Scientists Proclaim Terrifying Wimpy "Bear Dogs" Once Stalked Texas

It's a bear (slap)! It's a dog (slap)! It's a bear AND a dog.
It's a bear (slap)! It's a dog (slap)! It's a bear AND a dog.
Illustration by Monica Jurik, The Field Museum/Courtesy of the Field Museum

Fossils discovered outside El Paso 30 years ago belong to a cool-sounding but totally not menacing extinct species of "bear dogs" that roamed the Earth, or at least Texas, around 37 million years ago, according to a new study.

Paleontologists at Chicago's Field Museum and the State University of New York-Buffalo believe the fossils are the remains of two diminutive bear dogs, about the size of a Chihuahua and a house cat, according to the study recently published in Royal Society Open Science.  (Specifically, the cat-sized beast is called a "messenger bear dog," possibly because of a fossilized tiny Pony Express mail sack found beside it. But we digress).

More, from Science, which interviewed University of  Chicago paleontologist Zhe-Xi Luo about these buggers, known in science-speak as amphicyonids:

It’s not clear why the amphicyonid lineage eventually died out a few million years ago, Luo says. But maybe it had to do with competition from the ancestors and close cousins of today’s cats and dogs, he suggests. Those creatures, like their modern-day kin, walked on their toes and were more well adapted to run and chase prey. But amphicyonids were, for the most part, flat-footed predators like most modern bears. 


The article also states:


During the last days of the bear dog reign on Earth, the planet’s climate was becoming cooler and drier and many ecosystems were becoming less forested and more open — not a good trend for relatively slow, relatively specialized meat eaters like the amphicyonids, Luo says.

The study suggests that bear dogs may have a "North American, and possibly southern North American" origin, which we think means that they may have been related to ancestors of the chupacabra, or possibly jackelopes, but our tests have not been finalized. 

Kudos to these scientists for discovering a kick-ass, overlooked species.


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