Divers in Yucatan find Ice Age bear and wolf-like creature

El Hoyo Negro's ancient bones continue to astonish researchers

A diver shows the skull and vertebra of an extinct canid known as "Protocyon" found underwater in Yucatán, Mexico. Photo: Roberto Chavez-Arce / LiveScience
A diver shows the skull and vertebra of an extinct canid known as “Protocyon” found underwater in Yucatán, Mexico. Photo: Roberto Chavez-Arce / LiveScience

Divers excavating an underwater cave on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula discovered the bones of giant meat eaters from the Ice Age.

Few ancient animal remains survive in southeast Mexico’s hot, tropical climate. But these ancient beasts, the short-faced bear (Arctotherium wingei) and the wolf-like Protocyon troglodytes, fell to their deaths in a deep cave, which was flooded soon after. Their bones were preserved in pristine condition, the researchers said.

The bones were well preserved. When rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age flooded the caves, a low-oxygen environment formed, favorable for bone preservation, said study lead paleontologist Blaine Schubert of East Tennessee State University.

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Both of these species were far from where we thought was home. Previously, the creatures were known only from South America. This finding shows that they also lived more than 1,200 miles / 2,000 kilometers north.

Divers found the animal bones in Hoyo Negro, a completely submerged pit inside the Sac Actun cave system. In 2007, divers there found the skull and bones of a teenage girl who lived about 12,000 to 13,000 years ago.

Previously, the bear was mistakenly placed in the genus Tremarctos and the wolf-like species was thought to be the coyote Canis latrans.

Researchers now have the bones of one, possibly two individuals of the canid and at least seven of the short-faced bear, which date to the late Pleistocene, about 11,300 years ago.

“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,” Schubert 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 Yucatan of Mexico.”

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Only one living relative of the short-faced bear currently lives in South America: the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus). This bear has never been found outside of South America. The new evidence suggests that’s because A. wingei was blocking its way, likely taking up the same habitat and eating the same food that the spectacled bear needed to survive, Schubert said. “Perhaps they created a barrier,” he said.

The study highlights how useful these underwater sites are, especially in the hot, wet tropics where ancient bones usually degrade.

“You can get a probe into the past that you don’t ordinarily expect to get, and that’s the great thing about these caves in the Yucatán,” said Ross MacPhee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Source: Fox News

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