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Extinct Dire Wolf (Canus dirus) Fact Sheet: Summary

Extinct Dire Wolf (Canus dirus)

Archived Content

Disclaimer: Fact sheets on prehistoric (extinct) species contain archived content and are no longer being updated. At the time of publication, these pages summarized the best available science. However, some content may become outdated as scientists report new discoveries.

Extinct Dire Wolf (Canus dirus) Fact Sheet

Dire wolf 

Extinct dire wolf, Canis dirus. Image detail from a 1921 mural by Charles R. Knight (1974-1953).

Image credit: From the Jesse Earl Hyde Collection, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) Department of Geological Sciences. Made available through Wikimedia. Public domain.

Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Canidae (dogs, coyotes, foxes, jackals, wolves; many extinct genera)

Genus: Canis (Linnaeus, 1758)

Species: Canis dirus (Leidy, 1858) - dire wolf (extinct)

Subspecies: Canis dirus guildayi (extinct)

Subspecies: Canis dirus dirus (extinct)

Body Weight
34-67 kg (75-148 lb)

Head-Body Length
125 cm (4.1 ft)

Shoulder Height
80 cm (2.6 ft)

Tail Length
63 cm (2 ft)

Unknown; may have been similar to modern gray wolves

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

North America into northern South America (southern Alberta, Canada to southern Bolivia); rare in South America

Extremely variable: forested mountains, tropical marsh with nearby thorn-scrub, deciduous forest, open grasslands and plains

Species went extinct by 12,000 years ago

Social Behavior
Evidence from La Brea suggests dire wolves lived in large groups.

Interspecies Interactions
Many other dog-like carnivores lived during the dire wolf's time. Instances of co-evolvement proposed.

Not a specialized predator--fed on abundant, large-bodied animals, and medium-to-large bodied hooved animals.

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Feature Facts

  • Similar in many ways to modern wolves; heavier body and more robust skull
  • Large numbers of dire wolves preserved at La Brea (Los Angeles)
  • Estimated to have had a bite force 30% stronger than the modern gray wolf
  • Interesting studies relating health and tooth breakage

About This Fact Sheet

© 2009 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance


How to cite: Extinct Dire Wolf (Canus dirus) Fact Sheet. c2009. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. extinctdirewolf
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Sep 10)


Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to

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