The Giant Short-Faced Bear (Artodus simus) was not as Bizarre as Originally Thought

Scientists first described the giant short-faced bear as an unusually long-limbed bruin with a shortened catlike face.  Some proposed this species outran prey, much like a cheetah does.  However, later studies determined it was not a particularly fast runner but was instead built for endurance.  Nevertheless, these descriptions suggested a very bizarre kind of bear.  But now, the most recent and thorough study of the short-faced bear’s anatomy upends much of what was previously thought about this bear. Paleontologists, led by Borja Figuerida, compared skeletons of the giant short-faced bear with those of 56 different species of carnivores including all living species of bear.  In all they looked at 411 specimens.  They believe the giant short-faced bear did not sport much of a different appearance than any living species of bear, though it was very large. The legs were not unusually long.  They claim the assumption of a bear with unusually long limbs was a misinterpretation based on an optical illusion.  Bears have short backs compared to big cats and wolves, leading previous researchers to overestimate the length of this bear’s legs.  Moreover, its snout was no shorter in proportion than those of the Malaysian sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) and the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus).

The giant short-faced bear’s legs were not as long as typically depicted in illustrations.

Sitting sun bear.jpg

Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus).  A study suggests the proportions of the giant short-faced bear’s snout were no different from that of this endangered species.

The frequency of supersized individuals in the population of giant short-faced bears surprised the scientists involved in this study.  The male bear skeletons they studied came from individuals that frequently reached an estimated weight of 2000 pounds.  (Specimens from Alaska and the Yukon tended to be the largest.)  There was great sexual dimorphism–females averaged just an estimated 400-800 pounds.  B. Figuerida and his co-researchers do not think the giant short-faced bear was an hypercarnivore that chased down prey or lived entirely from scavenging.  Instead, they believe it was a generalist feeder like most modern day bears.  This giant bear ate any available plant and animal material in its environment.  Nevertheless, they probably did often scavenge carcasses.  Saber-tooth and scimitar-tooth cats had weak jaw muscles and likely ate just the organs and soft muscle tissues, leaving quite a lot of meat for a huge hungry bear to consume.

Reference: Figuerida, Borja; Juan Perez-Claros, and Vanessa Torregruz

“Demythologizing Arctodus simus, the “Short-Faced” Long Legged and Predaceous Bear that never was”

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30 (1) 2010

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2 Responses to “The Giant Short-Faced Bear (Artodus simus) was not as Bizarre as Originally Thought”

  1. George Crawford Says:

    Reblogged this on BLACKWATER LOCALITY #1 and commented:
    Interesting updates about everyone’s favorite Pleistocene bear. Not quite what we first thought but still a formidable predator.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    Thanks.

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