LAS VEGAS (AP) — Researchers studying the fossil-rich Upper Las Vegas Wash found the first evidence that an extinct, ice age wolf species once lived in Nevada, officials from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas announced this week.
UNLV geologist Josh Bonde uncovered a foot bone late last year near the proposed Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, and scientists in Los Angeles recently confirmed it belonged to the dire wolf.
"The Tule Springs area has turned up many species, but it's exciting to fill in another part of the map for this animal and reveal a bit more about the ice age ecosystem in Southern Nevada," Bonde said.
The dire wolf, a larger relative of the gray wolf, roamed much of North and South America for more than a million years, according to scientists. They believe competition from other wolf species and a possible lack of food led to the dire wolf's extinction about 10,000 years ago.
The bone was identified by the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History's Xiaoming Wang, an expert on extinct species of the dog family. It's estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000 years old.
"This discovery helps flesh out Southern Nevada's Pleistocene ecosystem and shows that there are still important discoveries to be made in the Upper Las Vegas Wash," said UNLV geology professor Steve Rowland, who collaborates with Bonde in studying southern Nevada ice age fossils. "To understand why certain species became extinct and others did not, we need to learn as much as possible about predatory habits and which species were especially sensitive to changes in the environment."
UNLV's announcement comes shortly after researchers from the San Bernardino County Museum discovered remains of a saber-tooth cat in the same wash. Like dire wolves, saber-tooth cats were predators that had been conspicuously absent from the Southern Nevada fossil record.