Louisville Magazine

SEP 2016

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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54 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 9.16 It's hard not to love this gigantic bear, a nightmare-ready crea- ture if ever there was one. Every video depicting this animal shows a monstrous, snarling demon stalking the landscape as dark music thumps with pulsing bass. No doubt it was this soundtrack that drove the bears, and so many other animals, into extinction at the end of the Pleistocene. Yet some scientists are rethinking the vision of giant bear as snarling super-predator. e animal seems built for mayhem, weighing in at about a ton, and when standing on all fours, roughly eye-to-eye with Muhammad Ali. On hind legs, the bear was even more intimidating. Claw marks in one Missouri cave suggest the short-faced bear could reach as high as 15 feet. But a study published in 2010 used comparative anatomy to fashion a kinder, gentler bear. Researchers compared skeletons and skulls from 57 species of existing and extinct carnivores (411 individuals), including several short-faced bears and such known apex predators as lions, tigers and jaguars. If the bear was an alpha among animals, the idea went, it would have more features in common with cats. But what they found was that the giant short-faced bear was most similar to…a bear. Rather than tearing around attacking, it was chill: hunting sometimes, stealing the prey of other species when possible, snacking on fruits and nuts when available, dumpster diving. Further, the researchers said, its face isn't even short. It's just that its snout is so broad, it creates an illusion of shortness. From what I can tell, no giant short-faced bear fossil has been uncovered in Kentucky. ey have been found in Indi- ana, Ohio, and Virginia — at least 100 different sites through- out the country — so the bear did probably spend time in Kentucky, even if just during Derby. Forget everything you thought you knew about sloths: their habit of hanging about, their sleepy demeanor, their Muppet cuteness — like Rowlf the Dog without the ears. Today's sloths would probably deny any connec- tion to the creatures that wandered Kentucky and the Americas until about 12,000 years ago. e biggest, the Megatherium, weighed a few tons and stood 20 feet tall. ose giants kept to South America. But the species that did find its way across the Caribbean was hardly petite. Picture a stocky creature, nine feet tall with a 20-foot waistline, rushing through the grasslands and stopping to pull leaves from the trees. at would be Megalonyx jeffersonii (a nod to our third president), another creature that conveniently expired near the salt lick on the Ohio River. Relatively few Megalonyx fossils have been found, and no single skeleton is complete. But evidence suggests it walked on two legs. Its knees pointed outward like a samurai poised for wrestling, a description I stole from the Tarkio Valley Sloth Project in Iowa. e Sloth Project also said the sloth moved something like Groucho Marx, with knees bent to conserve energy. H GIANT SHORT- FACED BEAR H GIANT GROUND SLOTH F F

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