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In my world, there is a species of canid named Canis major, commonly named giant wolves or giant coyotes or giant dogs (the name was based on a famous constellation). They are the world's largest canid (in real life, Canis familiaris also known as domestic dogs have the weird record of being both the world's largest and the world's smallest canid) (think about chihuahuas and great Danes, but also bichons frisé and bullmastiffs). Some of there main characteristics include:

  1. They are as large as adult tigers;
  2. They are among the few animals that are not afraid to humans, and that are not dangerous from humans neither (like capybaras, and emperor penguins);
  3. They have a great hair colour diversity: 60% of them have red fur, 20% of them have black fur, 10% of them have white fur, 6% of them have blonde fur, and 4% of them have grey fur;
  4. Most have a fur as dense as a long-furred chihuahua, but some have a fur as dense as a pug;
  5. They tend to be solitary, or at most, they live in quintets (group composed from five individuals), and most of them are monogamous or bigamous;
  6. The place of Earth that can be considered their cradle is Northern Quebec, Canada, Western World, and they can naturally be found in any parts of North America, and Eurasia that are not tropical;
  7. They have a domesticated form that is the most popular pet among giant humans (Homo gigas);
  8. They can breed with domestic dogs, grey wolves, and even coyotes, and the resulting offspring tend to be fertile (like a coywolf, a coydog, or a wolfdog).

Give these characteristics, what evolutionary pressures would lead to them?

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    $\begingroup$ Bears are caniforms, and some bears are quite large... But the main problem is what would those gigantic carnivorans eat in a world full of humans? Bears are visibly smaller than adult tigers, and omnivorous, and still there are only very few of them in western Europe. (And as for from what species they could have evolved from, if we insist of canids the choice is only between Canis dirus and Canis lupus, and there is no size difference between those.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ if they are as large as a tiger they are not breeding with a coyote, not in the wild, that's a 10 fold difference is mass. mechanical limitation will prevent it. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ Alex P There are many species of bears. Which species of bears are visibly smaller than adult tigers? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 2:29
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP European bears maybe.... But out in the US? Male Grizzlies range from 200 to 300 kg. Which is the same size as a Male Amur Tigers. Kodiak Bears range from 300 to 650 kg. Up to twice the size of the largest tiger. Polar bears range from 300 to 800 kg. Max is almost 3x the weight of the largest tiger. $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ How are they both giant predators and not dangerous to humans? Maybe they prefer other prey to humans. I think it will be at least as dangerous as a stray bear in a town. $\endgroup$
    – Atog
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 19:07

5 Answers 5

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Wolves tend to be surprisingly big, and come close to human size, so an extension of that to tiger size isn't too much of a stretch.

The Wikipedia article on them cites Bergmann's Rule might be in play when it comes to wolf size, with wolves in colder climates being larger than their counterparts in warmer climates.

Their size could be explained either by evolutionary fluke, or that they come from a cold climate, and possible the equivalent of the artic/antarctic (lycic/antlycic?). The poles tend to be extremely cold, and flat, which helps minimise the downsides of being large (not having to get around a complex terrain like a jungle), and means that they get a benefit from the larger size (more thermal mass).

They are among the few animals that are not afraid to humans, and that are not dangerous from humans neither (like capybaras, and emperor penguins);

They could be relatively friendly to humans because they're unfamiliar with them, and humans don't resemble their prey, but it might be paradoxical to make them not dangerous.

Even if it isn't actively trying to attack you, a large animal like that is inherently dangerous. What it might consider perfectly innocent could easily endanger a human, like lying down on top of one, or play-fighting.

They have a great hair colour diversity: 60% of them have red fur, 20% of them have black fur, 10% of them have white fur, 6% of them have blonde fur, and 4% of them have grey fur;

This does conflict with the polar wolf idea a bit, since red fur wouldn't really work for the arctic, or at least an Earth equivalent.

Some form of desert might make sense, since adaptations to red sand may result in red fur.

But then you have issues with other fur colours, which aren't well optimised for that environment, unless they're mutant variations.

Most have a fur as dense as a long-furred chihuahua, but some have a fur as dense as a pug;

Again, this also runs into problems with it being difficult to match up with the other conditions. Humans were only able to get that variation in dogs through temperate climates and selective breeding.

Evolutionary pressures with the same result may not be compatible with the kind of climate that would create that big of an animal as you want in Point 1, or the evolutionary pressures that result in Point 2.

Especially since neither of those breeds of dog have a particularly thick coat that would be useful in the kinds of cold climate that might help them evolve to be as large as tigers.

They tend to be solitary, or at most, they live in quintets (group composed from five individuals), and most of them are monogamous or bigamous;

This would make sense if they lived a highly competitive environment, where there is neither the predation pressure, nor the resources to sustain a particularly large group, like polar bears.

The place of Earth that can be considered their cradle is Northern Quebec, Canada, Western World, and they can naturally be found in any parts of North America, and Eurasia that are not tropical;

Although those are all temperate zones, which would lend themselves to smaller animals like mice, or wombats. A tiger-sized red wolf is going to stand out quite a bit on a green and grassy field.

If the grass was red, maybe, but in temperate zones, the large size is going to be more of a disadvantage compared to a smaller one, even excluding the possibility of them being hunted to extinction by early homonids, precisely because they aren't actively hostile towards humans. It basically happened to the Great Auk, where their friendly disposition towards humans made them easy hunting. The large size of canis major (BigDog) would only make them bigger and more tempting targets.

They have a domesticated form that is the most popular pet among giant humans (Homo gigas);

"Domesticated" is doing quite a lot of work here. Are they domesticated like early wolves were, becoming dogs?

But all you really need for domestication to occur is for both species to decide that they worked better together instead of apart, and they will domesticate each other given enough time.

Humans did evolve the ability to read dog emotions from their faces, and dogs have famously done the same with human emotions.

They can breed with domestic dogs, grey wolves, and even coyotes, and the resulting offspring tend to be fertile (like a coywolf, a coydog, or a wolfdog).

The mechanics of this might be rather difficult. BigDogs are still tiger-size, which may cause problems with breeding, even if they have compatible genetics.

Especially if BigDog mating behaviour is similar to that of regular dogs, which would make it dangerous for a regular-sized dog. (Biting and all of that may lead to a grisly end).

You might be able to sidestep some of those issues with BigDogs having evolved from wolves that ended up migrating to the polar regions, which might help with genetic compatibility, but then you run into problems with the evolutionary pressures not being right for either their large size, fur colour, or behavioural characteristics.

Wild Wolves aren't exactly friendly to humans.

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    $\begingroup$ The Great Auk isn't that well-known to most people. The Dodo is much better known and went extinct for pretty much the same reasons around 1660. $\endgroup$
    – Tonny
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 15:06
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No Bears

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What you have here is a large, solitary-ish omnivore that lives in temperate regions. Such an animal already exists. It is called the bear. Bears live in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada and America.

I propose all the bears got wiped out by a plague a few dozen millennia ago. Some of the wolves could evolved to fill their ecological niche. Hence giant wolves.

They are close enough to normal wolves that they can be domesticated. Giants domesticated them and bred them for size and to be pretty colours. Then some of the larger, more colourful giant wolves escaped and interbred with the wild giant wolves. A few generations later all the wild wolves were pretty colours. The feral wolves also taught the wild ones to be unafraid of giants. They are unafraid of micro-giants too.

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A free ecological niche

Wolfes are big enough for what they do. For them to get bigger you need:

  • plentyful large prey
  • an absence of other predators that already hunt that prey

Maybe africa without big cats would work, but wolfes seem to do better in colder climates.

So best would be a return of the Mammoth steppe preferably without smilodon etc.

Note that a wolf kind of like that DID exists, the dire wolf, though it was not quite as large as you want.

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The color red is a warning sign to signal danger towards potential predators in some form. Its bright color is usually the opposite of camouflage. That is especially unusual for predators, since you don't really want to alarm your prey.

You should consider creating a very reddish ecosystem the red type of wolves are home to, necessitating this camouflage. This would explain this otherwise very unusual fur color in some parts of the species.

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I would suggest that Canis major are simply feral dogs that had a bit of time for evolution to work its magic. Maybe they are also filling in empty niches for extinct species, like cave hyenas in Eurasia.

This would explain their interesting colorings since wild dogs aren't likely to evolve such diverse coloration, and why they aren't afraid of humans (like how coywolf aren't afraid of humans).

Most very large carnivores (that are not omnivorous) of the last 66 million years have been bone-crushers (like hyenas). This includes the bone-crushing dogs (Borophaginae, specifically the genus Epicyon), or Hyeanodonts. In order to explain their size, I would suggest that they were descended from breeds with extremely strong bite forces, stronger than wolves (kangal shepherd, cane corso, etc.) who went on to fill the niche of bone-crushing species in their environments. You could combine this with Bergmann's Rule mentioned by others here to explain their large size.

I don't think there were any bone-crushers or particularly large members of the subfamily Caninae (dire wolves were probably ~60kg) so another potential route would be if Borophaginae didn't go extinct that Canis major was from that group. But then the genus wouldn't be Canis (taxonomically speaking) and they wouldn't be able to breed with other dogs.

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