The cave bear is the ancestor of modern bears. It got its name because the remains of these powerful animals are found mainly in caves. For example, in Romania, a bear cave was discovered containing the bones of more than 140 bears. It is believed that animals came to the deep caves to die when they began to feel the approach of the end of their lives.
Origin of the species and description
Cave Bear — a prehistoric subspecies of the brown bear, which appeared on the territory of Eurasia more than 300 thousand years ago, and died out during the middle and late Pleistocene – 15 thousand years ago. It is believed that it evolved from the Etruscan bear, which also died out long ago and is little studied today. It is only known that he lived on the territory of modern Siberia about 3 million years ago. The fossilized remains of the cave bear are mainly found in the region of the flat, mountainous karst.
Video: Cave bear
A few more extinct Pleistocene bears are considered cave bears:
- cave bear — lived in the steppes of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, the Caucasus and was not associated with caves;
- Kodiak bears from Alaska are very close to cave bears in their characteristics.
Deninger's bear, which belongs to the early Pleistocene of Germany;
Interesting fact: It is believed that the prehistoric inhabitants of Europe not only hunted the cave bear, but also worshiped it as a sacred totem for a long time.
Recent genetic analyzes of the remains of these animals have shown that the cave bear and the brown bear should be considered only second cousins.
Approximately one and a half million years ago, a pair of branches separated from the general bear family tree:
- the first was represented by cave bears;
- the second about 500 years ago was divided into white and the brown bear.
- The brown predator, despite its special resemblance to the cave bear, is a closer relative of the polar bear.
Appearance view and features
Modern bears are much inferior to the cave bear in weight and size. Such large modern animal species as the grizzly or the kodiak are more than one and a half times smaller than the prehistoric bear. It is believed that it was a very powerful animal with well-developed muscles and thick, fairly long brown hair. In the ancient clubfoot, the front part of the body was more developed than the back, and the legs were strong and short.
The bear's skull was large, the forehead was very steep, the eyes were small, and the jaws were powerful. The body length was approximately 3-3.5 meters, and the weight reached 700-800 kilograms. Males significantly outnumbered bears in weight. Cave bears did not have front false-rooted teeth, which distinguishes them from modern relatives.
Interesting fact: The cave bear is one of the heaviest and largest bears that has ever lived on Earth. It was he who was the owner of the most massive skull, which in large sexually mature males could reach 56-58 cm in length.
When he was on all fours, his shaggy mighty scruff was at the level of a caveman's shoulder, but, nevertheless, people learned to successfully hunt him too. Now you know what a cave bear looked like. Let's see where he lived.
Where did the cave bear live?
Cave bears lived in Eurasia, including Ireland, England. Several geographical races were formed in different territories. In numerous alpine caves, which were located at an altitude of up to three thousand meters above sea level, and in the mountains of Germany, predominantly dwarf forms of the species were found. On the territory of Russia, cave bears were found in the Urals, the Russian Plain, the Zhiguli Upland, in Siberia.
These wild animals were inhabitants of wooded and mountainous areas. They preferred to settle in caves, where they wintered. Bears often descended deep into underground caves, wandering through them in complete darkness. Until now, in many remote dead ends, narrow tunnels, there are evidence of the presence of these ancient creatures. In addition to claw marks, half-decayed skulls of bears were found on the vaults of caves, which got lost in long passages and died without finding their way back to sunlight.
There are many opinions about what attracted them to this dangerous journey in absolute darkness. Perhaps these were sick individuals who were looking for their last refuge there, or the bears were trying to find more secluded places for their residence. The latter is supported by the fact that the remains of young individuals were also found in the distant caves ending in dead ends.
What did the cave bear eat?
Despite the impressive size and formidable appearance of the cave bear, its diet usually consisted of plant foods, as evidenced by heavily worn molars. This animal was a very slow and non-aggressive herbivorous giant that mainly fed on berries, roots, honey and sometimes insects, and caught fish on the riffles of streams. When hunger became unbearable, he could attack a person or an animal, but he was so slow that the victim almost always had a chance to flee.
The cave bear needed a lot of water, so they chose caves for their living with quick access to an underground lake or stream. She-bears especially needed this, since they could not leave their cubs for a long time.
It is known that giant bears themselves were an object for hunting by ancient people. Fat, meat of these animals were especially nutritious, their skins served people as clothes or bedding. Near the places of residence of the Neanderthal man, a huge number of bones of cave bears were found.
An interesting fact: Ancient people often drove clubfoot out of the caves they lived in and then occupied them themselves, using them as a dwelling, a safe haven . Bears were powerless before man's spears and fire.
Character and lifestyle features
During the daytime, cave bears slowly moved through the forest in search of food, and then returned to the caves again. Scientists suggest that these ancient animals rarely lived to be 20 years old. Sick and weakened individuals were attacked by wolves, cave lions, they became easy prey for ancient hyenas. For the winter, cave giants always hibernated. Those individuals who could not find a suitable place in the mountains went into the thickets of the forest and equipped a den there.
A study of the bones of ancient animals showed that almost every individual suffered from “cave” diseases. On the skeletons of bears, traces of rheumatism and rickets were found, as frequent companions of damp rooms. Specialists often found fused vertebrae, growths on the bones, twisted joints and tumors, severely deformed by diseases of the jaw. Weakened animals were poor hunters when they came out of their hiding places into the forest. They often suffered from hunger. It was almost impossible to find food in the caves themselves.
Like other representatives of the bear family, males wandered in splendid isolation, and females in the company of cubs. Despite the fact that most bears are considered monogamous, they did not form pairs for life.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Female cave bears did not give birth every year, but once every 2-3 years. Like modern bears, puberty ended at about three years of age. The female brought 1-2 cubs during one pregnancy. The male did not take any part in their life.
Cubs were born absolutely helpless, blind. The mother always chose caves for her lair, so that there was a source of water in it, and going to the watering place did not take much time. Danger lurked everywhere, so it was dangerous to leave your offspring without protection for a long time.
For 1.5-2 years, the young were next to the female and only then left for adulthood. At this stage, most of the cubs died in the claws, grazing other predators, of which there were a lot in ancient times.
Interesting fact: As early as the beginning of the 18th century, paleontologists found unusual polished clay hills on the banks of mountain lakes and rivers in the caves of Austria and France. According to experts, cave bears climbed on them during long underground journeys and then rolled into reservoirs. In this way they tried to fight the parasites that pestered them. They have done this process many times. Quite often there were traces of their huge claws at a height of more than two meters from the floor, on ancient stalagmites in very deep caves.
Natural enemies of the cave bear
In adults, healthy individuals, there were practically no enemies in their natural habitat, except for the ancient man. People exterminated slow giants in huge quantities, using their meat and fat as food. In order to catch the animal, deep pits were used, into which they were driven with the help of fire. When the bears fell into a trap, they were beaten with spears.
Interesting fact: Cave bears disappeared from planet Earth much earlier than cave lions, mammoths, Neanderthals.
Young bears, sick and old bears were hunted by other predators, including cave lions. Considering that almost every adult individual had rather serious diseases and was weakened by hunger, predators often managed to knock down a giant bear.
And yet, the main enemy of cave bears, which significantly influenced the population of these giants and eventually destroyed it, was not an ancient person at all, but climate change. The steppes gradually replaced the forests, there was less plant food, the cave bear became more vulnerable, began to die out. These creatures also hunted ungulates, which is confirmed by their bones found in the caves where the bears lived, but successful hunting ended quite rarely.
Population and species status
Cave bears became completely extinct many thousands of years ago. The exact reason for their disappearance has not yet been established, perhaps it was a combination of several fatal factors. Scientists have put forward a number of assumptions, but none of them has exact evidence. According to some experts, the main reason was hunger due to changing climatic conditions. But it is not known why this giant survived several ice ages without much damage to the population, and the last one suddenly became fatal for him.
Some scientists suggest that the active settlement of ancient man in the natural habitat of cave bears caused their gradual extinction. There is an opinion that it was people who exterminated these animals, since their meat was constantly present in the diet of ancient settlers. Against this version is the fact that in those days the number of people was too small compared to the population of cave giants.
It is unlikely that it will be possible to reliably find out the reason. Perhaps the fact that many individuals had such serious deformations of bones and joints that they could no longer fully hunt and eat, played a role in the disappearance of the giants, and became easy prey for other animals.
Some tales about terrible Hydras and dragons arose after the impressive finds of ancient skulls and bones left by the cave bear. Many of the scientific ores of the Middle Ages describe the remains of bears as incorrectly as the bones of dragons. In this example, you can see that the legends about terrible monsters could have completely different sources.