Bone-crushing “Super” Ice Wolves!!
Around 12,000 years ago, in the icy forests of Alaska patrols of super-wolves could be found roaming, striking fear into the hearts of all who encountered them. They were much larger and much stronger than the modern Grey wolf, and sporting considerably larger teeth and far more powerful jaws, they were killing machines of very large prey.
This now extinct species, “Beringian wolves”, was discovered by Jennifer Leonard and a group of colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles. Whilst studying the permafrost-frozen remains of ancient time Grey wolves in Eastern Beringia, an area including Alaska and Northwest Canada, they were able to analyse DNA from the "super-wolf" bones, and also to study its genetic make-up.
They proved to be genetically quite different from the wolves we know today. On analysis of their DNA it became very obvious that modern-day wolves are not descendants of these extinct prehistoric "super wolves." They were shown to share a common ancestor, but were also found to be on two separate and diverging branches on the evolutionary tree.
Analysis of the genes found by Jennifer Leonard showed the heads of the Beringian wolves, were shorter and broader and possessing of deeper jaws than was considered usual. They also had very large teeth designed for shaving meat – of the nature that characterise dogs, cats and other carnivores specific to that group.
These hyper carnivores, had skulls adapted totally for the purpose of meat consumption and the use of a bite of such tremendous force that it could kill prey vastly larger than itself, possibly even the Great Mammoths of the time.
Their powerful jaws allowed the Beringian wolves to quickly wolf down carcasses, bones and everything else, fast enough to avoid the need to fend off competition. This would have included a fierce variety of dangerous and powerful hunters, including the likes of the American lion and the Short-faced bear, the largest bear ever known.
It is possible that the ancestors of today’s Grey wolf found their way into the New World by crossing the Bering land bridge linking Asia to Alaska. They were medium-sized hunters, between coyote and the Dire wolf. With the extinction of the larger Dire wolves, the Grey wolf split into two distinct groups. One filled the evolutionary gap by developing a far stronger skull and fangs, (“super wolves”) thereby filling the gap the larger extinct predators (Dire wolves) left, whilst the second group evolved into a faster, more athletic breed (ancestors of today’s wolves).
Unfortunately, as is the way in evolution the first group of wolves with their specialist requirements for very large prey became its pitfall. When such prey died out during the last Ice Age, so too did the large bone-crushing "super" Grey wolf. Today this creature is lost to us forever.
Unless in some future time mankind figures out a way to re-create them by way of cloning… Not necessarily a wise move!!