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4 Most Incredible Extinct Bears in History

Extinct bears refer to species of bears that existed but are no longer found in the wild today. These fascinating creatures have captured the attention of scientists and researchers, as studying their remains can provide valuable insights into their evolutionary history and the ecological dynamics of bear populations in the past.

Understanding extinct bears is crucial for reconstructing the natural world of the past, informing conservation efforts, and protecting the bears that still exist today.

Most Incredible Extinct Bears in History

1. Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus)

Image of European cave bear
Sergiodlarosa / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cave Bear, also known as Ursus spelaeus, was a species that lived in Europe during the Pleistocene period. It was one of the largest bear species ever, with males weighing up to 1,500 pounds. The Cave Bear was well-adapted to cold climates and was found in cave systems throughout Europe.

Characteristics and Habitat of Cave Bears

1. Physical Appearance: The Cave Bear had a robust body, a large head, and a pronounced hump on its shoulders. Its fur was long and shaggy, ranging from light brown to black.

2. Habitat: As the name suggests, the Cave Bear primarily inhabited caves, where it hibernated during the winter months. The bear’s strong limbs and powerful body allowed it to navigate the rocky terrain and thrive in mountainous regions.

3. Diet: Cave Bears were primarily herbivores, feeding on a diet of vegetation, such as grasses, roots, and berries. But they were also known to scavenge and consume animal carcasses.

Reasons for Extinction

The exact reasons for the Cave Bear’s extinction are still debated among scientists. But, a few factors could have contributed to their demise:

1. Climate Change: The last Ice Age resulted in significant climate fluctuations, likely leading to a loss of habitat and a decline in food availability for the Cave Bear.

2. Limited Adaptability: Unlike other bear species, the Cave Bear had a specialized diet and habitat. This specialization may have made them more vulnerable to environmental changes.

3. Hunting by Humans: It is believed that early humans hunted Cave Bears for survival and used their bones and fur for various purposes. Overhunting could have played a role in their extinction.

While the exact details surrounding their extinction remain uncertain, the remains of Cave Bears found in caves throughout Europe provide valuable insights into the ancient ecosystems and the species that once roamed the Earth.

You can visit this link to learn more about the fascinating world of Cave Bears.

See Related: Fun & Interesting Facts About Polar Bears

2. Short-Faced Bear (Arctodus simus)

Reconstruction of  Short-Faced Bear
Achat1999 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Characteristics and Habitat of Short-Faced Bears

The Short-Faced Bear, also known as Arctodus simus, was one of the largest bears ever. During the Pleistocene epoch, these bears roamed North America approximately 800,000 to 12,000 years ago. They were aptly named for their unique facial structure, which featured shorter snouts than other bear species.

Some key characteristics of the Short-Faced Bear include:

1. Size: These bears were massive, with males reaching heights of up to 11 feet when standing on their hind legs. They weighed anywhere between 1,000 to 1,700 pounds, making them comparable in size to modern polar bears.

2. Adaptations: The Short-Faced Bear had long legs, allowing them to run at high speeds to chase down prey. They were also known for their remarkable jaw strength, capable of down large prey and delivering powerful bites.

3. Habitat: Short-faced bears were adaptable and could be found in various habitats, including open grasslands, forests, and tundra. They could survive in both warm and cold climates.

Reasons for Extinction

The Short-Faced Bear, unfortunately, went extinct around 12,000 years ago, along with many other large mammal species during the late Pleistocene extinction event. A few theories have been proposed to explain their extinction:

1. Climate Change: The end of the Pleistocene epoch marked a significant shift in climate, with the onset of warmer and drier conditions. This climate change may have led to a decline in their preferred vegetation and prey, ultimately contributing to their extinction.

2. Competition: The arrival of humans in North America during this time may have also played a role in the extinction of the Short-Faced Bear. As humans expanded their territories and hunting activities, the competition for resources may have intensified, putting additional pressure on the declining bear population.

3. Overhunting: Humans could also have directly hunted the Short-Faced Bear for its fur, meat, or as a trophy. As the bear’s population dwindled, it became increasingly vulnerable to overhunting, potentially hastening its extinction.

While the exact cause of the Short-Faced Bear’s extinction remains uncertain, a combination of factors likely contributed to their decline and eventual disappearance from the North American landscape. Today, they remind us of the rich diversity of prehistoric fauna that once inhabited our planet.

3. Atlas Bear (Ursus arctos Crowther)

Atlas Bear (Ursus arctos Dessin) illustration
Nicolas Maréchal, Wikimedia Commons

The Atlas Bear: or Ursus arctos Crowther, was a subspecies of the brown bear that once inhabited the Atlas Mountains in northwest Africa. These bears were known for their distinctive appearance and unique habitat.

Unfortunately, the Atlas Bear is now extinct, with the last known individual reported in the late 1800s. Here is some information about the characteristics and habitat of the Atlas Bear, along with the reasons for its extinction.

Characteristics and Habitat of Atlas Bears

The Atlas Bear was a medium-sized bear, similar to the brown bears in Europe. It had a thick, shaggy coat, which was typically reddish-brown. This coat provided insulation in the cold mountainous regions of the Atlas Mountains.

The black bears also had powerful jaws and sharp claws for digging and climbing. They primarily fed on plants, such as acorns, berries, and roots, but occasionally consumed meat.

The habitat of the Atlas Bear family was mainly the Atlas Mountains, which stretched across modern-day Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. These bears adapted well to the mountainous region’s rugged terrain and harsh climate.

They can be found in various habitats within the Atlas Mountains, including forests, meadows, and rocky slopes. The bears were known to be solitary animals, with males having larger territories than females.

Reasons for Extinction

A few factors contributed to the extinction of the Atlas Bear:

1. Overhunting: The primary reason for the extinction of the Atlas Bear was extensive hunting by humans. Hunters highly valued the bears for their fur and body parts used for clothing and traditional medicines. Additionally, human settlements encroached upon the bear’s habitat, leading to further conflicts and hunting.

2. Habitat Loss: The expansion of agriculture and urbanization in the Atlas Mountains resulted in the destruction and fragmentation of the bear’s habitat. The Atlas Bears struggled to survive as their natural food sources and territories dwindled.

3. Disease and Competition: The introduction of new diseases and predators, such as domestic dogs, also played a role in the extinction of the Atlas Bear. These factors, combined with the declining population, further weakened their chances of survival.

Unfortunately, due to the combination of these factors, the Atlas Bear could not recover and eventually became extinct. The loss of this subspecies of massive bear serves as a reminder of the importance of conservation efforts to protect vulnerable wildlife populations and their habitats.

See Related: What Attracts Bears? Here’s Several Things to Know

4. Giant Panda’s Ancestor (Ailuropoda bacon)

Ailuropoda bacon, also known as the giant panda’s ancestor, was a species of bear that lived approximately 5 to 8 million years ago during the late Miocene period. It shared many similarities with its descendant, the giant panda, including its prominent black-and-white coloration and herbivorous diet. But, Ailuropoda bacon was significantly larger than the modern-day giant panda, with estimates suggesting that it could weigh up to 880 pounds (400 kilograms).

This extinct bear species inhabited modern-day China and Southeast Asia’s dense forests and bamboo thickets. Its habitat provided an abundance of bamboo, the primary food source for Ailuropoda bacon and its descendant, the giant panda.

Reasons for Extinction

The reasons for the extinction of Ailuropoda bacon are not definitively known, for example, as there is limited fossil evidence available. But, a few factors may have contributed to its demise:

1. Climate Change: During the late Miocene period, the Earth experienced significant climatic changes, with shifts in temperature and vegetation patterns. These changes may have adversely affected the availability and distribution of bamboo, leading to a decline in the food source for Ailuropoda bacon.

2. Competition with other animals: The emergence of other bear species and the expansion of their habitats may have resulted in increased competition for resources, including food and territory. Ailuropoda bacon may have struggled to compete with these other bear species, leading to a decline in their population.

3. Habitat Loss: Deforestation and habitat destruction, driven by human activities such as logging and agriculture, may have impacted the availability of suitable habitats for Ailuropoda bacon. The loss of its preferred bamboo-rich forests could have further contributed to its extinction.

As with many extinct species, the exact factors that led to the end of Ailuropoda bacon may never be fully known. But, by studying the fossil record and understanding the ecological changes that occurred during its time, scientists can gain insights into the complex interplay between species and their environments and hopefully apply these lessons to conservation efforts for modern-day species like the giant panda.

See Related: Red Panda: Why Is it Endangered?

Why Studying Extinct Bears is Important

Studying extinct bears is crucial for a few reasons:

  • Evolutionary History: By analyzing their evolutionary history, scientists can better understand extinct bears’ fossils and remains. This information helps trace the bears’ lineage and provides insights into their adaptations, behavior, and ecological roles in ancient ecosystems.
  • Conservation Efforts: Studying extinct bears can provide valuable lessons for the conservation and management of extant bear species. By examining the factors that led to the extinction of certain bear species in the past, scientists can identify potential threats and develop strategies to protect and conserve the bears that are currently endangered or vulnerable.


What was the biggest extinct bear?

The biggest extinct bear is the South American short-faced bear (Arctotherium angustidens). This prehistoric bear lived during the Pleistocene epoch and roamed the plains of South America. Known for its enormous size, an adult male Arctotherium could weigh up to 3,500 pounds, making it the largest bear species known to have ever existed.

What was the most recent extinct bear?

The most recent extinct bear is the Atlas bear (Ursus arctos crowtheri). This was Africa’s only native bear species that survived into modern times, but it became extinct in the late 19th century. Overhunting by humans, particularly during the time of the Roman Empire, contributed significantly to the Atlas bear’s extinction.

What extinct bear was bigger than the polar bear?

The extinct bear bigger than the polar bear is the South American short-faced bear (Arctotherium angustidens). While today’s polar bear is considered the largest living bear species, with males often weighing around 1,500 pounds, the Arctotherium dwarfed them, with an estimated weight of up to 3,500 pounds. This makes the Arctotherium the largest bear species recorded in history.

Did bears used to be bigger?

Yes, bears used to be bigger in the past. Several prehistoric bear species, such as the South American short-faced bear (Arctotherium angustidens) and the Giant Short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), were considerably larger than most modern bear species. These extinct bears lived during the Pleistocene epoch and significantly outweighed even the largest modern bear, the polar bear.

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