Dire wolf

Extinct in about 9940 years ago
  • Dire wolf
  • Dire wolf

A pair of the horrible Dire wolf for our LOST ZOO

Dire wolf looks similar to the living wolfs, but it is larger and has a stockier build and shorter legs. Also the head is larger than the head of a wolf of the same size and the teeth are stronger than in all other wolfs. Because of its appearance the species is called the Horrible wolf or just Dire wolf, which is probably the heaviest canine ever to have lived.

Skeleton of Dire wolf@Harvard university museum

Skeleton of Dire wolf@Harvard university museum(Click to view larger image).

The Dire wolf lived in South America and immigrated to North America about 100.000 years ago. There the Dire wolf met the Eurasian wolf, which immigrated to North America much earlier. Both species shared the same habitats.

Image painting of Dire wolf and Sabertooth cat Display of 404 dire wolf skulls found in the La Brea Tar Pits

Image painting of Dire wolf and Sabertooth cat
(Click to view larger image).

Display of 404 dire wolf skulls found in the La Brea Tar Pits
(Click to view larger image).

The Dire wolf is one of the most famous prehistoric carnivores in North America along with the Sabre-toothed cat. The Dire wolf, which lived about 125.000-10.000 years ago in the Americas, has a broad range of habitats including the plains, grasslands and some forested mountain areas of North America as well as the arid savannah in South America, from sea level up to an altitude of 2.255 m. Today an eastern and a western subspecies are recognized. The eastern form (Canis dirus dirus) has longer limbs and shorter teeth than the western subspecies in California and Mexico (Canis dirus guildayi). The western subspecies weighs on average 60 kg.

Skull and dentition of Dire wolf showing functions of the teeth

Skull and dentition of Dire wolf showing functions of the teeth(Click to view larger image).

The eastern subspecies is larger and weighs about 68 kg. Its skull and dentition is similar to those of the recent wolf, but its larger teeth have a greater shearing ability, and its bite force is the strongest of any known wolf species. Their large size and highly carnivorous dentition indicates that the Dire wolf is a predator that feeds on large prey. In order to kill ungulates larger than themselves, they depend on their jaws because they cannot use their forelimbs to grapple with prey, and they work together as a pack that consist of an alpha pair and their offspring from the current and previous years.

Map of US states shaded gray where Canis dirus remains have been found

Map of US states shaded gray where Canis dirus remains have been found(Click to view larger image).

Like other social terrestrial mammalian predators too, they feed mostly on herbivorous mammals with a body mass similar to the body mass of all the social group members. The Dire wolf’s large size provides an estimated prey size in the 300–600 kg range. Stable isotope analysis of Dire wolf bones indicates that they have a preference for consuming bison rather than other herbivores but moved to other prey like horse, mammoth, sloth and camel when food became scarce. Occasionally they scavenged on dead animals too.

<em>Canis dirus</em>(Dire Wolf) compared with a 1.8 meter tall person and the modern <em>Canis lupus</em>(Gray Wolf).

Canis dirus(Dire Wolf) compared with a 1.8 meter tall person and the modern Canis lupus(Gray Wolf).(Click to view larger image).

About 12.700 years ago more than ninety genera of mammals weighing over 44 kilograms became extinct. By the extinction of the herbivore megafauna in North and South America the dire wolf lost large portions of its prey. Therefore the extinction of the large carnivore and scavenger is thought to be caused by the extinction of their megaherbivore prey, whereas the Eurasian wolf survived. Therefore also other factors like climate change and competition with other species including humans may have an impact on the existence of the Dire wolf which became extinct about 16.000-10.000 years ago. The last Dire wolf found in Missouri is dated 9.940 years ago and since that time both subspecies of the Dire wolf are extinct.

Dire wolf in LOST ZOO

Dire wolf in LOST ZOO
(Click to view larger image).

Therefore it is almost a sensation that after such a long time our Lost Zoo has now a pair of Dire wolfs. They have not a striking sexual dimorphism, but the male wolf is bit larger and heavier than his bitch.

 

Executive Curator
JURGEN LANGE

Dire wolf

The Dire wolf lived in South America and immigrated to North America about 100.000 years ago. It looks similar to the living wolfs, but is larger and has a stockier build and shorter legs. Also the head is larger than the head of a wolf of the same size, but the brain is smaller. The Dire wolf’s teeth are stronger than in all other wolfs and indicate that the Dire wolf is a predator that feeds on large prey.

Body length: 150 cm

Body weight: 60-68 kg

Habitat: Plains, grasslands and some forested mountain areas of North America as well as the arid savannah in South America, from sea level up to an altitude of 2.255 m.

Extinction: 16.000-10.000 years ago, the last found Dire wolf is dated 9.940 years ago. The Dire wolf’s extinction is caused mainly by the extinction of their megaherbivore prey, but also by other factors like climate change and competition with other species including humans.

Animal Exhibition
Dire wolf