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Ice Age predators don’t exactly evoke images of the sandy vistas of Southern Nevada, but a UNLV research team recently discovered the remains of one of the period's deadliest mammals northwest of Las Vegas: the Dire Wolf. Fossil remains have been found throughout the continental United States and even parts of South America, but this is the first evidence to place the Dire Wolf in Nevada. Known for its high density of Ice Age fossils, Tule Springs gives geologists a good picture of what early Sin City inhabitants might have looked like.
The Dire Wolf’s larger bone set indicates a broader and stockier animal than their evolutionary cousins, the modern Gray Wolf. As such, the now extinct predator enjoys a reputation as the largest canid to ever stalk the earth with a diet that included Ice Age megafauna, enourmous creatures such as the mastodon and the giant ground sloth. Today, the American Alsatian, a breed of German Shephard, most closely resembles the Dire Wolf, specifically bred for that purpose with the input and expertise of paleontologists and geneticists, although the project uses no wolf or wolf-crosses in breeding.
Of course, this picture can sometimes be difficult to develop. The Dire Wolf roamed the lands for more than a million years before suddenly and mysteriously vanishing approximately 10,000 years ago. Because no direct descendants of the Dire Wolf exist, researchers must speculate about physical traits and behavior, but fossil evidence suggests they were a social animal, running in packs of 30 or more and even caring for their wounded. Most puzzling, however, is precisely why Dire Wolves disappeared while the Gray Wolf survives to this day. Though the answer is elusive, scientists have filled in one more piece of the Pleistocene puzzle.