t a lone wolf. The fact that reported Lone Wolves often have neighbours and friends to speak up for them is itself a contradiction.


Obviously, a genuine lone wolf doesn’t get to mate much, what with being literally alone. However, there are instances when, if the circumstances align neatly, they can do so. If they detect the scent of a female in heat (lone wolves are mostly male, but not always) who is part of a pack where the alpha is weak or old, they can challenge said alpha for mating rites, and sometimes win. Thanks to this process, a Finnish Lone Wolf once saved a Swedish pack from inbreeding-induced disaster.

By contrast, if their lack of sex is due to something like an unrealistic expectation of how much women will want to be with them leading to illogical feelings of rejection slowly developing into a seething but unwarranted rage and aggression at women and the world in general, that’s a whole other thing. Not a Lone Wolf. There are genuine issues and social factors to be looked at and combated there, but the comparison with wolves is even more unwarranted.

If they’re actually married with children and still hate the world and everyone in it, again, there are other issues at work here.


If they have four legs, sharp teeth and fur, then they’re probably a lone wolf. If they’re bipedal and wear clothes and talk and understand the concept of money and religion and politics and beany babies and smartphones and bathtubs etc., then they’re clearly a human.

I realise it’s meant to be metaphorical, but I don’t care. Words and images matter, particularly when presented in maximum-impact high-profile ways, like on the fronts of major newspapers. Wolves are highly evolved pack predators but the fact that around 15% of them end up going it alone is intriguing to us. A lone wolf inspires images of independence, dignity, mystery, strength and determination, as well it should.

None of these qualities should be reflexively applied to a despicable individual who commits acts of obscene violence against innocent people due to illogical and highly suspect conclusions, just because he doesn’t conform to the usual ethnic or religious templates you prefer.

If you must use some comparable creature from the natural world, why not try the Carpenter ant? They are perfectly normal individuals except when they get infected by a vicious brain fungus which causes them to abandon their community and go off on illogical suicide missions, purely so the brain-eating fungus can spread to others. Surely that’s a far more suitable comparison? Unless you’re harvesting the fungus for your own benefit of course, then I guess you wouldn’t want to draw attention to it

[Facts about Lone Wolves can be found here]

Dean’s book The Idiot Brain is available now for 40% off