Discovering History’s Direwolves

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In HBO’s Game of Thrones, the direwolf is both the sigil of and companion to the members of House Stark. For anyone living south of Winterfell, the dire wolf is a creature of myth—the same as a giant, a mammoth, or a dragon. Wait… all of those things turned out to be real. Maybe Westeros could do with better natural history lessons.

Then again, both mammoths and dire wolves have passed into legend in our own world too. Just like Game of Thrones, however, not all our mythical creatures are doomed to stay that way. Efforts are now underway to bring extinct creatures, dire wolves and mammoths included, back to the world of the living. In light of that fact, as well as how owned the people of Westeros are getting by their own “mythical” creatures, it might not be a bad idea to recap what we know of the historic dire wolf.

In short, the stories are true:

• Dire wolves were the largest wolves to ever walk this earth. Full grown individuals weighed in at 175 pounds and measured about five feet from head to tail. That’s about 25 percent heavier than the wolves of today, and 25 percent larger than our largest dog breeds.

• Dire wolves existed alongside humans. They called everywhere from Canada to Bolivia their home as recently as 10,000 years ago. While we can’t say for sure that this points to domesticated dire wolves, people were likely domesticating dogs as early as 36,000 years ago, so it could have happened.

• Dire wolves could do great things if they worked together. Packs of them are thought to have hunted game as large as moose and mammoth. They could even defend their kills from monsters like the saber-toothed cat, with whom they shared large parts of their habitat.

What dire wolves might not have been was brainy. At California’s La Brea Tar Pits, they are the single most common creature to have died after getting stuck in the muck. This could partly be due to the dire wolf’s social hunting strategy, but this reporter remembers at least one researcher characterizing dire wolves as “a bunch of idiots.” Maybe we could fix that slight defect this time around.

If you want to someday own a dire wolf of your own, check out the efforts of The Dire Wolf Project, which aims to approximate the appearance of  these extinct creatures through breeding. A legit dire wolf companion might take longer to resurrect, but we’ve got our fingers crossed that enough Canis dirus DNA got stored away in the tar that we could someday see these awesome creatures brought back to life.

What creatures would you like to see science bring back from extinction? Let us know below!

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