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Warming’s new hybrid — the Grolar bear or Pizzly

By Joe Romm on May 10, 2008 at 10:21 am

"Warming’s new hybrid — the Grolar bear or Pizzly"

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grolar.jpgAs hybrids go, this ain’t the Prius.

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

polar-bear-tongue.jpegAnd 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!]

LOMBORG VINDICATED?

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.

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15 Responses to Warming’s new hybrid — the Grolar bear or Pizzly

  1. hapa says:

    when i “researched” human skin color last year i learned a fun relevant thing about genetic traits — some are harder to gain than others — based on environmental pressure. medium to dark brown is where we started, “they” said, and super white and super black were both responses to extreme sunlight differences on equatorial savanna and in the cloudy north. the difference is that white skin represents a weakened genetic trait and black skin an intensification.

    the point being if bears have to all go much darker to survive, or we do, that’s much tougher than bleached cousins having kids with “normal” as part of finding a new comfort zone in the typical range of species. as a teacher of mine likes to quote, “skin color is a geographic mirage.”

  2. Paul K says:

    It’s really sad that climateprogress has been reduced to misrepresenting two year old stories to further the campaign of fear. Key quote from the original National Geographic article: “The hybrid, he said, is definitely not a sign of climate change.”

  3. Nylo says:

    hapa,

    A white skin in human race may be a weakening of a characteristic which is no longer needed – sun protection in the north. But the white fur of polar bears is definitely not a weakening of anything. It’s a succesfuly reached new characteristic that blends them with their surroundings better than a dark fur.

  4. Reader says:

    Paul,

    It’s sad, I suppose, but says something profound about the state of the ‘war’, does it not?

    Don’t forget that Joe is a well-paid alarmist.

  5. Pahbs says:

    Well fellaz – Before we resort to name-calling, lets read the entire article. After Paetkau says that the hybrid he found is not a sign of climate change, you need to read the “Lingering Questions” section right at the end of the article:
    ———-
    “Paetkau adds that the hybrid bear raises several questions……..

    ….On the other hand, the warming Arctic environment is causing some animals to shift their range northward. It’s possible, Paetkau says, that grizzly bears and polar bears may have more offspring-producing encounters in the future.

    “With one sample, we have no way of distinguishing between the possibilities,” he said.

    “But it does make you sit up straight and want to keep track of that situation and get a sense over the next decade whether this will be a regular occurrence or whether it’s a one-off.”
    ——–
    See, we all like to snatch facts out of context to provide some sort of “gotcha” punchline. This is not objective nor productive. In this case, one instance of a species hybrid can’t be a determinant for or against something as global as climate change. The questions is, does it represent an anomaly or does it represent a new pattern? Given the context of changing global environmental patterns, it is worth investigating.

    Just be objective.

  6. Paul K says:

    Pahbs,
    “does it represent an anomaly or does it represent a new pattern?” One hybrid was found three years ago. None since. Trend?

  7. Pahbs says:

    Paul K – Yeah, good point. Only one incident and not to be used to conclude or really suggest anything at all. But I do think the hypothesis of expanding geographic ranges and increased likelihood of interacting is plausible and worth investigating. It really is mind-boggling to think about the potential change of species interactions with such rapid changes in environmental conditions. It is a very interesting time to be scientifically alert, especially with the abundance of satellite data available.

  8. Anonymous says:

    this bear is so cute

  9. giwta says:

    hi my name is panagiwta and i’m the Greece,i’m 13 years old and i iove very much the bears.

  10. Ami says:

    Hapa,
    This is a really poor analogy as you can’t boil down the differences between polar bears and grizzly bears to just “skin color.” these are two different species that have very, very different anatomical structures. humans with different skin colors are still homo sapiens. i.e. they are the same species. skin color is a superficial trait. polar bears are adapted species to their climate and environment. a grizzly bear would have a very hard time surviving in the tundra, and it has nothing to do with its fur color.

  11. renee says:

    it is cute i love it

  12. jewman17 says:

    i thought a polar bear had black skin….?
    the fur color is just for blendng in with the surrundings right? making the polar bear a much better hunter in the arctic.
    fur color matters
    at least to polar bears it does… haha

  13. jewman17 says:

    smells like updog in here