The iconic and terrifying dire wolf, made famous in the television series ‘Game of Thrones', prowled through North America until about 11,000 years ago or perhaps more, after which they went extinct. They were once believed to be closely related to living wolves.

Before this time, smaller body sizes were much less common compared with the larger dogs of today, and those larger dogs generally weighed more. So the bigger size of direwolves would need to add significantly to their mass before getting denser. Indeed, a 2014 study published in JAVMA reported that adult male direwolves weigh 685 pounds and can weigh in at over one hundred pounds.

And so Greg Downey, a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and the study's corresponding author, and his colleagues decided to walk between 100 and 3000 miles (160-400 kilometres) to see how conditions were in 12 populations of dire wolves, each collection — that is, one in the United States, Chile, Utah, and Argentina.

They rode on freezers carrying a net. The researchers would unroll the net in the dark to sample a number of smaller animals.

This map shows the route that the researchers took to see how the dire wolf populations evolved. These evolveances are shown as horizontal scales. Blue is roughly 10,000 years ago, green 100 to 1,000 years ago. Grey are 300 to 500 years ago, and red 600 to 1,500 years ago. Note that the dark areas represent ice and blizzard conditions and that the shape of the lanes reflects seasonal conditions. Wolves, which are often very prolific, populate coastal plains sites. 〈─ Tables_data.(8)" 69673-b.pdf

The results revealed that dire wolves already lived around 77,000 years ago as they evolved to become the wolf species known today. Which led the researchers to speculate that the dire wolves are descended from early dogs which arose less than a million years ago, perhaps from one of the earliest domesticated dogs, probably mongrels. It became more apparent that dire wolves originated originally as herds of smaller animals. Furthermore, it appears that the dire wolf ancestor diverged from all other ancestors of the dog family around 45,000 years ago. Their descendant species began to diversify in around 19,000 years from all the other dogs. Another heresy: dogs increased in size over this time period.

"Our results have several important implications for the origin of dog domestication, as well as the earliest origins of dog-like taxa outside of Africa," the researchers observed, as reported by Nature.

Sign 6: Humanity did not discover ghosts; Our history has been busier than we knew

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