Diving deep off of the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, scientists have discovered ancient giant wolves and bears that they didn’t previously know lived in North America.
Searching through the submerged cave site of Hoyo Negro, the scientists found a diverse range of ancient megafauna, as well as a nearly complete human skeleton. The animals include short-faced bears known as Arctotherium wingei and the wolf-like Protocyon troglodytes.
Despite its name, there was nothing short about A. wingei or its fellow species of bear. The bears are estimated to have been the largest ever known to exist, with an upper weight limit of approximately 3,500 pounds. There has been some evidence that A. wingei might have been an herbivorous variety of Arctotherium, but that’s been difficult to prove or disprove without evidence. The new finds, which include seven A. wingei individuals, might change that.
“The whole previous record of this particular type of bear is just known from a few localities in South America, and those are fragmentary remains,” Blaine Schubert, executive director of the Center of Excellence in Paleontology at East Tennessee State University and first author on the paper describing the findings, told Live Science.
“So, we went from not having any of this type of bear outside of South America to now having the best record of this type of bear from the Yucatán of Mexico.”
Both A. wingei and the wolf-like Protocyon troglodytes made their way into Mexico during an event known as the Great American Biotic Interchange (GABI). The GABI occurred approximately 3 million years ago, right around the time the Northern and Southern American continents connected through a land bridge. During that time, megafauna like giant bears and beavers roamed free.
“This discovery expands the distribution of these carnivorans greater than 2,000 km (1,242 miles) outside South America,” reads the team’s abstract. “Their presence along with a diverse sloth assemblage suggests a more complex history of these organisms in Middle America.”
The one human skeleton found amidst the underwater cave is estimated to have been 12,000 years old, showing evidence that humans interacted with megafauna in the giant cave. A human body dating back 13,000 years was found in the cave in 2007.
The mysteries of underwater caves are vast and filled with secret histories of animals. In 2015, scientists off the coast of Madagascar found the largest collection of lemur remains ever in such a cave.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics