One of the largest species of Bear ever to live, this hulking creature, despite appearances, was mostly vegetarian.
Meaning of name: the name literally refers to a species of bear which lived in caves.
Species: Ursus spelaeus.
Classification: Mammalia, Carnivora, Ursidae, Ursus.
Size: depending on gender, 2.1-3m (6.8-9ft) long and 2m (6.5ft) tall at the shoulder, with a standing height of just over 3m (9ft). They are comparable in size to Kodiak and Polar Bears (the latter of which is the largest terrestrial carnivore alive today).
Weight: females generally weighed in anywhere between 225-250kg (495-550lb), with males weighing in between 350-600kg (770-1320lb); though larger specimens have been found and are estimated to have weighed roughly 1000kg (2200lb).
Time: Middle to Late Pleistocene Epoch of the Quarternary Period.
Location: fossils have been found in Spain, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Poland, the Balkans, Romania, Russia, Austria, Switzerland and northern Iran. They aren’t found in the further north regions of Europe because those areas were covered in glacial ice at the time.
Named by: Johann Christian Rosenmüller in 1794.
Cave Bears are so named because their remains are often found in caves, hence it is believed they, if they didn’t live in caves, hibernated in them, at the very least. These large bears, as evidenced by the isotopes* in their bones, were mostly herbivorous, even the wear on their teeth suggests that their diet consists mostly of tough materials (roots, tubers, etc), but they were clearly fully capable of hunting and killing large prey items.
The true lifespan of the Cave Bear is unknown, but it is estimated that they rarely lived past twenty years of age; the reasons for this short lifespan are many. Cave Bears lived during a time in a place where glaciers and forests were growing and receding annually, the combination of an unstable food source along with a rapidly changing climate may have been the true downfall of the species. But beyond that it seems Cave Bears were doomed to extinction from the start, many Cave Bear specimens show evidence of a wide variety of diseases and ailments which affected most members of the species (especially the young, which were evidently far more prone to diseases than their adult counterparts than one would expect), the kinds of diseases which affected movement and, in turn, how much food they ate in preparation for hibernation; a bear which didn’t eat enough to see them through the winter, was a dead bear – and even then, evidence suggests that Cave Lions may very well have preyed upon hibernating Cave Bears from time to time. Or at least, that Cave Lions tried to prey upon hibernating Cave Bears; the fact that Cave Lion remains have been found amongst the bones of Cave Bears suggests that some of these giant cats just weren’t as successful as they’d have hoped to be.
*Isotope: Isotopes are variants of particular chemical elements, which can be used to identify the diet of a deceased animal or person.
This has been the Cave Bear, this has been me; and you’ve been reading Dinosaurs Made Easy.
Image credit: Wikipedia.