In many fantasy stories, there are creatures called Dire Wolves. What's a Dire Wolf, how is it different from existing wolves?

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    In the HBO version, they appear to be huskies or malamutes.... – M. Werner Apr 27 '11 at 14:55
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    @M. Werner: Dire Wolf pups look like huskies or malamutes :). They're supposed to get much much bigger. – System Down Apr 27 '11 at 16:37

Wikipedia says they're not fictional, although some stories may give them supernatural properties. They're an extinct species that existed from the Early Pleistocene to Late Pleistocene stages (roughly between 1.8 million – 10,000 years ago) in North and South America. Dire Wolves were one of many Pleistocene Megafauna, which are basically large animals that existed at that time, which included sabre-toothed cats, mammoths, giant lemurs, and giant sloths. Dire Wolves are larger than gray wolves (the largest existing type of wolf), averaging 5 ft in length and 240 lbs, although they tended to have shorter legs proportionally than gray wolves.

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    I believe they entered sf+f culture through D&D, but it could have been long before that. – Nellius Apr 27 '11 at 7:59
  • How are you sure that the fossil Dire Wolf wasn't named after some pre-existing usage in fantasy contexts? – Uticensis Apr 27 '11 at 12:31
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    It was named in 1858. It's likely that the generic "Dire X" in fantasy is named for it, not the other way around. – Random832 Apr 27 '11 at 13:31
  • @Random832 I wasn't talking about contemporary fantasy. I was talking about something like Tales From the Brothers Grimm. – Uticensis Apr 27 '11 at 15:43
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    @Billare Sounds like a good question, "When's the first instance of a 'Dire Wolf' in fiction?" – user1027 Apr 27 '11 at 16:09

Generally, "Dire" animals are larger, more vicious versions of existing animals. They're common in RPGs like D&D and other games or fiction with similar fantasy themes. In D&D (at least in more recent editions), in addition to being larger dire animals also tend to have bony plates and spikes.