Fossil Friday – dire wolf tooth

DSCN5601Today is National Dog Day, and while the day is primarily honoring domestic dogs (Canis familiaris, or Canis lupus familiars), it seems fitting to also recognize their wild ancestors and cousins.

The Diamond Valley Lake deposits only produced a handful of carnivores bones, but several canids are included among their numbers. There are a few individual bones and teeth from dire wolves (Canis dirus), the same species that is so spectacularly common at Rancho La Brea, 80 miles to the west.

The partial tooth shown above is currently on exhibit at the Western Science Center, so rather than open the exhibit case (a 3-hour exercise) I instead photographed it through the glass. This rather large tooth is a carnassial, shearing teeth developed to varying degrees among all the carnivorans. The upper carnassials are modified 4th premolars, while the lower ones are the first molars. These teeth occlude like a pair of scissors, and are effective at chopping up flesh from prey animals.

While it’s difficult to do a detailed examination through glass, I’m pretty sure this is the upper right 4th premolar, seen in lingual view, with the anterior edge broken off and the point worn away. Compare it to a modern coyote upper P4 in the same orientation, below:


So if you’re celebrating National Dog Day, maybe take some time to visit your local natural history museum and remember our canine friends’ extinct relatives!

For those in Southern California, the Western Science Center will be attending NerdCon at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido this weekend. There will be opportunities to take selfies with Max, and we’ll have numerous replicas on display (including a dire wolf skull). You’ll also be able to purchase detailed replicas of some of our fossils, so if you’re attending NerdCon make sure to stop by our booth!


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