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Characteristics of the Dire Bear

  • Larger than a normal bear - about ten feet from paws to head whilst on all fours
  • Fur covered in bony protrusions, that act as armour

And that's it. Is there a way that this exists, and how could it theoretically evolve?

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I don't think there is anything major stopping bears evolving to 10 feet tall. Plenty of mammals current or historical have been that size or larger, from elephants to giant sloths to extinct rhinos like elasmotherium and paraceratherium. Nothing suggests that a generalist omnivore like a bear would be unable to achieve such a size given the right environment and enough resources -- for example, a particularly productive, regular food source, or more likely multiple high quality food sources year-round, such as multiple large fish spawns, fruit/berry harvests, and large migrating herd animals to forage the weak members of. Perhaps they line up in such a lucky way that the bears nearly always have a very high quality food source in every season.

The bony protrusions are a different matter. I imagine one possible route would be for the dire bear to have evolved from a much smaller bear, which was a prey species (e.g. to large cat species) that evolved armor for defense in the same way that armadillos, porcupines, and pangolins did. Their predators went extinct, and they later dominated their ecological niche quite easily, and evolved to be larger in size in certain ecosystems with high availability of nutrients to support their size. The reason they kept their armor despite not having predators might have to do with bear mating behavior -- specifically, male dire bear bruins battling over mates, where armor would be advantageous. You would likely see better armor in males as a side effect.

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There are two options in my opinion:

  1. fur can form horny protrusions - rhino horn has no bone inside. Generally, this type of bear would have keratin plates on the body. No bone, but looks similar. Size would result from having big animals to hunt or a lot of plant food.

  2. fictional evolution line of mammals that keeps primitive (reptilian) features like bony plates but is otherwise similar to bears occupying the same ecological position.

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I don’t believe any predatory mammal has ever gotten that big. You would need special circumstances to allow for it; for example, a bear evolved to hunt elephants or something of similar size.

There would have to be a huge number of elephants for that to be possible. Alternatively, this bear might be able to digest grass, giving it an easy food source.

That said, you really don’t need the bear to be that big for it to be terrifying. The largest historical bears can already stand up to be more than 10 feet tall (on two legs), and they have enough power to smash a car, probably.

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If you look at the fossil record, those animals that had armor were always prey animals that needed to protect themselves from predators. To evolve armor and keep it, there has to be predators that can crunch an animal of that size. Today, bears are apex predators - they don't have any enemies that can easily kill them. So, you would need to invent some other animal that can eat bears and make bears need to protect themselves.

Also, the largest polar bear recorded was 11 feet long. The largest grizzly bear was 14 feet to the top of his head. So, bears today can be bigger than what you wanted this one to be.

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