Prehistoric Bear With a Sweet Tooth Discovered to Have 3.5-Million-Year-Old Cavity

A brown bear pictured in a Zoological park in France. New findings PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images

It seems that mammals have been addicted to sugar for about 3.5 million years. Researchers found prehistoric bear remains in Canada that indicate the creature suffered from a sweet tooth, as evidenced by dental cavities, according to Live Science. The bear was identified as a member of the species, Protarctos abstrusus, and is a precursor to the modern-day animals.

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Not only do researchers believe the animal favored sweets, the discovery also sheds light on the physical appearance of early bears, as well as their hibernation strategies.

"Just as interesting is the presence of dental caries, showing that oral infections have a long evolutionary history in the animals, which can tell us about their sugary diet, presumably from berries," study co-author and ecologist Xiaoming Wang said in Live Science. "This is the first and earliest documented occurrence of high-calorie diet in basal bears, likely related to fat storage in preparation for the harsh Arctic winters."

In their paper, published in the research journal Scientific Reports, the authors explained that these early bears probably ate a huge quantity of sugary foods in the fall, much like modern bears, as a way to bulk up and prepare for winter. Sound familiar?

The team, comprised of researchers from the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, found skull, jaw and teeth bones as well as skeleton parts, according to Live Science. These ancient pieces weren't found during one big jackpot but over the course of 20 years of digging.

Researchers believe that the signs of tooth decay are a result of eating sweet foods like berries. In humans, it seems to be a given that sugar causes tooth decay, as your dentist will likely warn, but the problem is less common in animals.

"Dental cavities are actually rare in wild animals," Paleobiologist and study co-author Natalia Rybczynski told the Ottawa Citizen. "For example, a previous researcher had looked at over 3,000 specimens of carnivorous mammals from North America. He found none of the carnivores had cavities, except for some of the bears."

She told the publication that modern bears still suffer from cavities, meaning they haven't evolved out of the problem (like humans).

The researchers were also surprised to find that the newly found ancient bear lived a northern boreal-type forest, where it would have experienced endless hours of darkness during winter, in addition to snow for half the year, explained Live Science. Most ancient bear fossils were linked to surviving in milder habitats, according to the authors, so this bear could represent the earliest known bear to have hibernated.

As the science site explained, there's little fossil evidence of prehistoric bears, so we have much more to learn. But this new finding offers a small glimpse into how the animals evolved, not to mention makes us us all feel a little better about those winter time sugar cravings.