Named By: Édouard Lartet - 1851.
Classification: Chordata, Mammalia, Carnivora, Arctoidea, Hemicyonidae.
Species: H. barbouri, H. californicus, H. cf. stehlini, H. gargan, H. goeriachensis, H. hareni, H. sansaniensis, H. mayorali, H. stehlini, H. teilhardi, H. ursinus, H. youngi.
Size: 1.5 meters long, 0.7 meters high at the shoulder.
Known locations: Eurasia and North America.
Time period: Throughout the Miocene.
Fossil representation: Many known remains, including some very well preserved individuals.
to be confused with the bear
dogs which were dog-like mammals that
resembled bears; Hemicyon was what is loosely
termed a dog bear,
which is a bear that is more dog-like. In simple terms, Hemicyon
was more closely related to bears than dogs. Hemicyon
had a very
important difference between it and other ancestors of the bears and
this is that it was digitigrade. This means that Hemicyon
its toes with the foot bones serving to extend the length of the leg.
Bears today by contrast are plantigrade which means that the full foot
is always in contact with the ground as they walk.
The advantage of being digitgrade is that with the leg effectively being longer it can cover more ground with each stride, something that suggests that Hemicyon would have been a proportionately faster animal than other primitive bear forms. This speed may have helped it to chase down primitive horses like Merychippus and Hipparion, which were reasonably fast herbivores that had become adapted to the plains environments that were spreading across most of the major continents during the Miocene.
With a broad distribution that covered most of the northern hemisphere and a temporal range that covers most of the Miocene period, Hemicyon was undoubtedly a successful genus, but also one that was inevitably doomed to extinction. Just as the bear dogs and dog bears replaced creodonts like Hyaenodon as the dominant predators, they themselves would have been replaced by the more advanced and quite possibly more intelligent ancestors of true dogs as well as big cats that together would have specialised to fill all predatory niches in Cenozoic ecosystems.
- Hemicyon mayorali nov. sp., an Ursidae from the Middle Miocene of Tarazona de Aragon (Ebre basin, Spain). - Annales de Paleontologie, Volume 86, Number 1. - H. Astibia, J. Morales & L. Ginsburg - 2000.