"Warming’s new hybrid — the Grolar bear or Pizzly"
What do you get when you combine warming’s impact on the habitat of grizzly bears with the melting of the polar bears’ Arctic ice feeding ground?
“One of the real things that is happening is that grizzlies are moving north, at the same time the polar bears are forced to be on the beach and we have found a number of grizzly bear polar bear hybrids,” said biologist George Divoky, who has worked in the Arctic region for over three decades.
Such hybrids in zoos are not uncommon, where it “was considered a ‘cryptid’ (a hypothesized animal for which there is no scientific proof of existence in the wild),” as Wikepedia explains (here).
The first confirmed Grolar Bear found in the wild was in April 2006:
A DNA test conducted by Wildlife Genetics International in British Columbia confirmed that it was a hybrid, with the mother a polar bear and the father a grizzly
And just so animal rights activists don’t start shouting that humans have driven polar bears into desperate one-night stands with the fearsome grizzlies, National Geographic explains (here), it’s not like that at all:
“I don’t think anyone expected it to actually happen in the wild,” said Ian Stirling, a polar bear expert with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Edmonton.
Polar bears and grizzlies require an extended mating ritual to reproduce, Stirling said. Both live by themselves in large, open habitats.
To prevent wasting their eggs, females ovulate only after spending several days with a male, Stirling explained. “Then they mate several times over several days.”
In other words, the mating between the polar bear and grizzly was more than a chance encounter. “That’s what makes it quite interesting,” he added.
Heck, it’s almost Romeo and Juliet — oops, maybe not … that didn’t end so well.
[You know you have made it as a new species when you get into Wikipedia and National Geographic!]
This story is, I’m sure, welcome news, to Bj¸rn Lomborg. In his new book he explains how polar bears would survive the loss of their habitat — they will evolve backwards (p. 6):
[T]hey will increasingly take up a lifestyle similar to that of brown bears, from which they evolved.
Now some people actually had the nerve to mock him for that idea (see “Debunking Bj¸rn Lomborg — Part I, The Great Polar Bear Irony“), pointing out that
According to both fossil and DNA evidence, the polar bear diverged from the brown bear roughly 200 thousand years ago; fossils show that between 10 and 20 thousand years ago the polar bear’s molar teeth changed significantly from those of the brown bear.
and writing, “Doh! Lomborg is giving the bears a few decades to undo tens of thousands of years of evolution.” But in fact, the grizzly bear “is a subspecies of brown bear.” So as polar bears go extinct after the sea ice is completely gone (see here), which is probably not that many years away (see here), their genes can live on in their hybrid offspring with the grizzlies.
So Lomborg was “right” all along — which I suppose is no surprise since “Bj¸rn” means “bear”.
These hybrid offspring are currently called the Grolar bear or Pizzly — though I prefer the “off-white bear,” for now. Over time they will have fewer and fewer pure polar bears to mate with, so ultimately they will become “brownish bears.” We’ll always have zoos, though.