What the did the Dire Wolf Eat?
And Why do we care anyways?
We care because the Dire’s Diet was directly related to it’s size, which changed considerably over the 10 thousand or so years that it roamed North America. Since the Dire Wolf Project strives to recreate the exact bone structure, in size and proportion of the Dire Wolf (Canis Dirus), ….we care.
This change in size between approx. 200,000 years ago and 10, 000 (1) years ago is most easily seen in the skull shape and size. Apparently, there is a lengthy wall at the Paige Museum at LaBrea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, full of them. Your eye can sweep over a 7 thousand year period and take in evolutionary effects on the entire species. Skulls gathered from the Minnesota and Wyoming areas show the same progression. A smaller base to the skull, and a shorter snout are the biggest clues.
For the most part, during the Dire Wolf’s hay day, (around 17,000 years ago) they had a smorgasbord of plant eaters to choose from. Sloth, Camel, Bison, and the most popular of all; horse. Yum. Back then the entire planet had an average temperature 10 degrees cooler than it is now. Plants thrived and grew huge because cooler temps mean more moisture for everyone. As the earth went through a warming trend, thousands of species of plant couldn’t cut it, and were replaced or forced to adapt in ways that changed what the prey of the Dire Wolf could eat. The camels had to rely on Conifers and that also lead to their extinction; because conifers aren’t enough to sustain the species. Lack of certain nutrients will damage DNA. Nutrient damaged DNA will cause common mutations in mammals that change skull and jaw shape. An additional factor may have even further contributed to the size change— the Dire Wolf may have had a smaller stature, but a much more deadly mouth full of bite force. This suggests, around 13,000 years agolack of available prey caused competition to be high, so you had to eat fast. Cracking, slicing and mowing down would be a matter of survival, so the bestest fastest eaters got to pass on their genes. Fossil evidence collected at LaBrea coincides with theory, because the amount of tooth breakage from cracking bones is higher in animals from this time period. 13,000 to 11,000 years ago, we see large amounts of it during the biggest adjustment period of the Dire’s prey becoming extinct. Strangely, most of the studies I run across, sight that the Dire Wolf did not show any signs of not eating well directly before their extinction, that is, if gauged primarily by tooth breakage, wear and tear on the mouth. Some, including myself, theorize that as things evened out between predator and prey, competition is less intense as the species begins to die out. The Dire Wolf adjusted it’s own diet to include peccaries, and small pronghorn . They may have and even developed more omnivorous habits with nuts and berries. Just before the complete extinction of the species, fossils dated 10,000 years ago upwards to 8,000 years ago, show less and evidence of nutrient loss, and show much less tooth breakage than any other time period. The numbers of the species had dwindled to a point we cannot identify a population, but were still available in coincidence with early North American human populations.
The optimal version of a canid bone cracking device had been reached in the Dire Wolf, and remained the same right up to it’s point of extinction; even though it’s diet had changed drastically and wasn’t in need of such bite force to sustain itself. So well suited for cracking large bone. perhaps it continued to do so? But perhaps with large game it was provided, by the early humans it was now sharing it’s environment with. Fossils of Dire Wolf were found in very close proximity to the slaughtering area of a Clovis settlement. In October 2011, Dr. Jeff Saunders (now retired) has been looking at canids from Clovis sites. He presented results of his work on sites in southern Arizona at the Plains Anthropological Conference. He noted the presence of a diminutive form of Dire Wolf in these assemblages. Could this be evidence of early dog domestication in North America? We’ll be exploring this topic in more detail over the next few months. Also noted were a grave with a human and a dire wolf, apparently, buried together. I would be so, so interested to find the condition of the teeth of the Dire Wolves mentioned above. With NO competition, and plenty of time to gnaw on the bones too large for human consumption, but plenty of uses once the dog has cleaned it off. Maybe. It IS an intriguing idea.
1.Dundas, R.G. (1999). "Quaternary records of the dire wolf, Canis dirus, in North and South America" (PDF). Boreas. 28 (3): 375–385. doi:10.1111/j.1502-3885.1999.tb00227.x.
2. *Retrieverman. Did the Clovis people domesticate dire wolves? Natural History. Scottie Westfall. 01-24-2012
3. The Dogs of Clovis http://www.direwolfproject.com/dire-wolf/clovis-dogs
For further reference please see http://www.direwolfproject.com/dire-wolf/clovis-dogs
In respect to what this means to the Dire Wolf Project, and in particular, to the author’s contribution with Direwolf Dogs Fennario Kennels produces. Which time period and cranial base/snout size are we attempting to emulate? Perhaps someday each Dire Wolf Project Site will develop it’s own line in particular to the time period and sub genre of Dire Wolf the wish to emulate. If this were the scenario, I would choose the Dire Wolf of 10,000 years ago, which is smaller but just as well equipped to handle a diet that includes large prey. This Dire Wolf’s nutrient intake needs would have been suited to early North American man’s hunting quarry, which included many herbivores that the Dire previously had to expend a lot of energy stalking, taking down and finally defending a very large animal kill. A different mental energy would be expended too. What previously needed to be spent with the animal itself, instead is now spent being in a community wit humans. This possibility, seems to me, to be the closest thing that I can possibly replicate in my American Alsatians, as I would want to choose a diet closely related to the diet of a Dire Wolf at one of the time periods of optimal health. Throw in being on the brink of becoming one of the domesticated dogs in human history, this one exclusive to North America? As I said earlier, the subject calls for discussion. I hope to have this discussion at one of Colorado American Alsatian Club’s Meet-Up and/or Annual Celebration?
Only time will tell...and she doesn’t give up her secrets easily.