The fossilized jawbone with cheek-teeth was obtained by the geologist Joseph Granville Norwood from an Evansville collector, Francis A. The paleontologist Joseph Leidy determined that the specimen represented an extinct species of wolf and reported it under the name of Canis primaevus.Norwood's letters to Leidy are preserved along with the type specimen (the first of a species that has a written description) at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

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The sites range in elevation from sea level to 2,255 meters (7,400 ft).

Dire wolf fossils have rarely been found north of 42°N latitude, with five unconfirmed reports above this latitude.

Its reliance on megaherbivores has been proposed as the cause of its extinction, along with climate change and competition with other species, but the cause remains controversial.

Dire wolves lived as recently as 9,440 years ago, according to dated remains.

A connected skeleton of a dire wolf from Rancho La Brea is difficult to find because the tar allows the bones to disassemble in many directions.

Parts of a vertebral column have been assembled, and it was found to be similar to that of the modern wolf, with the same number of vertebrae.The dire wolf lived in the Americas during the Late Pleistocene epoch (125,000–10,000 years ago).The species was named in 1858, four years after the first specimen had been found.This range restriction is thought to be due to temperature, prey, or habitat limitations imposed by proximity to the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets that existed at the time.The dire wolf was about the same size as the largest modern gray wolves (Canis lupus), which are the Yukon wolf and the northwestern wolf.C.lupus, but its teeth were larger with greater shearing ability, and its bite force at the canine tooth was the strongest of any known Canis species.