UNLV geologist Josh Bonde was surveying the Upper Las Vegas Wash last June when he and his team of undergrad assistants noticed a bone sticking out of the side of a hill. He knew immediately that it was from some sort of dog, and an independent examination recently confirmed it was the foot bone of a 10,000-15,000-year-old dire wolf. Add that to last year’s discovery of a saber-toothed cat bone, and it starts to change our picture of the prehistoric Las Vegas Valley:
What’s the big deal about finding a wolf bone?
We never found a dire wolf in Nevada before. Ecologically, it tells us there was enough food running around here during the Ice Age for them to survive. Initially, we thought this might have been a dying ecosystem, but there had to be enough [life] to feed wolves and cats—as well as the American Lion [whose bones were discovered in the 1960s], a huge animal that would have dwarfed today’s African Lions.
What was their relationship with the Valley’s early humans?
Most canines leave people alone. There’s no evidence that even gray wolves attack people unless they’re rabid. But we were probably in competition for the same prey. Saber-toothed cats, on the other hand, probably hunted us. Cats don’t care.
Now that you’ve bagged a dire wolf and a saber-toothed cat, what’s left on your fossil wish list?
It would be cool to find some giant short-faced bears, cheetah, maybe four-pronged antelope. But I don’t want to get greedy. What we’ve uncovered already is great.