The now extinct, Short Faced Bear, was a large, carnivorous mammal that roamed western North America as far back as the Pleistocene epoch.  These massive bears lived and wandered throughout the open country and grasslands of the time and were the most powerful and the largest land carnivores to live during the ice age.


National Geographic Video on Short Faced Bear (Giant Prehistoric Bear) 

These prehistoric predators are the largest bears ever recorded and are scientifically known as Arctodus simus. They were both hunters and scavengers and they roamed the earth from as far back as 1.8 million until 11,000 years ago.  Scientific testing has shown that they ate a wide range of proteins which made researchers conclude that not only were they hunters, but also scavengers.

Short-nosed bears belong to the Ursidae family which also includes grizzly bears, black bears, and polar bears.

They roamed the landscape during the same time period as other prehistoric predators such as the American lion, the dire wolf and the saber-toothed cat.  Despite the intimidating legend of these three formidable creatures, all of them would have given way to the Short Faced Bear whose size dwarfed them all.

The first-known fossils of this bear were found in Potter Creek Cave in Shasta County, California – the state in which they were most abundant. The bear was given the name Arctodus (which means Bear Tooth) by Joseph Leidy in 1854.


Image courtesy of the San Diego Zoo Library

The largest Short Faced Bear specimens found in the U.S. have been calculated to weigh as much as 2,500 pounds.  To put this in perspective, the largest bear on record in modern times was a polar bear, shot in the 19th century, that weighed 2,200 pounds.  Today, polar bears typically weigh in around 600 – 800 kg (1323 – 1764 lbs) with adult males sometimes reaching 1,200 pounds. The above photo shows the Short Faced Bear’s immense size next to a typical human being of the time.

When standing, a grizzly will reach around 9 feet tall and a polar bear around 10 feet (approximately the height of a regulation basketball rim).  The short faced bear’s standing height would have been approximately the same as an NBA basketball backboard – a terrifying height to all who would have encountered it – both humans and animals alike.

Because of its size, they are often referred to as the Giant Short Faced Bear.The size of modern day grizzlies and even polar bears, is staggering.  However, the Short Faced Bear’s size would have dwarfed them all.


As it is with most bears today, other than mothers with cubs, short Faced Bears are presumed to have been solitary creatures.  With their huge size, and powerful body, it would be easy to assume that they were great predators.  And yes, although science has shown that the Short Faced Bear was in fact a hyper carnivore (getting 70 – 100% of its protein from animals), they actually ate a wide variety of animal proteins which is typical of a scavenger.  This fact led scientists to believe that this bear was both a predator AND a scavenger.

Long, slender legs made this bear fast, yet because of its large size, they allowed faster predators to kill the prey before chasing them away from the catch.  In fact, their smell receptor was comparatively large, allowing them to smell carcasses from over 6 miles away. Evolution made them powerful, as competition for meat on the plains was intense. In addition, its size was intimidating to pack-animal predators who may have otherwise targeted them for food.


Although the short faced bear is officially extinct, there have been sightings that led people to believe that they might still be living in remote and desolate areas of the far north. Although none of these sightings have been 100% substantiated, there are a few cases that have brought international attention.

One famous case is known as the Berman’s Bear.  Zoologist Sten Bergman examined a pelt in the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russiain the 1920s of what was claimed to be a Giant Bear.  He did verify that the pelt and footprints were larger than other bears in the area but couldn’t substantiate beyond that.  Some zoologists today suggest that his findings were the short faced bear and believe that somehow it had managed to survive extinction in the remote reaches of Russia.  It would not be unfathomable for this to have occurred as many animals migrated between North America and Asia over the Bering Land Bridge that existed during the last ice age.

Another famous case is MacFarlane’s Bear.  This bear was killed in northern Canada in 1864 and had an oddly misshapen skull.  Some scientists believe that MacFarlane’s Bear was merely a cross between a Polar Bear and a Grizzy Bear, but many others feel it proves the existence of the Short Faced Bear as recently as the 1800s.

In recent years, stories from hunters and trappers have leaked out of the woods that describe encounters with bears that are larger-than-life.  Whether these stories are true, and whether they substantiate the present-day existence of the Short Faced Bear, is yet to be determined.  A pelt, a skeleton or any other valid specimen is needed to give ultimate proof.  Until then, the short faced bear is still a legacy as one of the most impressive, prehistoric bears to have ever lived.