Extinct Wolf Species, From Prehistoric Times to Now

The modern Gray Wolf is one of the most interesting species of carnivore alive today. Thanks to domestication efforts by early humans, the wolf evolved into the modern dog species we all know and love, but the wolf itself still lives alongside many of its various subspecies and cousins who share a common ancestor. The canus genus began evolving some 300,000 years ago, and since that time, there have been a plethora of types of wolves and of interesting animals, which have gone extinct. Some died out due to climate change while others perished thanks to human predation, trapping, and poisoning efforts.

Whatever their reason for disappearing, these prehistoric animals have gone the way of the Dodo Bird, and will never be seen again. Fortunately, the Gray Wolf is still alive as are hundreds of breeds of dogs. Other Canis like the coyote, dingo, and jackal aren't featured here since they aren't true wolves. The animals on this list are either a subspecies of wolf, like the Hokkaido Wolf, or they are an extinct species like the Dire Wolf which share a common ancestor. They are ordered by how fearsome they might have been in comparison to their extant cousins, the Gray Wolf.

  • Dire Wolf

    History: the Dire Wolf is one of the best-known species of extinct canus thanks to the plethora of preserved skeletons recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California. They were considerably large carnivores that lived during the Late Pleistocene to Early Holocene periods some 125,000 to 9,500 years ago. They went extinct alongside many other North American megafauna due to the melting of the ice sheets at the conclusion of the last period of glaciation. Climate change and the loss of its primary prey animals coupled with competition from its contemporaries led to its demise.

    Size & Physical Description: Dire Wolves grew to an average of about 68 kg (150 lbs.) and reached a shoulder height of approximately 97 cm (38").

    Location: North America

    Modern Relatives: None.

    • Scientific Name: Canis dirus
    • Rank: Species
    • Type Of: Canis
  • Hokkaidō Wolf

    History: The Hokkaidō Wolf, also known as the Ezo and Sakhalin Wolf was a subspecies of the Gray Wolf. They went extinct during the Meiji Restoration period of the late 1860s. Most were poisoned via strychnine-laced bait to preserve livestock.

    Size & Physical Description: They stood up to 80 cm (31") and featured a light coloration in their fur.

    Location: Hokkaidō Island, Japan

    Modern Relatives: The Gray Wolf

    • Scientific Name: Canis lupus hattai
    • Rank: Subspecies
    • Type Of: Canis lupus
  • Strange Wolf
    Photo: Mariomassone / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

    Strange Wolf

    History: The Strange Wolf was a subgenus of canis, which included four known species. They were the common ancestor to the dhole and African Wild Dog. They lived between the Pliocene to Middle Pleistocene and went extinct some 11,700 years ago.

    Size & Physical Description: They were considerably large animals, and were comparable in size to the extant Gray Wolf.

    Location: Africa and Eurasia.

    Modern Relatives: The Dhole and African Wild Dog.

    • Scientific Name: Xenocyon
    • Rank: Genus
    • Type Of: Canis
    • Types: X. africanusm X. antonii, X. falconeri, X. lycanoides
  • Kenai Peninsula Wolf
    Photo: Edward Alphonso Goldman / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Kenai Peninsula Wolf

    History: The Kenai Peninsula Wolf was a subspecies of the Gray Wolf, which lived on the Kenai Peninsula of Southern Alaska. It was the victim of poisoning, hunting, and trapping due to the arrival of miners during the Alaska Gold Rush. Prior to that point, they were common, but by 1915, the were extirpated. The subspecies was declared extinct 10 years later.

    Size & Physical Description: Being a subspecies of the Gray Wolf, they shared the same size and look of their cousins.

    Location: The Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

    Modern Relatives: The Gray Wolf

    • Scientific Name: Canis lupus alces
    • Rank: Subspecies
    • Type Of: Canis
  • Cascade Mountains Wolf

    History: The Cascade Mountain Wolf was a subspecies of the Gray Wolf, which went extinct in 1940. It was originally thought to be a separate species but was reclassified as a subspecies 65 years after it was declared extinct.

    Size & Physical Description: The fur color was described as being cinnamon-colored, and the length was described as 165 cm (56") with a weight up to 49 kg (108 lbs.).

    Location: British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon

    Modern Relatives: The Gray Wolf

    • Scientific Name: Canis lupus fuscus
    • Rank: Subspecies
    • Type Of: Canis
  • Florida Black Wolf

    History: The Florida Black Wolf, also known as the Florida Wolf or simply, Black Wolf, was a subspecies of the Gray Wolf declared to be extinct in 1908. It went extinct due to habitat loss and hunting by humans who moved further into its territory.

    Size & Physical Description: They appeared similar to the Gray Wolf, but had much darker fur, hence the name.

    Location: Florida

    Modern Relatives: The Gray Wolf

    • Scientific Name: Canis lupus floridanus
    • Rank: Subspecies
    • Type Of: Canis Lupus