If you’re a Game of Thrones fan — and who isn’t anymore? — you’re familiar with the Stark clan and their dire wolf pups that made their first appearance on season 1 of the wildly popular HBO series based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Over the course of the show fans of the mega hit got to see the Stark kids and their dire wolves grow into adulthood. Along the way, however, both the kids and the wolves have been picked off one by one, leaving viewers saddened for their loss. But did you know dire wolves are not merely the figment of Martin’s extremely rich imagination?
Scientific American Blog
According to the blog the Scientific American, the creatures lived thousands of years ago right here in North America. The dire wolf (Latin name Canis dirus, meaning “fearsome dog") is an extinct species of the genus Canis. It is one of the most famous prehistoric carnivores in North America, along with its equally extinct and equally fierce competitor the sabre-toothed tiger (Smilodon). These enormous dogs and cats roamed the earth for thousands of years before meeting their deaths roughly 10,000 years ago. It’s said if you happened to be alive between 125,000 and 10,000 years ago, you would have had to fend them off.
Paleontologists have found the remains of these Pleistocene era pack hunters all the way from Canada down to South America and concluded they inhabited the terrain coast to coast. The largest find anywhere of the creatures, which could best be described as wolves on steroids, have been found in California’s La Brea Tar Pits. Scientists figure they weighed roughly 130 lbs. on average during their time, whereas gray wolves today usually weigh in at around 88 lbs. It’s not quite the kind of size/weight difference they’re often portrayed as having on Game of Thrones (sometimes likening them to ponies) but, still, over 40 lbs. is a significant jump.
Ice Age Hunters
Apparently, it wasn’t just the size of dire wolves that separated them from other wolves. The blog states that, “Among other dental differences, dire wolf jaws have a very large first molar shaped to give them a better shearing bite than their relatives.” Hmmm, “the better to eat you with, my dear”? It was also found that male and female dire wolves have similarly-sized canine teeth, which suggests that the animals formed what are called pair bonds with mates instead of males vying for position as top dog. They’re believed to have preyed on mid-size herbivores like horses (horses used to be smaller than they are now) for their meals.
Game of Thrones
So far, it’s still a mystery as to why they died out in real life, but not on the show. Arya’s wolf, Nymeria, was run off for her own good, Sansa’s very own Lady was killed in connection to the monstrous brat Joffrey Baratheon, Robb Stark’s Grey Wind met his death when his master met his own at the Red Wedding, Rickon’s Shaggydog was summarily killed most recently by the Umbers upon his capture, and Bran’s Summer took one for the team with the wights while trying to buy the boy time to escape. The only one still standing of all the orphaned pups is Ghost, Jon Snow’s great white beast. But, since Arya is trying to make her way back to the Seven Kingdoms, don’t be surprised if Nymeria shows back up . . .