Fans of the Game of Thrones series will be more than familiar with the werewolf. As a CGI beast, they ran alongside the Stark children through the early episodes, enchanting viewers with ferocity and lupine charm.
So it’s no surprise that a dog breeder in southern Oregon is trying to create a real werewolf for modern times. the Washington Post describes how the mix of dog breeds creates the fantastic look-alike for the pet market, with German Shepherds and Alaskan Malamutes giving this new breed the hybrid wolf look. But what is a werewolf? You may be surprised to learn that, far from being legendary, a real werewolf did indeed exist.
What is a werewolf?
Fantasy TV’s giant wolves appear as huge dog-like creatures, fast and fierce in battle and covered in hairy gray-white fur. But do these characteristics translate to their real-life counterparts?
Yes and no. Werewolves existed, and they looked a lot like big dogs. But instead of being gray and shaggy, researchers now believe the ancient big wolf looked more like a larger, reddish coyote. Fossil evidence from the Pleistocene era suggests that Canis say was similar in shape to a modern gray wolf but larger. National geographic describes them as weighing around 150 pounds (about 68 kg) and six feet long from nose to tip of tail.
The shape of the werewolf’s skull was similar to that of wolves and other canine species today, suggesting that these animals were able to hunt down and dispatch small herbivores like deer and horses. They may also have been able to take down bison and small mammoths.
Where did the real werewolf go?
According to Science.org. The species may have crossed the land bridge to Asia before sea levels rose to form the Bering Strait. the New York Times reports that fossil evidence in northeast China indicates that direwolves survive in this region.
According to North American fossils, giant wolves were the largest canids on the continent. the National Park Service noted that finds from the famous La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles indicate that animals lived in large social groups or packs and competed for prey.
Genomics provides answers
So, evidence has suggested that giant wolves looked a lot like today’s gray wolves, and that’s how they’ve been depicted in dioramas, artwork, and of course, television. But now there is evidence to suggest the real wolf may have been a redhead.
Genomic evidence from the La Brea Tar Pits is sparse, as hot bubble conditions rapidly degrade DNA. However, one fossil produced a clump of collagen, which scientists were able to analyze and compare with modern dog lines. They found that dire wolf protein strands were remarkably different from what was expected.
To better understand this, the team needed more genomic material to work with. Since DNA from extant tar fossils was scarce, researchers launched a broader search for materials, appealing to museums and collections to find pieces of ancient wolf bones to see if there were any. traces of DNA. According to American scientistthe hunt was successful: the lead researcher tracked down and recently reported the results of the sequencing of five giant wolf fossils between 50,000 and 13,000 years old.
Genomic analysis has shown that giant wolves are less related to gray wolves than previously thought; their line split about 5.7 million years ago and they are most closely related to African jackals. Instead of Canis saygiant wolves are probably more correctly called Aenocynon dirus and are depicted as short-haired, reddish animals.
The genomic sequencing also yielded another surprising result: the werewolf’s DNA showed that it did not interbreed with other dog species, as is often the case with other canids. This, along with the reliance on a very specific and inflexible diet, may be the reason for their extinction. Competition, climate change causing a shortage of prey, or perhaps diseases of incoming wolves or other canids could also be responsible for the lack of dire wolves in North America today.
That doesn’t stop people from hoping. Like Reverse reports, a potential giant wolf found in Montana in May 2018 turned out to be an ordinary gray wolf with larger than normal ears.
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