This is now playing on Netflix:
These wolves really do remind me of coyotes, right down to their consumption of fruit when it’s available.
This is now playing on Netflix:
These wolves really do remind me of coyotes, right down to their consumption of fruit when it’s available.
Dire wolves are one of those creatures from the past that has captured the public imagination. They are conventionally dreamed of as being massive wolves, and Hollywood has created fictional ones the size of horses.
The truth of the matter is they were only slightly larger than the largest of modern North American wolves.
We know that they were closely related to modern wolves, but their exact position in the wolf family tree is still a bit contested. The two species are close enough in appearance that it often takes a specialist to figure out whether one is looking at the skeletal remains dire or modern wolf the measurement of the skull features and limb proportions.
One feature, though, that is diagnostic of the dire wolf is its robust and “perky” baculum.
If you don’t know what a baculum is, that’s because you’re human. In virtually ever other species, the males have a “penis bone” or os penis. Where I grew up in West Virginia, it was not unusual for men to wear a raccoon’s baculum as talisman of both one’s virility and redneck bona fides.
The dire wolf is one of those ancient animals for which we have a lot of skeletal remains to examine. In the famous La Brea Tar Pits, where the remains of over a million Pleistocene creatures have been found, dire wolves are the most common species to have been recovered.
The tar pits were a death trap for all sort of large herbivorous mammals, and when they became stuck in the natural asphalt tar, they were easy pickings for scavengers. Dire wolves came to the tar pits to eat, but many, many of them died. Over 200,000 of them have been taken out of the site.
With such a big sample of dire wolf skeletal remains, paleontologists have been able to figure out quite a bit about their growth patterns, but of particular interest are the bacula of the male dire wolves. They are shaped not the bacula of any extant canid. They are curved and robust, and when compared to modern wolves of the roughly the same size, they are 44 percent longer.
That is a unusual find, and it suggests something about dire wolf behavior that isn’t true of modern wolves.
Modern wolves generally reproduce through a mated pair. In most wolf packs living in most situations in the wild, only a single pair in a pack gets to mate and produce pups. Other wolves in the pack might mate, but their pups will either be killed or abandoned.
This doesn’t happen every time. If there is abundant prey, these young females are sometimes allowed to raise their pups alongside their mother’s litter.
But in most cases, they don’t get to raise pups.
Modern wolves spend a lot of energy making sure that the mated pair, who are usually parents of the other wolves in the pack, get to mate and get to mate with each other. The other females in the pack might become pregnant, but they will be attacked if they try to mate with the main breeding male. The only way they ever get pregnant is by wandering interlopers who haven’t yet formed a pair bond with a female.
During the mating season is when young wolves typically leave their parents’ pack. They typically don’t have any mating opportunities, and the constant bickering wears on them.
The big and strangely shaped bacula of dire wolves suggests they might not have been quite like modern wolves. These bacula are suggestive that dire wolves were “better endowed” than modern wolves, and larger genitalia is usually associated with a less physically competitive reproductive strategy.
This phenomenon is well-known in primates. Generally, if a monkey or ape has bigger testes or penis, there is going to be less physical confrontation when it comes to mating.
The competition for well-endowed monkeys is how much semen a male can produce and how far up in the female he can penetrate it. If you can produce more semen and get it deeper into the female’s reproductive tract, then you’re more likely to pass on your genes.
In less-endowed species, there is much more physical confrontation to get one’s genes passed on.
My guess is that this applied to dire wolves. They may not have even had a proper pair-bonding system, and a dire wolf bitch may have mated with many partners in much the same way female domestic dogs do. The male dire wolves may have had very little competition for mating. They just mated and got along with each other.
It would have been an asset in a dire wolf pack for males to have gotten along with each other. More peace in a dire wolf pack means that more wolves remain in the pack for a longer period of time, and that means they would have had larger packs that would have been much more capable at hunting large prey. They also would have been better able to run off short-faced bears from their kills and to compete with Smilodons and American lions.
It’s likely that the intense competition between huge carnivorans during the dire wolf’s reign forced them into a more cooperative breeding and pack structure.
Again, no scientist has ever seen a dire wolf or observed their pack behavior, but they had this weird adaptation that sort of points to a more peaceful pack existence than exists in the modern species.
My guess is that dire wolves traveled in massive swarms, much like those seen in dholes of today. They were ruthless scavengers and dogged hunters.
When mating tame came, they bred like village dogs. Males would bunch up around a bitch in heat and each would mate with her. There would be no pair bond between the male and female.
The competition was in the semen and the implantation thereof.
I wrote a post two years ago about our trip to the Dominican that was full of ethereal tropical stereotypes and musings about how rewarding it was taking Essley (then 11 months) along for the first time on this annual trip we do for a festival headlined by the band Robbie stage manages. This, my friends, is not that kind of post. I won’t repeat my “complaints” about why this year was such a different experience (you can read them here, in case you missed last week’s post where I mentioned it), because in reality it was still absolutely wonderful. I mean it would have to take either a lot of really bad crap to happen or a truly terrible attitude about life in general for a person not to enjoy themselves in blissfully sunny weather at a fancy all-inclusive resort. I had an incredible time. I’m a beach person by nature so I was in my element, I got to spend 6 days with some of my best friends and their babies, and my kids had the time of their lives. But it was also hard, especially when my husband was working, to wrangle a fiercely (and often frustratingly) independent almost 3 year old and an antsy 11 month old through a large resort full of dangerous distractions. (Again, I went more into that here if you’re in the mood for completely unnecessary bitching.) Most of our friends brought helpers and nannies, which was really smart for this particular trip (we were at a music festival, after all). And I learned a lot about how I’d do things differently. In the end, I’d say it was 85% awesomeness, 15% difficulties, and I’m profoundly grateful that we were able to go at all. I’ve been daydreaming about the sunshine ever since.
I did not bring my camera, because I wanted us to be present in our experience and not feel pressured to document it. But I did take a whole bunch of spontaneous, low quality and non-cohesive but in-the-moment pictures with my cell phone (which are shown here along with a handful taken by the professionals, like the two directly below by my old pal Dave Vann). I think they tell the story of our trip better than my words could, so I’m sharing them in all their glory today.
As you can see, the resort and grounds were stunning. And the company was pretty great too. I’m not sure where the festival will be next year, but if it’s in the Dominican, we’ll definitely be back. I’d really like to rent a place for a few days before or after so we can experience more of the country outside of the confines of resort life. It really is an incredibly beautiful country and the people that we’ve met were just wonderful.
Thank you for letting me share some pieces of our trip with you! Have any of you spent time in the DR?
I remember being pregnant with Essley and worrying (in addition to a million other things) that I wouldn’t be good at playing with her. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous (now that it’s been a few years, it admittedly feels a little ridiculous typing it out), but I’m just gonna go for it and be totally transparent here. I’ve always liked kids, but I wouldn’t necessarily have described myself as a “kid person” before I had them myself. I enjoyed doing adult things (and still do, obviously), and I wondered if once Essley was old enough to engage in play together if I’d be easily distracted, or get bored immediately, or just not be a natural at child play time. I assumed it would just be something at which I had to work, but it wouldn’t be something I instinctively loved, and that was okay.
Guess what guys? I was wrong. So wrong. I worried for no reason (which I’ve come to learn tends to most often be the case with worry in general), because not only do I absolutely treasure my playtime with Essley, I think I’m actually good at it. Really, I’m fairly confident that we’re all good at it. Spending creative playtime with your kids (or any kids you love) is not only an incredible way to bond, it’s also really fun. We were all kids once, after all, and I genuinely believe taking the time to partner in play with the little ones is therapeutic on so many levels. It’s just the best.
Essley and I are both way into creating art, working on crafts, and building things, and it’s those types of activities you’ll most find us doing together. She also loves make believe and role playing, and we often end up in elaborate pretend scenarios with her toys and dolls. One of our favorite things to do together that involves both of these is to play with her LEGO DUPLO sets. LEGO® DUPLO® building toys are perfect for children Essley’s age because they’re specially designed for the small hands of little ones aged 1½ – 5 years. They’re also twice the size of standard LEGO bricks, so they’re safe for preschool aged kids. And playing with them is genuinely fun for me (and my husband), because I enjoyed LEGO bricks so much as a kid myself, and it brings back some pretty fantastic memories. It’s also fun because there is little I love more than watching Essley’s imagination in action.
While she does have random LEGO DUPLO pieces hanging around that she likes to use, lately she’s been especially into her building sets (mainly her Big Construction Site set). She alternates between wanting to build it just like the picture on the box and making something completely different with the pieces. I have to say, there is something quite satisfying about putting the pieces together the way you’re “supposed” to (sort of like a puzzle) – but I also love when she decides to come up with her own unique creations. It makes me so happy to see her use her imagination and explore different possibilities, and she’s (usually; we are dealing with a 3 year old here) so sweet about delegating things for her dad and I to do with her pieces. It’s also so cool to see her creating goals for herself as she plays, and getting so excited at the end of building something, knowing she achieved success in doing so. Play, as we all know, is essential for early learning, as it’s the biggest way little ones learn about their world. And as parents, we’re our childrens’ very first partners in play! I feel like when we’re doing this together, I’m able to truly witness her learning and growing, which is indescribably wonderful. I love her so much, and I cherish these times where we creatively play together.
Are there any other parents who thought (before kids) they might not be good at playing with their children, only to find out they were absolutely wrong? Who else loves to use LEGO DUPLO products when you’re partnering in play with your little ones?
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I posted yesterday about a Pug who felt it was more than unfair that a tree had been brought into his home. How does your dog feel about your Christmas preparations? Until next time, Good day, and good dog!
It’s time for me move on – or rather sideways! This blog, along with Menton Daily Photo has been running for 10 years and it’s time to consolidate so that everything is in one place.
Thank you, thank you for your loyalty to Riviera Dogs and to me. Your loyalty, your comments and encouragement helped me so much in my photography journey.
The new blog will be published probably once or twice a week – but with more photos and more words. And of course there will be lots and lots of dogs – but also stories of life in France and Italy and sometimes a little about photography.
Of course, if you want to look back at postings on this blog, well, they are not going anywhere. You’ll be able to find all the posts and photographs from the last ten years at any time – I just won’t be posting here anymore.
So onwards…. if you are interested in dogs (and you’d not be here if you weren’t) but also life as it’s really lived in the south of France and Italy and my journey in photography, come with me …
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