This was a fun little thought experiment illustrating an inevitable flaw of paleoart: you have to use living animals for references, and you have to make a lot of assumptions for recognizable things like nose shape, ear shape, eye color, fur color and texture and so on, so there’s a lot of latitude for error, especially for creatures that don’t have any modern descendants.

On the left is a cougar (Puma concolor) restored by an artist who lives in a world where all felines and their relatives have gone extinct before humans ever saw them, so they used a wolf as the model for restoring soft tissue. On the right is the opposite situation, a wolf (Canis lupus) restored using felines as a model. 

It was interesting to see how much of the character of the animal was inherent in the bone structure, and how much was dependent on flesh and fur. 


Gray wolf (Canis lupus) paw print 

The prints and placement of a wolf’s paw is similar to that of a large dog, making it easy to confuse the two. However, the toe pads of a wolf are more oblong and not so densely placed, causing the the dispersion of the two middle toes to be slightly larger than that of a dog’s. Imprints of the nails are bigger, longer, and more pointed than that of a dog. The print of a forepaw from a grown up Gray wolf is about 11 centimeters long and 10 centimeters wide. The hindpaw is about 8 centimeters long and 7 centimeters wide. 

While walking - something wolves relatively don’t often do - the lenght of the tread is 80 to 90 centimeters. While trotting - the pace wolves use most - the length is about 1 meter. When galopping or leaping, it’s 1.50 meters or more.

Wolves, like all canines, are digitigrade - meaning they walk on just their toe tips. It’s a very effective way of running. It helps them to stop and turn quickly and to prevent their paw pads from wearing down. The front of a wolf’s feet is very large. This allows greater weight distribution when a wolf runs on snow. It also provides more support to prevent them from sinking in the snow, helping them to hunt, run, and play without injury. Wolves also have small webs between their toes, enabling them to swim distances of up to 13 kilometers (8 miles).