The “terrible wolf”, popularized by “Game of Thrones”, was not one.

“Canis dirus”, the “terrible wolf” who died 12,000 years ago.

DIn our European countries, it is undoubtedly less emblematic than the mammoth, less frightening than the cave lion, less incongruous than the giant sloth. However, the one that scientists have called, since 1858, The dog dims, which we are used to translating as “terrible wolf”, has never ceased to fascinate lovers of the Pleistocene megafauna, which disappeared during the Quaternary extinction twelve thousand years ago.

The discovery, in the 1950s, of 4,000 specimens, taken in the tar pits of the La Brea district, in the heart of Los Angeles, even made him a symbol in the United States: all the ancestral fears associated with the wolf, large scale (1.50 m, 70 kg). In recent years, finally, the series Game of Thrones undertook to further extend this sinister popularity.

Well the main thing was wrong! Not the size, nor the disappearance during the great warming of the end of the Pleistocene. But the origin, the cousin, the name. “We obviously thought it was a species close to the gray wolfsays Laurent Frantz, professor of paleogenomics at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. He had surely contributed to the diversity of the canids, which crossed with each other, allowing a flow of genes. This is what we were going to check. “ But the article he just published, Wednesday, January 13, in the review Nature, with 48 colleagues from around 30 establishments, presents the opposite conclusion: The dog dims was not a wolf. Far from it, even. The two species diverged more than five million years ago and stopped exchanging any genes.

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To show this, we first had to find DNA on specimens of the large carnivore. In La Brea, if the asphalt has wonderfully preserved the bones, it has erased the genetic information. The team analyzed 46 skeletons from elsewhere in the United States. Five spoke, ranging in age from thirteen thousand to fifty thousand years old.

“At first we did not believe our own results. Mitochondrial DNA is sometimes misleading. But once we extracted the nuclear DNA, the doubt was no longer possible. We first compared it to the genome of the wolf and the coyote. Then to the Asian dhole, or to the African lycaon and the African jackal. Nothing. “

Each in his corner

It is therefore a new scenario that the authors have developed. That of a common ancestor who arrived on the American continent, and who would have evolved to diverge 5.6 million years ago. Meanwhile, in Eurasia, the species would have taken another path, with multiple separations.

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