PART Six - Ice Age - Three Extinct Ice Age Animals
Continuing our journey through the annals of prehistory, we now gaze at three remarkable creatures that once shared the Ice Age landscape with our ancestors. These majestic beings, the Dire Wolf, Mastodons, and Woolly Mammoths, walked the Earth alongside early humans, leaving behind a legacy etched in the sands of time. This blog post delves into their fascinating stories and the circumstances that led to their eventual extinction.
1. Dire Wolf (Aenocyon dirus): The Ominous Predator
The dire wolf (Aenocyon dirus /iːˈnɒsaɪ.ɒn ˈdaɪrəs/) is an extinct canine. It is one of North America's most famous prehistoric carnivores and its extinct competitor, Smilodon (the sabre-toothed tiger). The dire wolf lived in the Americas and eastern Asia during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene epochs (125,000–9,500 years ago). The species was named in 1858, four years after
Image by Sergiodlarosa, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The dire wolf, the inspiration behind the formidable creatures in "Game of Thrones," was a true behemoth of its time. Extinct around 9,500 years ago, during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene eras, these colossal predators left a significant mark on history. Dire wolves were 25% larger than their modern-day grey wolf counterparts.
There were two subspecies of the dire wolf, Aenocyon dirus guildayi and Aenocyon dirus dirus, both of which vanished into the annals of history. Fossilized remains of these magnificent creatures have been unearthed in North America, South America, and East Asia, with the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles as a rich graveyard of dire wolves and numerous other species.
The name "dire wolf" originates from the Latin word 'dirus,' meaning 'ominous,' a fitting moniker for these massive wolves. Weighing in at an impressive 200 pounds and towering at 69 inches shoulder-high, dire wolves were formidable pack hunters, preying on deer, bison, horses, mastodons, and ground sloths, much like their modern-day counterparts.
Intriguingly, dire wolf skeletons have provided scientists with abundant DNA, igniting the possibility that geneticists might one day breathe life back into these extinct giants.
2. Mastodons (Mammut americanum): The Shaggy Giants of Yesteryears
Mastodons, the red-haired shaggy elephants of the past, belonged to the now-extinct mammut genus. These colossal creatures met their end around 10,000 to 11,000 years ago, leaving behind a legacy of wonder. Standing shorter than today's elephants and sporting smaller ears to ward off frostbite, mastodons bore similar tusks that grew upward and parallel to each other. Male mastodons even boasted a second set of lower tusks.
Image by Dantheman9758 at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons
Mastodons were gentle herbivores that roamed in herds, feasting on greenery. Their remains have been discovered on various continents, a testament to their once widespread presence. Experts speculate that climate change was pivotal in their decline as their food sources became scarcer. They also faced threats from the large carnivores of the Ice Age, while early humans hunted them for sustenance.
Over time, the numbers of mastodons dwindled, ultimately leading to their extinction.
3. Woolly Mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius): The Iconic Ice Age Giants
Among the most iconic creatures of the Ice Age were the Woolly Mammoths, towering at an astonishing height of 13 feet and weighing a colossal seven tons. These magnificent beings sported curving, extended tusks that added to their majestic allure.
Woolly Mammoths were well adapted to the frigid landscapes of the time, boasting a thick fur coat to combat the harsh cold. They roamed vast territories, their presence shaping the ecosystems of the era.
The mural depicting a herd walking near the Somme River in France, by Charles R. Knight, 1916
image by Charles R. Knight, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The reasons behind the extinction of Woolly Mammoths remain a subject of ongoing scientific investigation. While climate change, human hunting, and habitat shifts likely played pivotal roles, the exact interplay of these factors continues to be unravelled.
The stories of the Dire Wolf, Mastodons, and Woolly Mammoths stand as testaments to the complex web of life and extinction during the Ice Age. These creatures, once rulers of their domains, now live on in the pages of history and in the hearts of those who marvel at the mysteries of our prehistoric world. As we continue our exploration of this remarkable era, we are reminded of the profound connections between the past and our present, shaping our understanding of the world around us.
In Part 7 of our exploration, we will unveil the stories of four other incredible animals that once graced our planet. Stay tuned as we continue our journey into the mysteries of our prehistoric world.