Image from Wikimedia Commons
As with every warm-blooded American with cable TV and HBO, I love Game of Thrones and the fantasy world it occupies. In the skies of Winterfell in northern Westeros, banners displaying the Sigil of House Stark wave gallantly. The Starks are symbolized by the dire wolf, the legendary beast with metal jaws, razor sharp claws and incomprehensible strength. In the show, each Stark child receives a rare Dire Wolf pup and raise them to be game changing weapons on the battlefield and loyal companions. All of this is fun but what happened to the real dire wolf, what factors lead to its extinction 9000 years ago?
To truly understand the dire wolf, it is necessary to learn more about their composition and social structure. Standing at three feet tall and 150 lbs., the dire wolf or Canis dirus was an apex predator in during the Pleistocene era, with its only true competitor in size and strength being the saber-toothed cat. In many ways the dire wolf is an extremely large grey wolf except for its larger, more muscular frame and head. Very similar to the grey wolf, dire wolves hunted in packs, preying on larger game such as moose where the former preferred smaller prey nps.gov. This observation is heavily supported by the number of dire wolf fossils found in concentrated areas; one said example is the La Brea Tar Pits where more than 2000 dire wolf skeletons have been unearthed Evansville. Dire wolves evolved in North America and lived in all environments found on the continent.
Going extinct over 9000 years ago, the dire wolf roamed North America for over a quarter million years with one skeleton dating 252,000 years old nps.gov. During the Pleistocene era, grey wolves migrated from Asia and Europe to North America, becoming competitors with the dire wolf. The driving force for dire wolf extinction was loss of a food source for many large herbivorous species went extinct 1000 years prior to the dire wolves themselves nps.gov. This loss in big game resulted in diminishing dire wolf population, while the grey wolf continued to prosper due to their diet of smaller mammals maintaining stability.
The rapid decline of the dire wolf correlates to the second big idea in AP Biology; stated in the course directives as “different organisms employ various strategies to capture, use, and store free energy”. When the dire wolf lost its major food source, their strategy of taking down big game in order to properly nourish the pack became increasingly ineffective and the change to smaller game resulted in struggles to maintain proper energy levels within the organism. This is the reason that the common grey wolf continues to thrive throughout the world as their way of life was virtually unaffected by the extinction of the large herbivores. These massive events play a pivotal role in biodiversity for all organisms depend on their surrounding environment to provide them with the resources necessary to thrive reproduce. Without these resources, every organism would end up like the dire wolf, extinct and only remembered through the fossils they left behind.