Sasquatch Coffee

MQ: Short-Faced Bear Spoiler

Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 22nd, 2008

la brea carnivores

The Carnivores of Rancho La Brea.
From left to right. The dire wolf (Canis dirus), the sabre-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis), the short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), the cheetah-like cat (Miracinonyx sp.), and the American lion (Panthera leo atrox). Modified from Turner, A., and Anton, M., The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives. Columbia University Press: New York, 1997.

Yes, the headline here has a double-meaning. You have been forewarned.

Cryptozoologist Matt Bille mentioned earlier this month, “There is no airdate yet for the ‘Prehistoric Bears’ episode, so everyone please keep your eyes peeled for that one.”

Bille was interviewed for the forthcoming “MonsterQuest” episode on Mystery Bears. Now, the official student newspaper at East Tennessee State University shares more about the future program, from reporter Patrick Hawkins. His essay is carried in the September 22, 2008 edition of The Scene:

Dr. Blaine Schubert [pictured from his official website], an ETSU paleontologist specializing in ice age faunas, will be a specialist featured on two of the History Channel’s new television series.

One show, MonsterQuest, dives into cryptozoology, the study of animals without scientific evidence to support their existence.

Subjects covered on this program include everything from Bigfoot, the center of a recent hoax in northern Georgia, to rodents of unusual size lurking in the underbelly of New York City. The episode airs for the first time on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 9 p.m.

The show tries to establish neutrality by interviewing alleged witnesses of monsters along with scientists who need more evidence.

Schubert, as a research scientist, will certainly be on the side demanding hard evidence. He was approached to do the show by a Canadian production company who knew of his reputation for working on short-faced bears, on which he has studied samples locally and throughout the country, including the Gray Fossil Site’s own small short-faced bear.

His first response when approached was to say, “If I’m part of this episode, most likely I’m going to be your spoiler.” This turned out to be exactly the input they wanted.

His task in the interview is basically to explain what a giant bear would be like and the feasibility of it surviving today from objective evidence.

Mammoth fossils from Saltville, Va., where Schubert has organized and led digs, were taken via airplane to the filming location so that he could explain the evidence of carnivore activity in the form of teeth marks on the bones.

It is easy to see how carrying giant bones wrapped in foam through airport security could end up badly, and he fully expected to be stopped by bag checkers.

However, Schubert was mostly surprised by the objections of a security guard who didn’t believe in fossils.

For these television shows, interviews took place in various locations, including Alaska, Texas and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

Only researchers are allowed into the collections area of the Smithsonian, so there might be an effort made by the production company to portray a sensational conspiracy theory of the research going on. Schubert explained that this was certainly not the case.

“When it comes to paleontology, I don’t think you have to do that,” Schubert said. “It already is cool, but too often they try to make it more than it is by adding things that sound like facts.”

The second show is fantastic in a different way. It is called Jurassic Fight Club and portrays hypothetical encounters between extinct animals. As the name suggests, most episodes are about dinosaurs.

However, as Schubert’s area of expertise is mammals, he was called in for the irregular episode exploring the conflict between the “giant short-faced bear, which stood about 5 feet tall to the shoulder while on all fours, to the American lion, which was basically a beefed-up version of the African lion.”

For digital media students, you’ll be happy to know that this episode has been postponed because they are having a hard time with the digital re-creation of the bear.

It should be airing sometime this fall.

The media exposure is a sure sign that programs are growing and flourishing at ETSU. For professors here, the main goal is to contribute publications to scholarly journals and run a world-class fossil site and museum.

Another goal is to educate students or anyone else interested, and appearing on popular television shows is one very good way to do that.

Schubert said he is very excited about seeing the finished product on TV, although he admits that he is nervous to see if he will be accurately represented.

It has to make a researcher anxious to provide interviews then not have any say in how they are edited and used.

Paleontologists are also not accustomed to being filmed in front of a green screen with makeup, but for anyone as excited as he is about fossils, it is a great opportunity.

As he said, “It’s good exposure for the university, for paleontology, and it’s just fun to talk about.”

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


9 Responses to “MQ: Short-Faced Bear Spoiler”

  1. Sordes responds:

    I suppose that there will be a lot of inaccuracy about this hypothetic encounter based on the fact alone that the size of Arctodus is highly overestimated. You can often read that Arctodus reached a weight of 1 ton, but this is extremely unlikely. First of all there were several different subspecies of Arctodus, and they were different in size, with the biggest subspecies Arctodus simus. They showed massive sexual size dimorphism, so the females were much smaller than the males.

    The estimation of 1 ton was made for the largest known specimen of Arctodus simus. Furthermore this estimation is most probably much too high. This animals had very different proportions to modern bears, and weight estimations based on limb-bones alone are not the best way. Arctodus looked mainly so huge because it had such long legs, but its body was not bigger than those of a very large modern Kodiak or Kamtchatka bear. The biggest modern polar bears even surpass clearly in mass the largest known Arctodus simus specimen, and even those are still under 1000kg.

    Daniel Reed made probably one of the best Arctodus reconstruction, which is directly based on a skeleton, so the proportions are exactly right.

    It shows a size comparison of the largest known specimen, but if you look at the body alone, it is not that big. I know another size comparison Daniel Reed made together with a scaled up polar bear (whose shoulder height was even a bit under the record-sizes) of about 1500 Ibs, and the polar is clearly heavier.

    The weight of the largest Arctodus simus specimen we know was much more probable in the 600 Ibs range, but even among male members of the Arctodus simus subspecies the average was lesser. So even the largest ones of the largest subspecies were “only” about 600kg (what is still huge), the average was still much smaller, and the other subspecies were even smaller too. And the females were even still smaller.

    Carl Buel made also some great reconstruction drawings of Arctodus in comparison with a man (a cool picture of himself) which show clearly that Arctodus was far away from being as massive as a big bull (with a weight of about 1 ton).

  2. krvega responds:

    HEY! Does anybody know when Monster Quest is gonna air SASQUATCH ATTACK 2? I know it’s listed on the MQ website, but there is no date given. I really enjoyed that episode, and I am fervently waiting for the return episode.

  3. Dr Kaco responds:

    Loren,
    There is a MonsterQuest episode on this Wed. 9/24 @ 6pm pacific time titled – “Giant Bear Attack”. On the info screen it says it’s about Large bears in Alaska & New Jersey becoming more agressive in recent years.
    Hope this info is useful to you all.

  4. DWA responds:

    Hmmmm.

    When I hear stuff like “Schubert, as a research scientist, will certainly be on the side demanding hard evidence,” I start to worry. Just like when I hear a scientist say something like “If I’m part of this episode, most likely I’m going to be your spoiler,” I start to worry.

    Skeptical scientists have a bad habit of forgetting what constitutes evidence.

    I really hope he isn’t going to start spouting questions like “where’s your body?” or “why hasn’t anyone found any recent bones?” “Hard” evidence is what we call “proof.” Sightings are not hard evidence. But if there are a lot of them, and the observers seem like people who should know what they’re talking about, and the sightings seem to describe creatures and behavior that are generally plausible, significantly frequent, and internally consistent, there may be something worth following up.

    Now, when one talks about the continued existence of an extinct bear, there’s complicating factors. A grizzly could look like a short-face; that’s pretty plausible. Most people seeing a bear won’t be qualified to judge species differences. A bear isn’t an eight-foot bipedal ape. “Well, its face looked kind of short and its legs kind of long” …well, that’s problematical.

    I would just want Schubert to ask for, and review, the evidence.

    Not the proof, because, well, we don’t have that. Yet.

  5. Sordes responds:

    A lean grizzly with a large posterior could be mistaken for a short-faced bear. Bears can show extreme variantion of their proportions dependent on the base of their diet. I have seen a photo of a grizzly which was at the end of the autumn so fat that it looked nearly like a sumo fighter, and in contrast another which was so skinny (perhaps after winter) that it looked already a bit like a hyena, because the legs looked so much longer and the body lesser massive.

  6. MattBille responds:

    Arctodus was not the all-time bulkiest bear, but its height and running ability would have made it a truly scary bear to meet. That build and the shearing carnassial teeth indicate a hunter/killer, albeit one that still dined on veggies and carrion at times. One researcher published a paper suggesting it was primarily a scavenger, but I doubt that the same way I doubt similar claims about T. rex: in both cases, the animal was much better equipped as a hunter than it needed to be for scavenging, and natural selection normally does not reward development of anything an animal does not need. I would still prefer to run into a modern brown bear, however large, than Arctodus. (It’s kind of a tossup with a polar bear.)

    As an aside, experts of the Zoological Society of London in 2007 announced they had done some modeling on predators, considering nutrition, energy intake/expenditure, etc., and come to the conclusion that one ton is about the limit of size for a terrestrial mammalian carnivore. A polar bear killed in Alaska in 1960 reportedly weighed 1,002 kg: that individual might have been one of the largest carnivorous mammals that ever lived.

    BTW, I have no idea why the MonsterQuest announcement says the crew went to New Jersey in pursuit of this story. Do we have bears hiding out in the Witness Protection Program or something?

    I was told the mystery of MacFarlane’s bear will be solved tonight. So everyone tune in!

  7. Sordes responds:

    I also highly doubt that Arctodus was a specialized scavenger. For some strange reason many paleontologist seems to very eager to declare extinct meat-eating animals as scavengers, ignoring the fact that there are nearly no living carnivores which are specialized to feed on carrion.
    I also doubt that Arctodus was specialized to steal the prey of other carnivores. Not only because this could not work (lions do it as often as they can, but they can´t live alone on stolen prey), but also because Arctodus was in general not that big at all. Especially the females as well as the smaller subspecies in general were hardly able to compete with giant carnivores like Panthera atrox.
    I suppose that Arctodus was mainly a hunter, and as most other carnivores an opportunistic scavenger, but no specialized scavenger.

  8. DWA responds:

    I think it’s possible that Arctodus could have gotten a lot of meat (as lions do) by chasing other animals off kills.

    But I have to agree that the animal’s armament and locomotor mechanism – like that of T. rex, among others – seem to point to something that could take big game on its own. And would, whenever hunger meshed with opportunity.

    One would think that science would learn a lesson from the spotted hyena, which was thought nothing but a scavenger of kills until the late sixties. How about this for speculation: Arctodus being a social animal, running prey in relays, using group ambush tactics, taking down the biggest animals the way lions, hyenas and wolves do? (A bigger question: why don’t biologists have more fun speculating?)

    I’d imagine that the closest we have to a terrestrial critter that eats only carrion – although I’d imagine even they could make exceptions – is vultures, and they can travel great distances, with an aerial perspective and little relative effort, apparently cooperating with conspecifics and taking advantage of cues provided by other species, e.g., black vultures with their eyesight watching for turkey vultures with their incredible sense of smell.

    I’m not seeing an animal restricted to ground travel finding enough carrion to finance – think about it – the enormous amount of travel it would have to do to find it. As we so often ask here on this site, trying to explain the paucity of cryptid remains: how many dead critters does anyone find out there? (Please don’t tell me other critters just find them first.) I don’t care how tall Arctodus stood, or how good its nose was, or how specialized its undercarriage to long, wolf-like sojourns. Wolves hunt to eat.

    That says enough to me.

    Although if it didn’t, this question would: don’t the hunters always take the best food first? Do we really expect an animal that must travel extensively to eat to make its whole living off of low-grade leftovers? Or to always be there in time to grab whole kills, which raises the question of how Arctodus’s competition made it at all?

    Although I do have to say this. Hearing a scary critter like Arctodus referred to as a “kleptoparasite” was good for a chuckle. Imagine something like THAT hanging off of you.

  9. spoOklight responds:

    Very cool. I’m from Saltville, VA and know the area well. I lived a couple hundred yards from the major dig sites. You could walk over there and check it out whenever. I’m glad the area is getting some exposure. The fossil remains in that area are amazing. Anyone can find fossilized remains there with little effort.



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