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Dire Wolf

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Canis dirus
Canis dirus
Name Canis dirus
Order Carnivora
family Canidae
Class Mammalia
Name Translation Dire Wolf
Period Early-Late Pleistocene epoch of the Cenozoic Era ()
Location North and South America
Diet Carnivore, possibly omnivore
Length 5-6 feet (1.5-2 metres) long

The Dire Wolf, Canis dirus, is an extinct carnivorous mammal of the genus Canis, and was most common in North America and South America from the Irvingtonian stage to the Rancholabrean stage of the Pleistocene epoch living 1.80 million years ago – 10,000 years ago, existing for approximately 1.79 million years. They lived alongside other megafauna such as the Short-Faced Bear, Mammoth, and  Smilodon, etc.

Canis dirus meaning "Dire Wolf" was one of the largest canines that ever lived on Earth, and also one of the largest representative of the subfamily of wolves (Caninae). Dire Wolves were the size of a large modern gray wolf (Canis lupus) and weighed, depending on gender and individual differences, 55 to 80 kg. Morphologically, Dire Wolves were very similar to modern wolves, but these two species are not as closely related as it may seem at first glance. Homeland gray wolves were Eurasian, and the "Dire Wolf" is a type formed in North America.
250px-Canis dirus La Brea

A Dire Wolf skeleton found at the La Brea Tar Pits

Generally, Dire Wolf lifestyles were likely closer to that of a coyote (Native American), rather than the gray wolf. Dire Wolves were different from grey wolves. The molar teeth of the predator were more massive in comparison with those of modern wolves. In general, the skull of this species looks like a very large wolf skull. Being stronger, heavier and therefore more powerful, they could hunt very large prey, while lightly built gray wolves attacked the smaller prey. Dire Wolves were probably less social than gray wolves; among the subfamilies of wolf (Caninae). Canis Dirus disappeared with the extinction of the megafauna about 10 thousand years ago. They may however, have had larger packs than mordern wolves.

Relationships

Although it was closely related to the Gray Wolf and other sister species, Canis dirus was not the direct ancestor of any species known today. Unlike the Gray Wolf, which is

Dire wolf

A Dire Wolf pack from the documentary TV series Prehistoric Predators

of Eurasian origin, the Dire Wolf evolved on the North American continent, along with the Coyote. The Dire Wolf co-existed with the Gray Wolf in North America for about 100,000 years.

The Dire Wolf was one of the abundant Pleistocene megafauna—a wide variety of very large mammals that lived during the Pleistocene. Approximately 10,000 years ago the Dire Wolf became extinct along with most other North American megafauna.

The first specimen of a Dire Wolf was found by Francis A. Linck at the mouth of Pigeon Creek along the Ohio River near Evansville, Indiana

Morphology

Body mass and dimensions

The Dire Wolf was larger than the Gray Wolf, averaging about 1.5 metres (5 ft) in length and weighing between 50 kg (110 lb) and more than 79 kg (174 lb). Despite superficial similarities to the Gray Wolf, there were significant differences between the two species. The legs of the Dire Wolf were proportionally shorter and sturdier than those of the Gray Wolf, and its brain case was smaller than that of a similarly sized gray wolf.

Dentition

The Dire Wolf's teeth were similar to the Gray Wolf's, only slightly larger, pointing to a hypercarnivorous to mesocarnivorous activity. Paleontologist R.M. Nowak states the dietary characteristics are primarily carnivorous as well as partially omnivorous.

Many paleontologists have proposed that the Dire Wolf may have used its relatively large teeth to crush bone, an idea that is supported by the frequency of large amounts of wear on the crowns of their fossilized teeth. The upper carnassials had a much larger blade than that of the Gray Wolf, indicating greater slicing ability. It had a longer temporal fossa and broader zygomatic arches, indicating the presence of a large temporalis muscle capable of generating slightly more force than a Gray Wolf's.
Dire wolf 1

Dire Wolves fight over a kill with a Smilodon guarding it

However, other scientists have noted that the dorsoventral and labiolingual force profiles are indistinguishable from those of other canids such as coyotes and African wild dogs, indicating a similar diet. Dire wolf teeth lacked the craniodental adaptations of habitual bonecrushers such as hyenas and borophagines. The dorsoventrally weak symphyseal region indicates it killed in a manner similar to its modern relatives, by delivering a series of shallow bites, strongly indicating pack hunting behaviour. However, the incidence of broken post-carnassial molars is much higher than in fossil Gray Wolves, indicating that the species was probably chewing bones  much more than the Gray Wolf.

Fossil Record

The Dire Wolf is best known for its unusually high representation in the La Brea Tar Pits in California. Fossils from more than 3,600 Dire Wolves have been recovered from the tar pits, more than any other mammal species. This large number suggests that the Dire Wolf, like modern wolves and dogs, probably hunted in packs .
800px-Dire Wolf Skulls La Brea 2005-08-01

A display of some of the thousands of Dire Wolf skulls found in La Brea Tar Pits

It also gives some insight into the pressures placed on the species near the end of its existence.

More about the Dire Wolf

The Dire Wolf, Canis diris, is one of those extinct megafauna mammals whose legend is way more intimidating than the way it actually lived. This true prehistoric dog (and indirect ancestor of modern dogs) looked a lot like the modern Grey Wolf, except for the fact that it was stockier, with slightly shorter legs, and had a smaller brain as well. Interestingly, the fossils of Canis diris have been found in the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles, alongside the remains of another, more dangerous predator called Smilodon, better known as the saber-toothed tiger, sabre-toothed cat or just sabre tooth.

The reason the Dire Wolf was less dangerous than its legend is that this prehistoric dog doesn't seem to have been an active hunter--paleontologists speculate that Canis diris filled the same slot in its North American habitat as the hyena does in modern Africa, a scavenger of already-dead carcasses rather than an active hunter. Clearly, the Dire Wolf's teeth and powerful jaws were well-adapted to crushing bones, which would have extracted every last bit of nourishment from any rotting corpses it happened across. The dire wolf was probably the heaviest canine ever to have existed. It earned its 'dire' tag from comparisons with the modern grey wolf. A much heftier animal with larger teeth, its powerful build and short legs indicate it might have been more of an ambush hunter and less of a long-distance runner than modern wolves. Despite being heavier, the dire wolf had a smaller brain than the grey wolf. Dire wolves were native to the Americas and thousands of their skeletons have been found in the La Brea tar pits. They became extinct between 16,000 and 10,000 years ago in different areas of the Americas.

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