Image: Wikimedia Commons

Meet the giant short-faced bear, a massive beast that roamed North and South America and dominated all sorts of other large predators until it went extinct about 11,000 years ago.

Standing at 6 ft tall on all fours and weighing about 2,500 pounds, the short-faced bear was the largest carnivorous predator during its time. In fact, one specimen unearthed in South America weighed 3,500 pounds and would have been 11 feet tall when standing up, making it the largest bear ever discovered.


Comparison of a grizzly, polar and short-faced bear. Image: National Parks Service

Terrifying as its size would have been for any human who came face to face with this behemoth, researchers have yet to pin down this bear’s exact hunting style. Its long limbs were once thought to be evidence that the massive mammal regularly chased down large prey, like giant ground sloths.

But later research suggests the short-faced bear might actually have been an omnivore that ate whatever it could find, namely animals killed by other prehistoric predators like saber-toothed cats, giant lions, and dire wolves.

In fact, its large size and poor ability to turn probably meant it wasn’t a great ambush hunter. Instead, it likely used its sharp sense of smell to track down fresh carcasses and then scaring off the unlucky predator who made the kill. Moreover, studies of their bones suggest that short-faced bears were actually better-suited for traveling long distances than running at high speed.

The most well-known short-faced bears lived in North America and belonged to the genus Arctodus, while those from South America are called Arctotherium. Scientists believe they evolved convergently on the separate continents.