While dire wolves have gained immense popularity over the last couple years thanks to HBO's hit series "Game of Thrones," many people still have no idea that these animals derive from our own world - and less the one of fantasy dreamed up by author George R. R. Martin.
For an estimated 1.79 million years, dire wolves roamed North America - averaging five feet in length and weighing between one hundred and ten pounds to one hundred and seventy-five pounds. They were roughly 25% larger than today's largest gray wolf, with a head that was broader, larger in size, and heavier. 10,000 years ago, along with mammals like mammoths and mastodons, the dire wolf went extinct - but at least one effort is underway to replicate what they may have looked like.
"The series is a bit misleading in its interpretation of the Dire Wolf," the official project website states." The wolves portrayed in the Game of Thrones series do not resemble Dire Wolves and should not be confused with Dire Wolf size and build. Some of the most obvious features lacking in the wolves deemed to be Dire Wolves are that they possess thin muzzles, legs, and bodies. While this is indicative of the more fleet of foot Gray Wolf, it does not reflect the size and mass of the Dire Wolf build. The Dire Wolf had shorter, thicker legs as well as a larger head and broader muzzle."
Nevertheless, American Alsatians are in demand - with growing waiting lists for puppies costing from $1,000-$3,000. Wired's Rachel Edidin recently got close and personal with some young Alsatians and described them as "noticeably calm," adding that many end up as "companion or therapy dogs for owners with special needs."
For videos of the dogs in action, check out this promo for the 2014 Dire Wolf Conference (yet another sign of their popularity) happening in Los Angeles next summer.