Animal IQ

Dire Wolves Took Down Giant Sloths In Packs

The world of "Game of Thrones" is filled with magic and fantasy. Valyrian steel. The Lord of Light. White Walkers. Dragons. Dire wolves. Giants. Greyscale.

Pause for a second. One of those is real.

Dire wolves were a real thing. They lived during the Pleistocene era, about 250,000 to 10,000 years ago. And while they weren't as large as the fictional Stark family pets, they still packed a punch.

Winter Is Coming

With shorter limbs and more weight than other wolves, dire wolves were built to be heavy-hitting hunters. They probably traveled in packs, taking down prehistoric megafauna from giant ground sloths to glyptodonts.

The first dire wolf fossil was discovered in 1854 by Joseph Leidy near Evansville, Indiana. But researchers discovered the motherlode at the La Brea Tar Pits in California. Thousands of dire wolf fossils recovered there give us a better idea of how the animals lived.

Paleontologist Caitlin Brown says the dire wolves had huge jaws to clamp down on their prey, but many meals came at a price. Brown and her colleagues found lots of neck injuries among the dire wolves, suggesting they were sustained "from biting onto their prey and being dragged and thrashed around while they got it down to the ground."

Modern wolves may be smaller and less powerful than their ancestors, but they do have one edge. The brain case of the dire wolf was smaller than those of today's wolves. Big and powerful, but stupid? Sounds like a perfect fit for Westeros.

The Life and Death (and Life Again) of Dire Wolves

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Dire wolves were hypercarnivores, which means that 70% of their diet was meat. 00:38

  2. Dire wolves were built much stouter than gray wolves, with anatomy that prioritized power over speed. 01:51

  3. The Dire Wolf Project is trying to breed dogs to mimic the appearance of extinct dire wolves. 03:18

Edited by Ben Bowman August 26, 2017

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