Cryptozoology reports from the vast state of Alaska indicate there’s another monster afoot in the frozen parts of the world! Is this mysterious creature a relic from the Ice Age, or something new coughed-up by evolution? CryptoVille shovels around searching for the truth!
Last Friday I was watching that new show on Destination America channel, Alaska Monsters. They mentioned this coming week’s episode will be about the saber wolf. I had never heard of that animal/cryptid, so I decided to do some research and see what else may be lurking in the wilds of the last great frontier!
To begin with, there was an animal called the Dire Wolf (Canis dirus) that lived in the Pleistocene era up to the most recent Ice Age. Its territory was the North American plains, so that’s pretty much the whole upper Mid-west to Western region, as well as Canada and Alaska.
For some reason, people used to think this animal had long, saber tooth fangs and weighed upwards of 600 pounds, all of which they would use to hunt down and tear apart their unfortunate prey. (Artwork left by FeralKynon on Deviant.)
Thanks to more research done within the last decade, Science now tells us this wolf averaged about 100 – 150 pounds, but could grow up to 200 pounds. It was first thought this wolf was the predecessor of the dogs we know and love today, as well as the gray wolf, but DNA studies done in 2007 at UCLA, proved that was untrue. The Dire Wolf seems to have died off in the last Ice Age, while another wolf species (Canis lepophagus) went on to survive and become the predecessor of today’s gray wolf and dogs.
The Dire wolf had bone-crushing jaws but archaeological evidence suggests it was a scavenger as well as a hunter. It was a social animal like wolves today, living in packs.
Scientists also report that the brains of the Dire Wolf were smaller than those of today’s gray wolf. The Dire Wolf had short, stubby legs which they estimate could run about as fast as a house cat. (More realistic portrayal of the Dire Wolf, right, artist unknown.)
My first thought was that this animal may be a hangover from the Ice Age, still hiding out in the remote areas of Alaska. It could have been renamed by locals as the ferocious predator, the Saber Wolf. But that sounds less likely the more I read about Canis dirus. Moving on.
Mythology of the Beast
The first fossil remains of the Dire Wolf were discovered in 1854 and people of the day were so fascinated and horrified that a mythology about the creature seemed to spring to life. Namely, they determined the animal was huge, muscular, of savage temperament, with diabolical saber-toothed fangs and glowing green eyes.
This description was picked-up in recent times by a variety of role-playing games and novels.
Some say the old Viking tale of Odin and Fenrir was the root of this legend. Fenrir was a humongous wolf that Odin chained as a pup. Once Fenrir grew to adult size, it turned on Odin and killed him. Odin’s son avenged his father’s death, killing Fenrir. A Dire Wolf is thought to have been the source for Fenrir’s description, but there’s one problem with that. The Viking poem describing all this was written in the 13th century. No one knew about Dire Wolves until 1854. So I think we can put all that aside. (Artwork left by Dorothy Hardy, 1909, Odin and Fenrir.)
Do Saber Wolves Exist?
No one has the definitive answer to that, and I seriously doubt the TV program Alaska Monsters is going to shed any real light on whether it exists or not. (I hope I’m wrong!)
However, your intrepid host here has been wondering about this problem for a few days and I would like to share my conjecture with you. Remember this is only conjecture and theorizing – no actual proof.
Science seems pretty convinced that the Dire Wolf died out as the Ice Age ramped up. But they also say things like “probably, we think, it seems.” So they can’t say with 100% assurance at this point in time.
So, what if the Dire Wolf didn’t exactly die off, but instead mutated. I’m wondering about this because of something else I learned a couple years ago.
I was putting together an article about the Black Beasts of Britain. I learned that back in the 1600s, wealthy land owners feeling an economic pinch, let the animals from their menageries loose on the moors and in the forests around them.
I asked an expert in Evolutionary Genetics from the University of Florida if it was possible that in 400 or so years, those lions (and whatnot) could have evolved into their own species, different from their African cousins. He said it was biologically possible. You can see that article here:
So what if the Dire Wolf, instead of dying out completely, evolved a bit differently over the next 12,000 years (the length of the last Ice Age). Four hundred years versus 12,000 years – a lot could happen.
Let’s add to this the fact that every time we see a show about Alaska, we hear how vast and unexplored it is. We learn about dozens of planes going down and disappearing into thin air (or so it seems). It’s not the kind of terrain that weekenders can just go out and have a look around.
Now there are some hearty souls who live in remote areas of that state, and who may have had some close encounters with the more elusive creatures of the Alaskan wilderness. Could some of these encounters be with an animal more like the imagined Saber Wolf? (Artwork right depicts a pack of Dire Wolves surrounding a Saber Toothed Tiger.)
I would like to leave the door open on this possibility. Yes, we know there are no living descendants of Dire Wolves, at least in the lower 48. Yes, dogs and gray wolves evolved from another wolf, not the Dire Wolves.
But what was happening up in the remote wilderness of Alaska over the last Ice Age, 12,000 years in the making? Time may eventually tell, but for now, it’s a fascinating theory, at least to me.
What do you think?