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DNA analysis suggests dire wolves may not have actually been wolves

By T.K. Randall
December 12, 2023 · Comment icon 2 comments
A large black wolf in the snow.
We have a lot to learn about dire wolves. Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 Angell Williams / Flickr
These huge prehistoric carnivores were long thought to be close cousins of the modern day gray wolf.
If you are familiar with Game of Thrones, you might be forgiven for thinking that dire wolves - the enormous dog-like beasts gifted to the Stark children in the first episode - were fictional creatures.

While it is certainly true that the show exaggerated the size and ferocity of these animals, the dire wolf is in fact a very real creature, albeit one that went extinct around 9,500 years ago.

In reality, dire wolves were only slightly larger than today's largest gray wolves, but were equipped with larger teeth with which they could exert a bite force stronger than that of any other known canine.

Now, based on the results of the first ever analysis of dire wolf DNA, scientists have discovered that these powerful animals may not have been as closely related to today's wolves as previously thought.
Remarkably, it seems as though dire wolves may have occupied their very own genetic lineage.

"Even though they look like wolves, dire wolves actually have nothing to do with wolves," said study lead author and zooarchaeologist Angela Perri of Durham University.

What this means is that we may have to go back to the drawing board and consider an entirely new scientific classification for these animals. On top of this, artists' impressions of dire wolves may not be entirely accurate as they may have more closely resembled "a giant, reddish coyote" than a gray wolf.

Whatever the case, it seems we still have much left to learn about these fascinating creatures.

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