Dire Wolves Might Not Have Been Actual Wolves and Now We Don't Know What to Believe

With each passing year, scientific research gets more sophisticated, which can sometimes bring with it new perspectives on previously held beliefs, even when it comes to extinct species. For example, a new study of dire wolf remains, which were long-believed to be ancestors to gray wolves, has led some scientists to believe that they weren't actually wolves at all. Given their range and biological similarities to gray wolves, it was believed the creature was a distant cousin of the modern canid, though this new research might distinguish them from the Canis genus and determine they are an entirely different type of canine.

Durham University archaeologist and study co-author Angela Perri and University of Adelaide in Australia geneticist and co-author Kieren Mitchell suggest the species now be known as Aenocyon dirus, which would mean "terrible wolf," according to their publishing in Nature, per Scientific American.

“They will just join the club of things like maned wolves that are called wolves but aren’t really,” Perri explained. “In contrast to gray wolves, which are a model for adaptation, dire wolves appear to be much less flexible to deal with changing environments and prey.”

Dire wolves were considered a top predator for more than five million years though went extinct roughly 13,000 years ago.

This is far from the first time modern scientific methods have shed new light on prehistoric animals, or the first instance of an animal's common name being determined as inaccurate.

The Brontosaurus, for example, was long believed to be its own species, only for scientists in the 1970s to determine that this dinosaur was actually the Apatosaurus. After decades of scientists attempting to confirm that the species were one and the same, a study in 2015 attempted to then specify that the Brontosaurus was, in fact, its own distinct species.

Similarly, while any prehistoric cat with large teeth might be referred to as a "saber-toothed tiger," there are a number of species in the genus Smilodon, with not all saber-toothed cats technically being saber-toothed tigers.


Dire wolves have grown in popularity in recent years, due in large part to them being featured in HBO's Game of Thrones. While that program depicted the creatures as quite massive, almost dwarfing human characters, they were actually only slightly larger than modern wolves, as they measured eight feet long as opposed to gray wolves measuring six feet long.

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