George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novel, alongside its movie adaptation (Game of Thrones), is full of beasts, bizarre creatures, and otherworldly animals.
The dire wolf is one of the most famous creatures from the HBO series.
The orphaned wolf cubs were adopted by each of the Stark children and became their trusted companions throughout the series.
However, even before their pop culture popularity, dire wolves have been well-known, especially in scientific circles.
Regarded as the largest prehistoric canines to have ever lived, the dire wolf terrorized the plains of North America and East Asia from the Late Pleistocene till the Early Holocene Epoch (125,000–9,500 years ago).
Like everything on the big screen, the Game of Thrones dire wolves had their size greatly exaggerated.
So, how big were they really? And how do they compare to other prehistoric and living animals?
In this article, we’ll explore all the facts about the dire wolf’s size, comparing them to gray wolves, humans, and their prehistoric contemporaries.
What Were Direwolves?
In the Game of Thrones Series, dire wolves were regarded as mythical creatures because they were little-known and rarely sighted.
But dire wolves are real animals that thrived on earth until about 10,000 years ago.
The first dire wolf fossils were discovered in North America in the 1850s
Direwolves were prehistoric canine species that once roamed the continents of North and South America and eastern Asia.
This ancient canid, known scientifically as Aenocyon dirus, is not a direct ancestor of modern wolves but is distantly related to them.
The dire wolf lived during the Pleistocene Epoch about 125,000 years ago and was alive until the Early Holocene Epoch (10,000 years ago).
They were massive and powerful creatures similar in proportion and slightly bigger than some of the biggest wolf species today.
Direwolves inhabited a range of environments during the Pleistocene Epoch.
Their range extended from the icy tundras of Alaska to the temperate woodlands of present-day southern United States.
They also lived in the arid savanna of South America and on the steppes of eastern Asia.
Direwolves lived alongside some of the Earth’s Pleistocene megafauna, including the famous mammoths, mastodons, prehistoric horses, and ground sloths.
This prehistoric canid had to compete with Pleistocene apex predators like the saber-toothed tiger (Smilodon), Pleistocene coyote (Canis latrans), Pleistocene gray wolf, and the modern cougar (Puma concolor).
Two subspecies of dire wolves have been recognized: Aenocyon dirus guildayi and Aenocyon dirus dirus.
Dire wolves lived alongside ancient humans in the Americas.
Consequently, they’re often referenced in the folklore and mythologies of indigenous peoples across the Americas.
In some legends, this creature is depicted as a powerful and spiritual animal embodying unique qualities like strength and resilience.
How Big Were Direwolves?
The dire wolf is generally regarded as the largest canine to have ever lived.
It stood at over two feet tall (between 28 and 33 inches) and measured about 69 inches (1.75 meters) from head to tail.
The average weight of the dire wolf is about 130 pounds.
However, some individuals may have been smaller or bigger than this.
Male dire wolves were about the same size as females but were equipped with larger and more menacing fangs than females.
The two dire wolf subspecies showed remarkable differences in size, especially in terms of their cranial features and limb proportions.
Canis dirus guildayi (the dire wolf species native to California and Mexico) had notably lighter and smaller limbs compared to species that lived east of the continental divide (A. dirus dirus).
Aenocyon dirus dirus, on the other hand, had significantly longer limbs, which gave it a more robust appearance.
In terms of their weight, A. d. guildayi had an average weight of about 60 kilograms (132 pounds) while A. d. dirus weighed about 68 kilograms (150 pounds).
Some individuals may have been bigger than these estimates, but none would have exceeded 110 kilograms (243 pounds) due to skeletal limitations.
For context, the gray wolf (Canis lupus), which is the biggest wolf species today, has a maximum weight estimate of about 79.4 kilograms (175 pounds) for the largest individual found so far.
But on average, most gray wolves weigh about 43 kilograms (95 pounds) for males and 37 kilograms (82 pounds) for females.
This means the average dire wolf would have been similar in size to the largest gray wolf, and the largest gray wolves were significantly bigger than gray wolves.
Direwolf Size Chart and Measurements
|Species||Average shoulder height||Average weight||Average length|
|Dire wolf (Aenocyon dirus)||28–33 inches (0.7–0.8 meters)||56.7–79.4 kilograms (125–175 pounds)||5-6 feet (1.5-1.8 meters)|
|Mackenzie Valley Wolf – (Canis Lupus occidentalis)||32–40 inches (0.8–1.0 meters)||42.5–51.7 kilograms (93.6–112.2 pounds)||5–7 feet (1.5–2 meters)|
|Eurasian Wolf (Canis Lupus Lupus)||31–33 inches (0.8–0.85 meters)||32–50 kilograms (71–110 pounds)||3.4–5.2 feet (1.05–1.60 meters)|
|Yukon wolf (Canis lupus pambasileus)||33.5 inches (0.85 meters)||32–60 kilograms (71-130 lb).||4.9–6.4 feet(1.50– 1.96 meters)|
This size chart above compares the key measurements for dire wolves and three subspecies of modern gray wolves: Mackenzie Valley wolf, Eurasian wolf (common wolf), and Yukon wolf.
It illustrates how dire wolves were comparatively larger than these wolf species in terms of their weight but similar to them in terms of their shoulder height and body length.
Direwolf vs. Gray Wolf: A Comparative Analysis
The dire wolf is often compared to the gray wolf in size and body proportions.
That’s because the gray wolf is the largest wolf species still living today.
Both species co-existed in North America during the Pleistocene Epoch and may have interacted periodically.
The different subspecies of gray wolf exhibit size variations and other remarkable differences in appearance.
The Yukon wolf (Canis lupus pambasileus) and Northwestern wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis) are two of the biggest gray wolf subspecies today.
The largest gray wolves have an average shoulder height of about 38 inches (0.9 meters) and a body length of about 69 inches (1.8 centimeters).
Most dire wolves had similar dimensions, while some individuals may have been slightly larger than this.
Despite being about the same size on average, dire wolves had a more robust and muscular build than gray wolves.
They weighed about 130 to 150 pounds on average, while the Yukon wolf weighed about 71 to 130 pounds.
This means the dire wolf was about 25% heavier than the gray wolf.
The dire wolf also had a larger head compared to gray wolf species of the same body size, with a skull length that was up to 12 inches (31 centimeters) or longer.
The robust jaws of the dire wolf were lined with numerous sharp teeth, which would have given the prehistoric wolf a stronger bite compared to modern relatives.
According to one study, the bite force of the dire wolf was found to be about 163 Newtons per kilogram of body weight, compared to 136 for the gray wolf.
Dire Wolf Size Comparison to Humans and Other Creatures
The average human height is about 1.7 meters (5.7 feet).
This means an average human would be taller than the most enormous dire wolf.
The dire wolf’s height puts it around the same size as a 13-year-old human.
With an average shoulder height of about 3.2 feet, the dire wolf would be slightly taller than an adult human’s belly button — just tall enough for you to pet!
In terms of weight, dire wolves and humans are in the same weight category, but the biggest dire wolves (above 200 pounds) would have outsized humans.
The Americas had human and wolf populations living side-by-side during the Pleistocene Epoch.
Consequently, there might have been encounters between ancient humans and the prehistoric canids since they likely targeted the same prey animals.
Such encounters can be likened to a modern human confronting a gray wolf in the wild.
The outcome would depend on the weapons available to the human to defend himself.
But a defenseless human probably stood no chance against a dire wolf.
The dire wolf was not the only apex predator in the Americas during the Pleistocene.
It had to compete against other carnivores, such as the equally-sized gray wolf, and some larger predators, like the saber-toothed cats (Smilodon)
Smilodon was one of the best-known megafauna predators of the Late Pleistocene Epoch.
This distant relative of modern felids is renowned for its exceptionally long canine teeth.
The Smilodon is comparable in size to modern lions but with a stockier build.
The smallest species in the genus (Smilodon gracilis) would have been comparable to some of the biggest dire wolves, with an average weight of about 120 to 220 pounds.
Other species were comparatively larger, with an average weight of about 350 to 620 pounds and a height of about one meter for the Smilodon fatalis.
The largest saber-tooth tiger species (S. populator) lived in South America and weighed roughly 485 to 961 pounds.
It stood at a height of 1.2 meters, meaning it would have outsized even the most enormous dire wolf.
Both animals lived and hunted in packs, but like modern wolves, the dire wolves had better-organized social structures, which would have given them an edge in hunting prey.
But the Smilodon’s bigger size meant it was the undisputable apex predator on the continent.
Alpha Dire Wolf: Size and Dominance
Dire wolf packs were likely organized like modern wolf packs.
This means they would have had a hierarchical structure with the biggest and strongest male holding the highest position of authority in the pack.
This would be the alpha dire wolf.
It’s hard to tell how big the alpha dire wolf in these prehistoric wolf packs would have been, but since the largest individuals were up to 200 pounds, the alpha may have exceeded this size, too.
This alpha’s larger size and enhanced physical strength were necessary for asserting dominance within the pack.
It may have also had a more robust jaw for bone-crushing and a stockier build compared to other pack members.
In addition to intimidating subordinates, the alpha dire wolf’s size would have been important for the canids’ hunting strategies.
Given its size and position in the pack, the alpha played a crucial role in taking down larger prey that required higher power and coordination to kill.
The imposing presence of the alpha dire wolf also helped the pack maintain the integrity of their territory.
With the help of other large males, the alpha defended their territory against rival packs and potential competitors like the saber-tooth tiger and the gray wolf.
The dire wolf is one of the most notable canid carnivores to have ever lived.
This distant relative of modern wolves lived in the Americas and eastern Asia during the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs and was among the largest carnivores around.
Contrary to common pop culture depictions, dire wolves were not significantly bigger than modern wolves.
They were about the same height and length as modern gray wolves but had a more robust build.
The average gray wolf would have been roughly the same size as a modern northwestern wolf and Yukon wolf.
However, some of the biggest individuals would have excelled in these gray wolf subspecies significantly, especially in terms of body weight.
The size of this canid gave them an edge in competing against ancient humans in the Americas and other large land carnivores like the saber-toothed cats.
Putting the immense size of this predator in perspective provides a deeper understanding of the Pleistocene megafauna and the interactions between the animals that lived in the Americas before the last ice age.