What is a Dire Wolf?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
A significant number of Dire Wolf fossils were found in the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles.
A significant number of Dire Wolf fossils were found in the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles.

The Dire Wolf is a large wolf that lived from about a 100,000 to 10,000 years ago. Averaging about 1.5 metres (5 feet) in length and weighing about 57-79 kilograms (125-175 pounds), the Dire Wolf was roughly the size and weight of a human being, and would have been considerably more ferocious in one-on-one combat. Its range was North and South America.

The Dire Wolf hunted large animals like bison.
The Dire Wolf hunted large animals like bison.

The Dire Wolf is considered one of the Pleistocene megafauna, large animals that lived during the Pleistocene era and would have interacted extensively with early man. These include the short-faced bear, saber-toothed cat, Cave Lion, and ground sloths.

With large jaws, stubby legs, and a brain case smaller than the present-day Gray Wolf, its closest living relative, the Dire Wolf would have been good at taking down large prey, such as bison, mammoth, or other Pleistocene megafauna. It would have been less adept and running down quick prey such as deer or antelope.

Dire Wolf fossils were discovered in great quantity in the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. More than 3,600 individual specimens were discovered there, greater than any other mammal species. The Dire Wolves had probably come to feed upon the animals drinking from water holes in the area.

The Dire Wolf went extinct 10,000 years ago, approximately when humans started colonizing the Americas, during a worldwide phenomenon called the Pleistocene extinction event. Some paleontologists argue that the Pleistocene extinction event was caused by a multi-species "hyperdisease," but destruction by humans, who could utilize Stone Age tools and hunting techniques to kill other animals, seems more likely.

Because the Dire Wolves died out relatively recently, it is likely that some of their fossils are intact enough that DNA might extracted and patched together into a full genome and set of chromosomes, which could then be injected into a Gray Wolf ova or artificial womb and raised to maturity, a la Jurassic Park.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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    • A significant number of Dire Wolf fossils were found in the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles.
      A significant number of Dire Wolf fossils were found in the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles.
    • The Dire Wolf hunted large animals like bison.
      The Dire Wolf hunted large animals like bison.