Article image

Extinct "bear dog" found in the Pyrenees

A fossilized jaw is the discovered remains of what paleontologists from the Natural History Museum of Basel are calling a type of “bear dog” (known scientifically as Amphicyonidae) found in the Pyrenees. These animals which could weigh up to 320 kilograms emerged 36 million years ago before going extinct 7.5 million years ago.

Bear dogs belong to carnivores, a diverse group that includes cats, dogs, bears, seals and badgers among others. During the Miocene, some 23 to 5.3 million years ago, bear dogs flourished – with many species living spread throughout Europe. The group was varied, weighing between 9 and 320 kilograms.    

A team of scientists led by paleontologist Bastien Mennecart described the jaw as belonging to a species new to science. The bone itself comes from 12.8 to 12 million-year-old marine sediments near Sallespisse in southwestern France.       

What makes the jaw unique from most other bear dog jaws is the presence of a fourth lower premolar tooth. This tooth is important in determining the taxonomy of the mysterious jaw, making it probable that the jaw belongs to not only a new species but a new genus as well. 

The scientists named the genus Tartarocyon after Tartaro, a dangerous one eyed giant of Basque mythology from the region in which the jaw was discovered. The mythological monster is similar to the more familiar Cyclops of the Odyssey. In reality, Tartarocyon probably weighed about 200 kilograms (about 440 pounds) and lived the life of an active predator.   

Fossil discoveries from the Miocene are rare in this part of France. The discovery of something that sheds light on the diversity and evolution of bear dogs is even more rare. This discovery helps scientists understand the history of bear dogs in a changing European landscape. 

The study is published in the journal PeerJ.

Image Credit: Denny Navarra

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day