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Interesting Facts About the Dire Wolf - An Extinct Species

Reshma Jirage
The dire wolf, one of the carnivorous mammals, existed during the Pleistocene Epoch. The skeletal remains of this widespread species have been found in North and South America.
Dire wolf was among the largest ancestral canines, which lived during the Late Pleistocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period, approximately 240,000 to 11,000 years ago.

Joseph Leidy first discovered its existence in the mid-nineteenth century and named it in 1858. Canis dirus guildayi and Canis dirus dirus are two recognized subspecies of dire wolf.

Physical Description

Differing from the modern wolf in many ways, dire wolf had distinguishing color combination of black and white, or black and gray. Its head-body length was about 1.5 meters (5 ft) and shoulder height was about 80 cm (2.6 ft). Its body weight was about 79 kg (175 lb). It had bigger head, but small brain, compared to gray wolf. It had short, but strong legs.
Dire wolf's strong and sharp canines were helpful specially for tearing flesh.

Another interesting fact about it is that its bite-force could break and chew bones to get bone-marrow. Crushing the bones of prey often resulted in tooth breakage. Lifespan of this species was about 6-8 years.


Though dire wolves lived across the world, they were mostly found in South and North America, southern Canada and southern Bolivia. Their main habitat was mountainous forests, plain areas and dry grasslands, and most population thrived in low altitude areas with abundant prey.

More than 4000 fossils of dire wolf were found at La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.


Being hypercarnivore, the diet of dire wolves included about 70% of meat. Their sharp teeth and skull were adapted for hunting large prey like musk ox, bison, mountain goats, sloths, horses and woolly mammoths. However, they mostly loved to eat horses. During hard times, they fed on carcasses left behind by smilodons.


Mating of dire wolves occurred once in a year, between January and March. Dire wolves were monogamous, and male and female mated when they reached the age of two years. Females gave birth to pups after carrying them in their womb for two and half months. Pups were kept isolated and safe in the den, until they were one year old.


Dire wolves became extinct along with most other Pleistocene megafauna around 10,000 years ago after the last glaciation.

Some possible reasons of their extinction are disappearance of their prey - megaherbivores, appearance of their predators - humans, and climatic changes.
After the Ice Age, surviving in their natural habitat became difficult for dire wolves due to warmer climatic conditions. There was increased competition for prey, which included human hunters also. Reduced population of larger herbivores, which was main food for dire wolves, caused starvation, resulting in their death.

The Dire Wolf Project

The Dire Wolf Project was initiated in 1988 by Lois Denny. It aims to bring back the look of prehistoric dire wolf in a domestic dog breed. This project is governed by the National American Alsatian Breeder’s Club to produce a large companion dog that resembles bone and body structure of dire wolf. This long-term project needs intense research.