Game of Thrones direwolves and dragons are now legendary – as the world is gripped by Game of Thrones fever, our partners Eco Sapien talk about some of the wonderful species in GoT that are inspired by some true amazing animals. The world of GoT is home to many wonderful and fantastical creatures, but some of these mythical beasts aren’t as fictional as they may first seem.  See if you can spot them on your green travels!

Game of Thrones Direwolves

The ferocious and loyal direwolves of House Stark have been present on our screens since the start of the show, but you may not know that these great creatures are based on an actual species! The dire wolf (Canis dirus) was in fact a real carnivore that lived from between the years 240,000 to 11,000 BC in North and South America.

The biggest feature that sets the GoT direwolves apart from their un-dire cousins is their great size. In GoT, direwolves are much bigger than other wolf species and can grow to be the size of horses, but the real dire wolves weren’t quite so impressive. From fossil records, including many recovered from the famous La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, it has been revealed that dire wolves weren’t that much taller than modern gray wolves (Canis lupis) but were much more thick-set, making them about 25% heavier.  Their jaws are also thought to be more powerful than modern day wolves too (130% times the strength of C. lupis), enabling them to take down American megafauna such as woolly mammoths.

 Similar to modern day wolves, these predators were thought to hunt in packs. The GoT direwolves are portrayed as being particularly intelligent, but in real life, dire wolf skulls were smaller than modern wolves, suggesting they maybe weren’t quite as bright as their modern relatives. Dire wolves are thought to have gone extinct during the quarternary extinction like a lot of other American megafauna. One of the reasons for this is that smaller wolf species were likely better suited to the increasingly hot global climate and were able to rely on eating smaller prey than the dire wolves which were used to hunting the megafauna that was also dying out.

Game of Thrones direwolves

Dire wolf: Sarah Murray via Flickr

The Kraken

The sigil of House Greyjoy features a monstrous squid-like creature known as a kraken. Krakens aren’t unique to the fantasy world of GoT as their origins can be traced back to 13th century Scandinavian mythology. Stories of giant oceanic octopuses that were capable of sinking ships were once taken seriously enough that even the father of modern taxonomy, Carolus Linnaeus, classified the kraken as a cephalopod (taxonomic class including squids and octopuses) and gave it the scientific name Microcosmus marinus in the first edition of his “Systema Naturae” (1735).

 Whilst the GoT kraken hasn’t yet appeared on our screens, there are in fact two large and mysterious species of cephlapod that do currently live in the dark waters of our oceans. The giant squid (Architeuthis dux) and colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) can both grow to be about 13-14 metres long with mantles between 2 and 3 metres and 10 metre long arms and tentacles. The colossal squid is thought to weigh up to 750 kg, making it the world’s largest and heaviest invertebrate. Both species have large suckers on their arms which make them very able to grab and pull their prey down into the murky depths, but if their ability to sink ships is most likely just down to the years of folklore embellishment. As of yet, the mysterious krakens haven’t made an appearance on the show and only rumours of their presence have been mentioned in the books, but I’m sure we’ll know about it if and when these titans show up!

Giant Squid Photo: Ryan Somma / Flickr

Giant Squid Photo: Ryan Somma / Flickr

Dragon

 The Targaryen’s Dragons are the only creatures on this list that don’t seem to have a real-world analogue. The only lizards to ever fly through our skies were pterosaurs, and they share much more in common with modern birds than the serpentine dragons of GoT. The closest living animal we have to the large predatory reptilian dragons of GoT is most likely the aptly named Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis).

Indonesia’s Komodo dragon is the largest living species of lizard, growing up to maximum of 3 metres in length and weight approximately 70 kg. Whilst they can’t breathe fire, their mouth is still a deadly weapon. Komodo dragons possess a pair of glands in their jaw that produce deadly toxins, and after biting its prey, Komodo dragons are able to follow their prey until they die from the toxic effects of the bite. They are also masters of stealth and speed and have no trouble in quickly taking down their prey.

Komodo dragons are not only fierce predators, but they’re well defended too. The dragons of GoT are coated in almost impenetrable scales, and similarly, the skin of Komodo dragons is covered in tiny bones called osteoderms that act as natural chain-mail armour. Although these fearsome beasts may not be ready to destroy entire cities quite yet, their strength and deadly nature certainly makes them worthy of the dragon title.

Komodo Dragon: Sergei via Flickr

Komodo Dragon: Sergei via Flickr

 Snow Bears, Shadowcats and Lizard Lions

These last three creatures haven’t yet had much of a presence in the television show, but they have appeared and been referenced in the book, and all three have their basis in real-world animals.

Despite not yet appearing in the TV adaptation, the books describes shadowcats as large feline creatures with a body size between that of a cougar and a tiger but with thick black fur and white stripes. These large felines are very much directly based on our own big cats, but the addition of striped black fur and “glowing eyes” make you question just how well adapted they are to the snowy terrain up in the North of Westeros.

Snow bears are also currently absent from our GoT screens, but they are featured in the books as extremely large polar bear-esque creatures. Whilst living polar bears reach about five-feet tall when on all fours, the snow bears of GoT can reach about thirteen feet tall! The extreme size of these bears is much bigger than any living or even extinct bear species. The world’s largest bears belonged to the extinct genus Arcotherium whose members weighed almost 10 times that of their closest living relatives, the spectacled bears, but would still be dwarfed by the monstrous snow bears.

Polar bear

Polar bear Photo: Arturo de Frias Marques via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, there is the interestingly named “lizard lion”. This creature is described in the books as a large crocodilian animal that hunts by lying motionless in bodies of water attempting to catch unwary prey. This appears to describe many species of modern crocodiles and alligators, but it isn’t clear if there are any further differences between “lizard lions” and modern crocodilians besides their curious name!

The original post by our partners Eco Sapien appeared here. 

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