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Dire Wolf Jaw

Dire Wolf Jaw

Above: Front of Specimen Card

The dire wolf was one of the most successful predators of the late Pleistocene epoch. Ranging from Alaska to Bolivia, this muscular carnivore fed on a wide variety of large prey including bison, camels, horses, mastodons, mammoths, and even giant ground sloths.

Above: Dire Wolf Jaw from the Third Edition of the Mini Museum. Now available as a single specimen!

The specimen is a fragment of a dire wolf jaw found in Florida on private land. During the Pleistocene, this region was a savannah ecosystem filled with numerous large mammals.

Above: Dire Wolf Specimen ready for study with Bruce Horsfall's Iconic 1911 "Smilodon californicus and Canis dirus fight over a Mammuthus columbi carcass in the La Brea Tar Pits." in the background. (Source:  "A History of Land Mammals in the Western Hemisphere" by William Berryman Scott c. 1913 ) 

The specimen measures approximately 5mm and comes in an acrylic jar, which housed inside a glass-topped Riker display box measuring 4x3x1 (inches). A small information card accompanies the specimen and serves as the certificate of authenticity.

About Dire Wolves

"Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives."

~ George R.R. Martin, Song of Ice and Fire

The first remains of the dire wolf were discovered on the banks of the Ohio River near Evansville, Indiana, and later identified as a new species (Canis dirus) by Joseph P. Leidy. Leidy's early remarks to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in 1854, describe an animal that is strikingly similar to the modern gray wolf:

"The fragment only differs from the corresponding part of the recent Canis lupus Europe and its American congeners, in being rather larger and in its having slight variations in several of the molar teeth."

Even though these two animals stood roughly the same height at the shoulder, the dire wolf's bones are far thicker, and the skull, including the jaws and teeth, is much larger. Modern estimates of body mass based on skeletal reconstruction suggest the average dire wolf outweighed its gray wolf cousin by 40% or more. The increased strength would be very useful in wearing down larger prey. It also suggests that dire wolves might have been more physical in their approach to hunting, using body weight as a major advantage.

Above: Dire wolves are the most common mammalian remains found in the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits, and hundreds of skulls from this site are on display in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

The dire wolf is thought to have been a pack hunter. This finding is based in part on analysis of remains found at Rancho La Brea Tar Pits where the dire wolf outnumbers other large mammals nearly ten to one. This also suggests that dire wolves hunted in much larger packs than the gray wolf, which would not be too surprising given the size difference between the dire wolf and its megafaunal prey.

Yet, despite the dire wolf's advantages in size and numbers, it disappeared along with many other large species at the end of the Pleistocene epoch. Most scientists believe that rapid climate change played a major role in this large-scale extinction event, but it would be difficult to ignore the introduction of humans to the Americas as the two species often sought the same prey.

Further Reading

Leidy, Joseph. "Notice of Some Fossil Bones Discovered by Mr. Francis A. Lincke, in the Banks of the Ohio River, Indiana." Proceedings: Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 7 (1854): 199-201.

Leonard, Jennifer A., et al. "Megafaunal Extinctions and the Disappearance of a Specialized Wolf Ecomorph." Current Biology 17.13 (2007): 1146-1150.

Merriam, John Campbell. The Fauna of Rancho La Brea. Vol. 1. No. 2. The University Press, 1911.

VanValkenburgh, Blaire, and Fritz Hertel. "Tough Times at La Brea: Tooth Breakage in Large Carnivores of the Late Pleistocene." Science 261.5120 (1993): 456-459.

Wroe, Stephen, Colin McHenry, and Jeffrey Thomason. "Bite Club: Comparative Bite Force in Big Biting Mammals and the Prediction of Predatory Behaviour in Fossil Taxa." Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 272.1563 (2005): 619-625.

Above: Back of Specimen Card

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