Thursday, 1 September 2016

The cave bear: A vegan gone extinct

Date: August 23, 2016
Source: Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum

Senckenberg scientists have studied the feeding habits of the extinct Cave Bear. Based on the isotope composition in the collagen of the bears' bones, they were able to show that the large mammals subsisted on a purely vegan diet. In the study, recently published in the scientific publication Journal of Quaternary Science, the international team proposes that it was this inflexible diet that led to the Cave Bear's extinction approximately 25,000 years ago.

Today's Brown Bears are omnivores. Depending on the time of year, they devour plants, mushrooms, berries and small to larger mammals, but they will also take fish and insects. "The Cave Bear is a very different story," says Professor Dr. Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP) at the University of Tübingen, and he continues to explain, "According to our newest findings, these extinct relatives of the Brown Bear lived on a strictly vegan diet."

Cave Bears (Ursus spelaeus) lived in Europe during the most recent glacial period, approximately 400,000 years ago, until they became extinct about 25,000 years ago. With a length of 3.5 meters and a height of 1.7 meters at the shoulder, these bears, which ranged from Northern Spain to the Urals, were noticeably larger than their modern-day relatives. Despite their name, they did not actually live in caves but only used them for hibernation. Nevertheless, the occasional death of animals in various European caves over several tens of thousands of years eventually led to enormous accumulations of bones and teeth from these large fur-bearing animals.



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