Were Short-Faced Bears Real? Facts About This Fascinating Creature

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A popular video from the podcast of comedian and UFC announcer Joe Rogan circulated throughout 2022 talking about an enormous (and terrifying) animal: the short-faced bear.

While the adage that one should try to intimidate a black bear, become submissive (and small) around a brown bear, and “pray” if encountering a polar bear is well known, Rogan’s podcast ushered in an interesting question: what would happen if a modern human encountered the near-mythical short-faced bear?

To really grasp these dynamics, we need to consider the relationship between the extinct giants and their modern relatives.

Were Short-Faced Bears Real?

Scientific evidence suggests that they were, yes. In fact, it is believed there are two distinct species of now-extinct short-faced bear.

Much like the flamingo, which has a “lesser” and “greater” species (or James, if you’re feeling especially Biblical), the short-faced bear can be classified as:

  • Lesser Short-Faced Bear: Arctodus pristinus
  • Giant Short-Faced Bear: Arctodus simus

One can assume that Rogan and company were discussing the latter as it is believed to have been one of the largest land mammals in history. Even when compared to its relative the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), the size difference is considerable.


While the larger of the two species may have started roaming the earth over five million years ago, it is estimated that the massive Arctodus simus went extinct around 12,000 years ago.

The first record of the giant short-faced bear was in 1878 by J.A. Richardson, though the lesser species was identified by noted paleontologist Joseph Leidy in 1854.


While the modern polar bear can reach heights of up to 1,500 pounds, a massive specimen was shot in northwest Alaska that weighed slightly over 2,000 pounds. It also reached a height of over 11 feet (when stood upright).

The Alaska polar bear is certainly an aberration, however, and not indicative of the size of most animals. Estimates on the giant short-faced bear, however, are staggering.

A 2010 study suggests that nearly one-third of all Arctodus simus weighed over 1,800 pounds. The largest specimen in the specimen is also believed to have weighed over 2,100 pounds. Some estimates believe the species could have reached a weight of 2,600 pounds, however.

Arctodus simus is also believed to have been able to reach a height of up to 13 feet (when standing upright).

A Giant, Relatively

Arctotherium bonariense
Arctotherium bonariense makes the short-faced bear look small… sort of (Robert Bruce Horsfall, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

While the giant short-faced bear eclipsed its modern cousins, there was another massive bear species that made Arctodus simus look small in comparison.

Arctotherium angustidens, another extinct species, is believed to have doubled the weight of its massive relative. A 2011 study suggests that a massive specimen could have weighed up to 4,500 pounds. A more reasonable estimate, however, is that it was somewhere around the 3,000 pound mark.

How Would Humans Fare Against a Short-Faced Bear?

If you’ve made it this far and still have questions about human interactions with the short-faced bear, I hope, for your sake, they never reincarnate.

Seeing as one of this species regularly dined on both deer and camel – both of which would probably win easily against most humans – there is statistically a zero percent chance you would survive a tussle with one of these monsters.

If you would like more information on this fascinating species, PBS Eons has a great educational video.

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