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Cave Bear

The Cave Bear is a species of extinct bear that walked the earth for the last time around 24,000 years ago. Biologists have named these enormous mammals ‘cave bear’since the discovery of innumerable skeletons and skeletal remains from a large number of caves of mostly Europe, as also, Asia.

Though the exact reason for their disappearance is yet unspecified, they probably disappeared because of the immense low temperatures of the Last Glacial Maximum, while it is quite unlikely that they went into mass extinction because of continuous human or predator attacks.

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Scientific Classification

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Carnivora
Family Ursidae
Genus Ursus
Species U. spelaeus
Binomial or ScientificName Ursusspelaeus

Quick Facts

Geological Period Pleistocene Epoch (2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago)
Size Up to 3.5 meters in length (standing height) and up to 1.7 meters at the shoulder (height on all four)
Weight Around 2,200 lbs
Average Lifespan Around 20 years
Location/Distribution & Habitat Low mountains of Europe and Asiahavinglimestone caves
Climate/Environment Preferred warmer environment (could not withstand very cold temperatures)
Diet Probably herbivorous
Birth Type (Reproduction) Viviparous
Locomotion Both bipedal and quadruped
Predators Probably humans and cave lions

History and Discovery

It was in 1774 that the very first skeletons of the cave bear were described by German entomologist Johann FriederichEsper in his book ‘Newly Discovered Zoolites of Unknown Four Footed Animals’.

However, the number of bones were so numerous that it got little attention from most contemporary researchers. Interestingly, it was earlier presumed that the skeletons belonged to creatures like unicorns, dragons, apes, felids, or canids, Esperasserted that the remainsoriginally belonged to polar bears.

Almost two decades later,another German anatomist from the Leipzig University, Johann Christian Rosenmüller, gave the present binomial name to the new species.

During World War I, this huge number of bones were used for making phosphates for fertilizing plants, thus leaving behind only a little more than those of the legs and skulls.

Even today, a lot many caves from central Europe still have cave bear skeletons inside, for instance, the Heinrichshöhle in Hemer or the Dechenhöhle in Iserlohn, Germany. In 1983, around 140 skeletons of cave bears were discovered in an ancient cave in Romania known as the ‘Bears’ Cave’.

Physical Description

The head of thishuge bear was very wide with a domed skull with rounded eyesand a slanting forehead. It had a very strong and well-muscled appearance with the sturdy legs bearing long thighs and very large shins, while the feet (paws)were in-turning. Such a skeletal structure is very similar to the modern day brown bear.

The male cave bears had a much larger body with an average weight of 400–500 kilograms (880–1102 pounds), while the females were almost half at around 225–250 kg (496–551 lbs).

As an evolutionary adaptation, during glaciations,the cave bears grew larger, whereas, during interglacials, they grew relatively smaller, probably for adjusting heat loss rate.

Specimens that belonged to the last ice age lacked the normal 2 to 3 premolar teeth that were present in the jawbones of the individuals from the previous time. In order to compensate this, the last molar was rather elongated, having supplementary cusps.

Behavior

Very little could be judged from the remains of the cave bears. These bears seem to have avoided open plains, preferring terrains inside forests or forestedges. Scientists assume that these large mammals might have been social considering multiple skeletonsfound from the same caves. However, this is only speculation since they might have accumulated over a long period of time.

Diet

In spite of its massive size and large teeth, biologists believe that these beasts were mostly herbivorous, with their primary diet being plant matter. However, there are chances for them to be omnivorous as well like several modern bear species, given the opportunity. Studying their teeth closely, authoritieshave suggested that they mostly fed on tough vegetation.

Interesting Facts

  • Of all the skeletons of cave bear found in the museums of today, around 90% are labeled as male because of the previous misconception that the females of the species were but ‘dwarfs’.
  • Death during hibernation inside the caves had been a common end for these bears, for which reason, skeletons in such large numbers have been found from inside ancient caves.
  • The cave bear is one of the central figures in Jean M. Auel’sThe Earth’s Children books.
  • Some archaeological findings, like discovered bear bones that appeared to have been used in some type of ritual, suggest that early humans idolized or worshiped cave bears.
  • In Latin, its specific name spelaeusmeans ‘cave’.

Published on April 27th 2019 by under Mammals.
Article was last reviewed on 26th April 2019.

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