The dire wolf (Canis dirus) was a prehistoric relative of the gray wolf (Canis lupus), and found as fossils throughout North America, but most especially in southern California.
According to the Illinois State Museum, "The dire wolf was not quite like any animal surviving today. It was similar in overall size and mass to a large modern gray wolf. This means it was about 1.5 meters (5 feet) long and weighed about 50 kilograms (110 pounds) on average."
In reality, many recovered specimens indicate an animal approximately 25% larger than living wolves, reaching estimated weights of close to 200 pounds. Although very similar in appearance, the dire wolf's head was large and broad, and it had a body carried by sturdy, yet proportionally-shorter legs.
The first dire wolf specimen was discovered near Evansville, Indiana in 1854 by Francis A. Linck, who then showed it to Dr. Joseph Granville Norwood, who at that time was the first serving state geologist in the country. The fossil would then be sent to Dr. Joseph Leidy in Philadelphia, who made the determination that it represented a new wolf species. The name Canis dirus would be bestowed on it in 1858.
Although first found in Indiana, the dire wolf is better known from the more than-4,000 specimens recovered from the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, California.