Pleistocene Epoch, 125000-10000 years ago
North America, South America
Countries in North and South America
5 feet long, 3 feet tall at the shoulder, 150-200 pounds
- Both dire and gray wolves lived at the same time, but the two species managed to avoid competing with one another.
- Gray wolves were migrants from Eurasia that hunted small to mid-sized ungulates. The dire wolf’s evolutionary history is firmly rooted in the Americas and with their heavier bones and slightly shorter legs, they could not pursue such swift targets. Instead, they specialized in taking down megafauna prey species of 1,000 pounds or more.
- The dire wolf had bigger teeth and a greater bite force than the gray, perfect for shearing through the tough hides and crushing the bones of animals like horses, camels, ground sloths, and bison. Once these giant prey species went extinct the dire wolf soon followed, which allowed the smaller, more flexible gray wolf to take over its niche as North America’s top dog.
- Many dire wolf fossils are found with broken teeth. It was initially believed that this was evidence for a high frequency of bone-cracking. However, tests showed that while dire wolves could produce greater shearing forces than modern wolves they were not much better at crushing bones. Instead, it is believed that broken teeth are an indicator of the animal’s social life.
The dire wolf is the largest wolf and one of the largest canines to have ever existed, although it was nowhere near the size depicted in fantasy films and video games. While it was a similar height and length to the modern gray wolf, it had a much more robust skeleton and dentition. It is rare to find modern gray wolves in excess of 120 pounds, while dire wolves averaged about 150 pounds and could reach weights over 200 pounds.While dire wolf fossils have been found all over North America and even from South America, they are best known from the specimens recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. The remains of over 4,000 individual wolves have been pulled from the asphalt! Fossils indicate dire wolves traveled in large packs, which meant there would have been fierce competition during feeding. Robust jaw musculature and teeth would have allowed individual dire wolves to rapidly bolt down food before rivals could get to it, but also increased the chance of chipping a tooth on a piece of bone.
Kingdom - Animalia Phylum - Chordata Class - Mammalia Order - Carnivora Family - Canidae Genus - Canis Species - C. dirus