Still, despite the anatomical points that mark them as a different species, dire wolves probably lived much like the gray wolves that still trod parts of North America. The sheer number of remains found at the La Brea asphalt seeps, outnumbering any other large vertebrate by far, only make sense if dire wolves were pack hunters, which falls into accord with evidence that these carnivores were chasing mid-sized herbivores such as horses. Wolves lack the grappling abilities of cats, relying instead on their running endurance and jaws, and so the dire wolf has almost always been envisioned as roving through prehistoric habitats in packs. More than that, some dire wolf remains at La Brea show painful injuries that would have crippled the animals and yet show signs of healing. This hints that these dogs had some sort of social support structure that allowed them to survive.
Dire wolf teeth and jaws do more than just fill in details about their hunting lives, though. Male and female dire wolves have similarly-sized canine teeth, for example, suggesting that dire wolves formed pair bonds with mates instead of males vying for dominance. And teeth also record tough times for dire wolves. About 15,000 years ago, the dire wolves of La Brea were chewing bone more often. Fractured teeth suggest that dire wolves really had to make the most of every carcass. Better times came back by about 12,000 years ago, although the very last of these carnivores disappeared just after 10,000 years ago. Exactly why we can’t find them still loping around the Americas today is a mystery.
“There’s not been a direwolf sighted south of the Wall in two hundred years.” This is what Theon Greyjoy says when Robb Stark discovers a litter of six pups, helpless after the death of their mother, at the very beginning of Game of Thrones. It seems that the series is moving towards extirpating them all over again, repeating the slip of extinction that their real counterparts suffered. But, according to the lore, there are wolves still north of the Wall, and winter is coming. I hope the direwolves come with it.