First Record of the Giant Short-Faced Bear (Arctodus simus) in South Carolina

Increased currents from the periodic release of water from an upstream reservoir on the Cooper River in South Carolina disturbs the sediment at the bottom of this river. Fossil hunters take advantage and scuba dive for fossils in the disturbed sediment. Recently, Eric Proulx discovered a fossil tooth while scuba diving in the river. He didn’t know what pre-historic animal it was from, and he showed it to Dave Cicimurri, curator of the Columbia Museum. The curator misidentified the tooth, mistaking it for a lion (Panthera atrox) canine. The photo of the tooth in a news article was shared on a Florida fossil hunters Facebook page where it became an object of some derision. Most of the amateur fossil hunters recognized the tooth as bear, not lion. (A lion’s canine is much longer.) Richard Hulbert of the University of the Florida Museum of Natural History looked at it and confirmed it belonged to a giant short-faced bear. This is the first record of this species in the state of South Carolina. Though fossil specimens of this species are more common in western states, they have been found in Fern Cave, Alabama, the Withlacoochee River in Florida, and at least 1 site in Virginia. This specimen shows this species ranged all the way to the eastern seaboard.

Eric Prouix found this tooth of a giant short-faced bear in the Cooper River in South Carolina while he was scuba diving. This is the first record of this extinct species in the state.

This map is from the below reference. I added the blue dot to indicate where the short-faced bear specimen was found in South Carolina.
Typical inaccurate image of a giant short-faced bear. Recent studies determined its legs were not as long as previously thought and its face not as short.

Much of what scientists thought about the giant short-faced bear has been revised. It was a very large bear, averaging as big as a Kodiak bear, the subspecies of brown bear that enjoys an high protein diet of salmon. This diet results in a bear able to reach weights of over 1000 pounds. But giant short-faced bears did not have unusually long legs, and their faces were not particularly short. So every illustration of this species on the web is wrong. Scientists also formerly thought giant short-faced bears were highly carnivorous, scavenging by driving other predators from their kills. Though I’m sure this happened on occasion, an isotopic study determined short-faced bears were omnivorous, just like most other species of bears.

The presence of giant short-faced bears in South Carolina shows 3 species of bears co-existed throughout southeastern North America during the Pleistocene. Florida spectacled bears and black bears shared the land with their larger cousins. In addition grizzly bears lived at least as far southeast as Kentucky, and polar bears may have occasionally roamed south along the Atlantic Coast when glaciers covered most of their present day habitat.

Reference:

Schubert, B.; R. Hulbert, B. MacFadden, and S. Sourle

“Giant Short-Faced Bears (Arctodus simus ) in Pleistocene Florida, U.S.A., a Substantial Range Extension”

Journal of Paleontology 84 (1) 2010

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