The beast with such a terrible name no longer exists – the dire wolf has died out many thousands of years ago. He lived on the territory of North America in the most ancient era of the late Pleistocene. In the entire history of the Earth, it was one of the largest animals that belonged (according to the accepted classification) to canines. And the largest species belonging to the wolf subfamily (Caninae).
Origin of the species and description
Despite the presence of certain similarities with the gray wolf, there are significant differences between these two “relatives” – which, by the way, helped one species survive and led to the extinction of the population of a more formidable and ferocious beast. For example, the dire wolf's paws were somewhat shorter, although they were much stronger. But the skull was smaller, compared to a gray wolf of the same size. In length, the dire wolf significantly exceeded the gray wolf, reaching, on average, 1.5 m.
Video: Dire wolf
From all this, we can draw a logical conclusion — dire wolves reached the size of large and very large (relative to the gray wolves familiar to us), weighed (adjusted for individual genetic characteristics) about 55-80 kg. Yes, morphologically (that is, in terms of body structure) dire wolves were very similar to modern gray wolves, but these 2 species, in fact, are not as closely related as it initially seems. If only because they had a different habitat – the ancestral home of the second was Eurasia, and the dire wolf species was formed in North America.
Based on this, the following conclusion suggests itself: a genetically ancient dire wolf species would be closer in kinship to the coyote (an American endemic) than to the European gray wolf. But with all this, one should not forget that all these animals belong to the same genus – Canis and are close to each other in a number of ways.
Appearance and features
The main difference between the terrible wolf and its modern relative was morphometric proportions – the ancient predator was distinguished by a slightly larger head relative to the body. Also, his molars were more massive than those of gray wolves and North American coyotes. That is, the skull of a dire wolf looks like a very large skull of a gray wolf, but the torso (if taken in proportion) is smaller.
Some paleontologists believe that dire wolves fed exclusively on carrion, but not all scientists share this point of view. On the one hand, yes, their incredibly large teeth of predators testify in favor of the hypothetical carrion of dire wolves (looking at the skull, you need to pay attention to the last premolar and mandibular molars). Another (even if indirect) evidence of the carrion of these animals can be a chronological fact. The fact is that during the formation of the dire wolf species on the North American continent, dogs from the genus Borophagus, typical carrion eaters, disappear.
But still, it would be more logical to assume that dire wolves were situational scavengers. Perhaps they had to eat animal corpses even more often than gray wolves, but these animals were not obligate (in other words, specialized) scavengers (for example, like hyenas or jackals).
Similarities with the gray wolf and coyote are observed and morphometric characteristics of the head. But the teeth of the ancient beast were much larger, and the bite force exceeded all known ones (from those determined by wolves). Their tooth structure gave dire wolves great cutting power, they could inflict doomed prey much deeper wounds than modern predators.
Where did the dire wolf live?
The habitat of dire wolves was North and South America – these animals inhabited two continents about 100 thousand years BC. The period of “flourishing” in the species of a terrible wolf fell on the time of the Pleistocene epoch. Such a conclusion can be drawn on the basis of the analysis of dire wolf fossils found during excavations carried out in different regions.
Since that time, the fossils of dire wolves have been dug up both in the southeast of the continent (the lands of Florida) and in the south of North America (territorially, this is the Mexico Valley). As a kind of “bonus” to the finds at Rancho Labrea, signs of the presence of these animals in California were found in Pleistocene deposits located on the territory of the Livermore Valley, as well as in layers of a similar age located in San Pedro. The specimens found in California and Mexico City were smaller and had shorter limbs than those found in the central and eastern regions of the United States.
The terrible wolf species finally died out along with the disappearance of the mammoth megafauna about 10 thousand years BC. The reason for the disappearance of the range of the dire wolf lies in the death of many species of large animals at the time of the last centuries of the Pleistocene era, which could satisfy the appetite of large predators. That is, banal hunger played a key role. In addition to this factor, the actively developing populations of Homo sapiens and common wolves also contributed to the extinction of the dire wolf as a species. It was they (and mostly the first ones) who became the new food competitors of the disappeared predator.
Despite the developed effective hunting strategy, strength, rage and endurance, dire wolves could not oppose anything to a reasonable person. Therefore, their unwillingness to retreat along with self-confidence played a cruel joke – ferocious predators themselves became prey. Now their skins protected people from the cold, and fangs became a female adornment. Gray wolves turned out to be much smarter – they went to the service of people, turning into domestic dogs.
Now you know where the terrible wolf lived. Let's see what he ate.
What did the dire wolf eat?
The main menu item for dire wolves was ancient bison and American equids. Also, these animals could feast on the meat of giant sloths and western camels. An adult mammoth could effectively resist even a pack of dire wolves, but a cub, or a weakened mammoth, strayed from the herd, could easily become the breakfast of dire wolves.
Hunting methods were not much different from those used to search for food gray wolves. Taking into account the fact that this animal did not disdain eating carrion, there is every reason to believe that the dire wolf looked much more like a hyena than the same gray wolf in its way of life and diet.
However, the terrible wolf had one serious difference in the strategy of obtaining food from all other predators from its family. In view of the geographical features of the territory of North America, with its numerous bituminous pits into which large herbivores fell, one of the favorite ways of finding food for dire wolves (as well as for many carrion birds) was eating an animal stuck in a trap.
Yes, large herbivores often fell into traps of natural origin, where predators ate dying animals without any problems, but at the same time they themselves quite often died, bogged down in bitumen. Each pit buried about 10-15 predators for half a century, leaving excellent materials for our contemporaries to study.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
D. guildayi, one of the subspecies of the dire wolf that inhabited the territory of the South of the United States and Mexico, was most often caught in tar pits of all predators. According to the data provided by paleontologists, the remains of dire wolves are much more common than the remains of gray wolves – the ratio is 5 to 1. Based on this fact, 2 conclusions arise.
First: the number of dire wolves at that time significantly exceeded the populations of all other types of predators. Second: given the fact that many wolves themselves became victims of bitumen pits, it can be assumed that it was for hunting that they gathered in packs and ate mostly not carrion, but animals caught in bitumen pits.
Biologists have established a rule – all predators prey on herbivores whose body weight does not exceed the total weight of all members of the attacking flock. Adjusted for the estimated mass of the dire wolf, paleontologists concluded that their average prey weighed about 300-600 kg.
That is, bison became the most preferred objects (in this weight category), however, with the existing impoverishment of food chain wolves significantly expanded their “menu”, paying attention to animals larger or smaller.
There is evidence that dire wolves gathered in packs sought out whales washed ashore and consumed them for food. Taking into account the fact that a pack of gray wolves can easily kill an elk weighing 500 kg, it would not be difficult for a pack of these animals to kill even a healthy but stray bison.
Social structure and reproduction
Studies by paleontologists of dire wolf body sizes and skulls have identified the presence of gender dimorphism. This conclusion points to the fact that wolves live in monogamous pairs. When hunting, predators also worked in pairs – similar to gray wolves and dingo dogs. The “backbone” of the attacking group was a paired male and female, and all the other wolves from the pack were their assistants. The presence of several animals during the hunt guaranteed the protection of the killed animal or the victim stuck in the bitumen pit from the encroachments of other predators.
Most likely, dire wolves, distinguished by strength and large mass, but at the same time less endurance, attacked even healthy animals that were larger than themselves. After all, gray wolves hunt fast-footed animals in packs – why, then, stronger and more ferocious dire wolves could not afford to attack large and slow animals. Sociality also influenced the specifics of hunting – this phenomenon was not expressed in dire wolves in the same way as in gray wolves.
Most likely, they, like the North American coyotes, lived in small family groups, and did not organize large packs, like gray wolves. And they went hunting in groups of 4-5 individuals. One pair and 2-3 young wolves — “insurers”. Such behavior was quite logical – enough to guarantee a positive result (even a seasoned bison alone could not withstand five attacking predators at the same time), and there would be no need to divide the prey into many.
Interesting fact: In 2009, a chilling thriller was presented on the screens of cinemas, the main character of which was a dire wolf. Moreover, the film was named after a prehistoric predator – quite logically. The essence of the plot boils down to the fact that American scientists managed to combine human DNA with the DNA of a dire wolf, a bloody prehistoric predator that prevailed during the Ice Age, extracted from a fossil skeleton. The result of such unusual experiments was to obtain a terrible hybrid. Naturally, such a beast was disgusted with becoming a lab rat, so he found a way to get free and started looking for food.
Natural enemies of dire wolves
The main competitors for the meat of large animals during the existence of dire wolves were smilodon and the American lion. These three predators shared among themselves the population of bison, western camels, Columbus mammoths and mastodons. Moreover, intensively changing climatic conditions have led to a significant intensification of competition between these predators.
As a result of the climatic shifts that occurred, during the last glacial maximum, camels and bison moved from pastures and meadows mainly to the forest-steppe, to feed on coniferous trees. Taking into account the fact that the maximum percentage in the “menu” of the dire wolf (as well as all its competitors) was equids (wild horses), and sloths, bison, mastodons and camels were much less likely to get to these predators “for lunch”, the population of predators was rapidly declining . The herbivores listed above had a much smaller number and therefore could not “feed” the bred predators.
However, the pack hunting and social behavior of dire wolves allowed them to successfully compete with natural enemies, who were significantly superior to them in all physical data, but preferring to “work” alone. Conclusion – smilodons and American lions disappeared much earlier than dire wolves. Why, they themselves often became the prey of wolf packs.
Population and species status
The habitat of the populations was the territory of America approximately 115,000-9340 years ago, during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene. This species evolved from its ancestor — Canis armbrusteri, who lived in the same geographical area about 1.8 million – 300 thousand years ago. The range of the largest of all wolves extended up to 42 degrees north latitude (its border was a natural barrier in the form of huge glaciers). The height limit above which the remains of a dire wolf were found — 2255 meters. Predators lived in a variety of areas – on flat terrain and grasslands, in forested mountains and in the savannahs of South America.
Canis dirus disappeared during the Ice Age. Several factors contributed to this phenomenon. Firstly, the first tribal intelligent people appeared on the territory occupied by the population of dire wolves, for whom the skin of a killed wolf was warm and comfortable clothing. Secondly, a cruel joke with dire wolves (actually, like with all other animals of the Pleistocene era) was played by climate change.
In the last years of the ice age, intensive warming began, the populations of large herbivores, which make up the main diet of the dire wolf, disappeared altogether or went north. Together with the short-faced bear, this predator was not agile and fast enough. The powerful and squat skeleton, which hitherto ensured the dominance of these animals, became a burden that did not allow them to adapt to new environmental conditions. And the terrible wolf was not able to rebuild his “gastronomic preferences”.
The extinction of the dire wolf took place as part of the mass extinction of species that occurred in the Quaternary period. Many species of animals have not been able to adapt to intense climate change and the anthropogenic factor that has entered the arena. Therefore, it is not worth saying that strong and ferocious individuals adapt best of all – often endurance, the ability to wait, and most importantly, the social, behavioral structure are much more important.
Yes, large individuals of an ancient predator reached a height withers about 97 cm, the length of their body was 180 cm. The length of the skull & # 8212; 310 mm, as well as wider and more powerful bones, provided a powerful grip on the victim. But the shorter legs did not allow dire wolves to be as fast as coyotes or gray wolves. The conclusion is that the dominant species for millennia was replaced by competitors who were able to better adapt to rapidly changing environmental conditions.
Dire wolf — amazing ancient animal. Packs of gray wolves and coyotes thrive in the modern world, and dire wolf fossils discovered by paleontologists can be seen as valuable exhibits at the Rancho Labrea Museum (located in Los Angeles, California).