Game of Thrones was a popular television show that made dire wolves famous. But unlike many of their mythical counterparts in the show (dragons, giants, and White Walkers) the dire wolf was once very real!
These prehistoric canines were one of the most common and widespread large carnivores in Pleistocene America, yet relatively little is known about their evolution or extinction.
To reveal the dire wolf’s true evolutionary identity, an international team of scientists led by Dr. Angela Perri analyzed dire wolf sub-fossil remains dating from 13,000 to more than 50,000 years ago. Their sequencing of the dire wolf genome revealed that although they were similar morphologically to the gray wolves who exist today, dire wolves are not wolves at all! Their DNA showed that the species’ lineage split off from other living canids (like wolves and coyotes) around 5.7 million years ago. This suggests that dire wolves evolved in isolation from the Pleistocene ancestors of wolves, on a separate branch so far from other canids that the dire wolf is not just a separate species, but a separate genus, and the last of its now extinct lineage.
On February 25, 2021, the Wolf Conservation Center offered a free webinar with Dr. Angela Perri to discuss dire wolves and Perri’s work to reconstruct their evolutionary history.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Angela Perri is an environmental archaeologist who received her BA in Anthropology at Portland State University (Oregon) and her PhD in Archaeology from Durham University (UK). She was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany) and a Marie Curie Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University (UK). She is now a Lecturer in Archaeology at Newcastle University (UK). Her primary interests are in zoo-archaeology, paleo-ecology, and paleo-environments. Her research focuses on the nature of human environmental interactions by analyzing early relationships between humans, animals, climate, and landscapes. Most of her work has looked at prehistoric wolves, dogs, and domestication.
ABOUT THE WOLF CONSERVATION CENTER
The Wolf Conservation Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit environmental education organization committed to conserving wolf populations in North America through science-based education programming and participation in the federal Species Survival Plans for the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf and red wolf. Through wolves, the WCC teaches the broader message of conservation, ecological balance, and personal responsibility for improved human stewardship of our World.
For more information about wolves and the WCC’s participation in wolf recovery, please visit www.nywolf.org and follow the WCC on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nywolforg) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/nywolforg), and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/wolfconservationcenter