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Scientists confirm Ice Age dire wolves did live in Canada

A Canadian fossil has been confirmed as coming from the Ice Age predator featured in the TV series “Game of Thrones.” 

Dire wolf (Canis dirus) from Rancho La Brea, Calif.; detail of a mural done in 1921. Source - Charles R. Knight (1874–1953) Public Domain
Dire wolf (Canis dirus) from Rancho La Brea, Calif.; detail of a mural done in 1921. Source - Charles R. Knight (1874–1953) Public Domain

A Canadian fossil has been confirmed as coming from the Ice Age predator featured in the TV series “Game of Thrones.” 

The dire wolf (Aenocyon dirus) is an extinct canine. It is one of the most famous prehistoric carnivores in North America, along with its extinct competitor Smilodon fatalis, commonly called a saber-tooth tiger.

The ancient dire wolf was about the same size as our larger present-day gray wolf and roamed around in the Pleistocene era in North and South America. No fossilized remains have been identified in Canada up until a jawbone from near Medicine Hat in southern Alberta was tentatively identified decades ago.

The Surprise Bluff locality. (A) The Surprise Bluff locality is located in Medicine Hat, Alberta (50°02′N, 110°40′W), in the southeastern part of Alberta, Canada. (B) Photograph of Surprise Bluff outcrop, looking northeast. Image Credit: Reynold et al., (2023)

The specimen consists of one jawbone labeled ROMVP 71618. It was found by Hope Johnson in 1969 and was one of over 1,200 vertebrate fossils collected near the city of Medicine Hat in southeastern Alberta. 

This jawbone was also found 500 kilometers (311 miles) north of a previously described Wyoming specimen, making it the most northerly point for this species, to date.

Dr. C.S. Churcher, a teacher of vertebrate morphology and a field researcher in paleontology and geology with the University of Toronto, originally identified the bone as C.dirus (Now called A.dirius) in an unpublished report.

However, CTV News Canada is reporting that a team from the Royal Ontario Museum, using new technology, reexamined the jawbone and believes it is, indeed, the jawbone of a dire wolf.

“It had never been fully described,” said evolutionary biologist Ashley Reynolds, lead author of the paper published in the Journal of Quaternary Science. “This had never been done for this specimen.”

Skeleton of Aenocyon dirus on display at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. Image Credit – Jonathan Chen, CC SA 4.0.

Identity was not easy. The entire specimen dates to between 25,000 and 50,000 years ago, and consists of one jaw, badly crushed, with some remaining teeth.

According to IFL Science, anatomical comparisons between the suspected dire wolf jaw bone and a dire wolf bone from California, as well as one from Peru and those of grey wolves were made.

The team found it to be much larger than the expected grey wolf jaw length. They suggest that the individual dire wolf the sample was from was an older individual since the teeth found within the jaw are heavily worn. 

The research concluded the jaw bone belongs to a dire wolf, representing the only confirmed record of the species within Canada. In case you were wondering how your best friend’s beagle could be related to such an impressive Ice Age creature, research published in 2021 shows that dire wolves were not closely related to grey wolves and in fact, have no close living relatives. 

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Karen Graham is a guest writer on Digital Journal. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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