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Temporal range: 23–5.3 Ma
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Caniformia
Superfamily: Arctoidea
Family: Ursidae
Subfamily: Ursavinae[1][2]
Genus: Ursavus
Schlosser, 1899
Type species
Ursavus brevirhinus
Hofmann, 1887
  • Ursavus brevirhinus (Hofmann, 1887)
  • Ursavus primaevus (Gaillard, 1899)
  • Ursavus intermedius (Koenigswald, 1925)
  • Ursavus pawniensis (Frick, 1926)
  • Ursavus ehrenbergi (Brunner, 1942)
  • Ursavus sylvestris (Qiu & Qi, 1990)
  • Ursavus isorei (Ginsburg & Morales, 1998)
  • Ursavus tedfordi (Zhanxiang et al., 2014)

Ursavus is an extinct genus of ursid carnivoran mammals that existed in North America, Europe, and Asia during the Miocene, living from about 23–5.3 million years ago (Mya), existing for roughly 17.7 million years.[4][5] The genus apparently dispersed from Asia into North America about 20 Mya, becoming the earliest member of the subfamily Ursinae in the New World.[6] Qiu points out that if a questionable 29 million-year-old specimen of Ursavus reported in North America is validated, Ursavus may have evolved in North America and dispersed westward into Asia. The higher number of fossils in Europe grading toward eastern Asia make the westward dispersal unlikely.

History of the genus[edit]

Ursavus was named by Schlosser (1899). It was assigned to the family Ursidae by Schlosser (1899) and R. L. Carroll (1988); and to Ursavini by R.M. Hunt (1998) and Jin et al. (2007).[1][7]

U. elmensis, also known as the "dawn bear"[8] is generally taken to be the earliest undisputed bear species.[9][10]


In life, the various species would have been between cat-sized for the smaller species[11] and wolf-sized for the larger members of the genus [1] and were mainly ground-dwelling omnivores or hypocarnivores.

Most other species are known from teeth and skull fragments. A complete skull has been found in the Gansu region of China of a new species from the late Miocene, dubbed U. tedfordi.[3] It was about the size of a wolf and – except for the giant panda and the spectacled bear – is believed to be the nearest to the common ancestor of modern bears.

Currently, the only member known from a complete skeleton is U. orientalis, found in the Shanwang diatomite of Early Miocene China.[11][12] (However, Qiu et.al. (2014) have suggested reassignment of U. orientalis to the genus Ballusia, in which case it would no longer be considered part of Ursavus.[3])

Fossil distribution[edit]

A partial list of find sites and specimen ages:


  1. ^ a b Hunt, R. M. (1998). "Ursidae". In Jacobs, Louis; Janis, Christine M.; Scott, Kathleen L. Terrestrial Carnivores, Ungulates, and Ungulate like Mammals. Evolution of Tertiary Mammals of North America. 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 174–195. ISBN 0-521-35519-2. 
  2. ^ Jin, C.; Ciochon, R. L.; Dong, W.; Hunt, R. M., Jr.; Liu, J.; Jaeger, M.; Zhu, Q. (2007). "The first skull of the earliest giant panda". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104: 10932–10937. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Qiu, Zhan-Xiang; et al. (2014). "A Late Miocene Ursavus skull from Guanghe, Gansu, China". Vertebratap Alasiatica. 52 (3): 265–302. 
  4. ^ Kurten, Bjorn (1966). "Pleistocene bears of North America I: Genus Tremarctos, spectacled bears". Acta Zool. Fenn. 115: 1–120. 
  5. ^ Crusafont, M.; Kurten, B. (1976). "Bears and bear-dogs from the Vallesian of the Valles-Penedes basin, Spain". Acta Zool. Fenn. 144: 1–29. 
  6. ^ Zhanxiang, Qiu (2003). "Dispersals of Neogene carnivorans between Asia and North America". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (279): 18–31. 
  7. ^ Carroll, R. L. (1988). Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company. 
  8. ^ Derocher, Andrew E.; Ian Stirling (February 1989). "Factors affecting the evolution and behavioral ecology of the modern bears". Bears: Their Biology and Management. A selection of papers from the Eighth International Conference on Bear Research and Management (published 1990). 8: 189–204. JSTOR 3872919. 
  9. ^ McLellan, Bruce (1994). "A review of bear evolution" (PDF). [Proceedings of the] International Conference on Bear Research and Management. 9 (1): 85–96. 
  10. ^ Derocher, A. E.; Lynch, W. (2012). Polar Bears: A complete guide to their biology and behavior. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 
  11. ^ a b c d Lindburg, Donald G. (2004). Giant Pandas: Biology and Conservation. University of California Press. p. 46. ISBN 9780520238671. 
  12. ^ a b Yang, Hong; Shipu Yang (December 1994). "The Shanwang fossil biota in eastern China: a Miocene Konservat-Lagerstätte in lacustrine deposits". Lethaia. 27 (4): 345–354. doi:10.1111/j.1502-3931.1994.tb01585.x.