Dire wolf DNA reveals they weren’t wolves after all

Two gray wolves (lower left) confront a pack of dire wolves over a bison carcass in Southwestern North America 15,000 years ago. Credit: Mauricio Anton

The ancient dire wolves that once hunted in the prehistoric world weren’t wolves at all. In fact, their genetic lineage is so different from modern species like gray wolves (Canis lupus) and coyotes (Canis latrans) that they should be considered a separate lineage of canines, researchers found. The scientists combed through old museum fossils to find surviving genetic material and ended up working with the DNA of five animals that lived between 13,000 and 50,000 years ago. The genetic information revealed that dire wolves, which are about 20% bigger than gray wolves, were from a lineage that separated from wolves, coyotes and dogs about 6 million years ago.

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