(CNN)An extinct species of wolf, which served as inspiration for a mythical creature in the popular television show "Game of Thrones," had little in common with the gray wolves that roam North America today, new research has found.
Analysis of ancient DNA reveals details about the dire wolf, inspiration for 'Game of Thrones' creature
Known as Canis dirus, meaning "fearsome dog," it had been thought that dire wolves were simply a beefier version of the gray wolf. However, a new study published in the journal Nature has revealed just how different they really were.
The prehistoric carnivores roamed North America until they went extinct some 13,000 years ago. Dire wolf fossils are among the most common recovered at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.
"The going narrative has been that gray and dire wolves were very closely related, like sister or cousin lineages, or perhaps the same animal," lead study author Angela Perri, an archaeologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom, told CNN via email.
"We were pretty comfortable with that assessment for 150 years, as that's what the similarities in their skeletons suggested. Now the genetics have revealed that they are only very distantly related, having split from each other around 6 million years ago," Perri added.
For the first time, experts sequenced DNA from five dire wolf fossils, which were found in Wyoming, Idaho, Ohio and Tennessee, respectively. They date back to over 50,000 years ago.
Analysis showed that unlike many doglike species that seemingly migrated between North America and Eurasia over time, dire wolves evolved solely in North America for millions of years.
The animals' stark divergence from gray wolves, researchers believe, places them in an entirely different genus.