Dire Wolves: Not a Wolf at All
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If you're a fan of the popular HBO series Game of Thrones, you may have wondered whether the dire wolf is a real breed of wolves. They were likeable characters because they were fiercely loyal to their owners, the Stark family children.

The truth is dire wolves are real and roamed the Earth from two million to eleven thousand years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch. Many of their skeletal remains have been found in the La Brea Tar Pits in southern California, as well as Ohio, Florida, and Mexico. The latest genetic studies revealed that dire wolves overlapped with early humans in North America and that they may have died out with the wooly mammoths at the end of the last ice age.

What's also surprising is to learn that they're only distantly related to wolves. Yes, they share many features but dire wolves are larger than today's gray wolf weighing one hundred fifty pounds. They had much bigger skulls but smaller brains and likely had reddish coats. Based on this genomic research, dire wolves will have a separate phylogenetic classification, termed Aenocyon dirus. Aenocyan translates as "terrible" for it being a fierce predator of large herbivores. They didn't interbreed with wolves or other dog-like species.

This isolation of its gene pool, extinction of its prey caused by climate change, and competition from smaller wolves all led to the dire wolf's demise. Now we just need science to tell us what happened to the dragons!

For more information…

The legendary dire wolf may not have been a wolf at all
One of North America's most famous ancient predators-and a favorite of Game of Thrones fans-emerged as mysteriously as it disappeared. Dire wolves, which died out with mammoths and saber-toothed cats at the end of the last ice age, were long thought to be close cousins of gray wolves. Now, the first analysis of dire wolf DNA finds they instead traveled a lonely evolutionary path: They are so different from other wolves, coyotes, and dogs that they don't belong in the genus that includes these animals. Instead, researchers argue, they need an entirely new scientific classification...

Dire wolves were real-and even stranger than we thought
A study of extinct dire wolf DNA reveals surprises, including that the carnivores, made famous as fictional pets in Game of Thrones, weren't closely related to wolves...