Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Dire Wolf Extinction Mystery

If anyone is a Game of Thrones fan, you have probably heard of the dire wolf. In the Game of Thrones series, dire wolf pups were found, taken in, and raised by children. They grew very large, like a present day oversized gray wolf with heavier build and were fiercely loyal, protecting each of the children that raised them.

The dire wolf, unlike some of the fictional creatures in the series, actually lived up until about 10,000 years ago before going extinct. The dire wolf was big, weighing up to 175 pounds fully grown making it the largest in the Canis species. It was similar to the gray wolf but with much larger jaws and teeth and a heavier build. The dire wolf’s legs were shorter and it had larger pelvic bones and shoulder blades. The wolf was a carnivorous mammal, mostly found in North and South America, with the most fossils (upwards of 3,600) being found in the Rancho La Brea tar pits in California. The amount of gray wolf remains found in the pits was only 1% of that of the dire wolf. It is believed the dire wolf used the animals that were caught in the tar pits as a food source and consequently also became stuck. Such a large number of remains suggested that the wolves were pack hunters.

If the dire wolf was bigger and more powerful than the gray wolf, why did it go extinct? The answer to this question is not certain and there are a number of theories. The most prevalent theory suggests that the dire wolf’s adaptation for power over speed actually contributed to its demise. The wolf preyed on a number of fairly inactive large herbivore species, so when they became extinct the wolf was not able to catch other faster prey that remained. It is also theorized that the extinction of the dire wolf coinciding with prevalence of humans in North America could be related to an increase in hunting these large wolves or that both the humans and wolves were competing for the same food source.  More research and information will be needed in order to concretely determine what the main factor leading to their extinction was.

As an interesting side note, there is a group of dog breeders attempting to bring back the size and look of the dire wolf, crossing German Sherpards with Alaskan Malamutes as the base breed. The project began in 1988 and the breed is still progressing.  

Posted by: Morgan Matuszko (5)


  1. I am a huge Game of Thrones fan and always thought that the direwolf was extinct. It is fascinating to think that they once roamed the earth. Do you know in which way the direwolf is related to the wolf of today?

    Posted by: Nicole Boisvert

  2. This is so interesting! not only because its talking about an extinct species that now has a mystical creature role in our media now just like the dinosaurs, but because there are people out there trying to bring back a breed similar to the dire wolf. It would be interesting to follow this progress over the years to see if they actually succeed!

  3. It's pretty wild that we can go back so much time in history and find out what was roaming the earth. I was thinking the same question you posed in your second to last paragraph. As we can see even in humans, the biggest doesn't always come out victorious. Do you know if they were mostly populated in California, or spread out throughout the states?

    -Samuel Ustayev

  4. It honestly amazes me how large apex predators go extinct, just like megalodon, which was the largest shark and marine predator known to exist. But the lack of available food source, or apt, for the species to thrive does make a logical reasoning for why the animal would perish.

    Nicole Peterkin

  5. The dire wolf is not directly related to any of the wolves that are around today, but were related to wolves many years ago. It is clear from fossil records that they lived through much of North America, and possibly in Southern Canada, so they definitely had a large range.

    Posted by: Morgan Matuszko

  6. the dire wolf and the gray wolf are related like cousons