Cave bears are known from tens of thousands of skeletons and the paintings that Ice Age people made on cave walls.
Meaning of scientific name
Ursus spelaeus = "cave bear"
Body weight: estimated at 400-700kg.
It had a large head with massive canine teeth. Cave paintings show it as having short ears and a pig-like face - making it look like a 'teddy bear'. Its front legs were massive, with huge paws and claws like a grizzly bear. Male cave bears were twice the weight of females.
The cave bear was primarily a western European species. But cave bear bones have been found as far east as the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
The cave bear inhabited alpine regions and the tundra and tundra-steppe of Ice Age Europe.
Its teeth indicate that it was largely vegetarian - even more so than brown bears. It dug up roots, ate berries, etc. It may have dug up burrowing animals such as marmots. It is suggested that the cave bear may have specialised on digging up root-beds in deep glacial silt. Grizzlies dig up Hedysarum roots from the base of glaciers in the Yukon, Canada. Cave bear bones are only very rarely found with the bones of other large mammals so (in contrast to brown bears) they were not bringing large prey or scavenged carcasses back to the den.
Cave bears hibernated in caves, and probably gave birth there. Bear footprints are found in clay on the on cave floors and their claw marks are gorged into cave walls. There was a very high winter mortality in sub-adult bears - they often failed to get through hibernation. Probably because adults excluded them from the best feeding areas and they therefore didn’t put on enough fat to survive the winter.
The large canine teeth and extreme sexual dimorphism of the cave bear may have been because of competition between males for females or for access to food.
It is expected that cave bears had similar courtship and breeding habits to the brown bear.
The cave bear went into decline as the range of the brown bear expanded in the Late Pleistocene. This may have been due to climate changes. Cave bears had vanished from Britain by about 100,000 years ago and the last recorded dates for cave bears in Western Europe (French Pyrenees, Spain, Italy) are approximately 18,720 years ago. All the rest had gone shortly after the end of the Ice Age.
The Neanderthals had a “cave bear cult”, collecting skulls and building them into little cairns or monuments in caves. They might have killed the bears or just found their bones in the caves.