Something funny is going on in the Arctic, as sea ice gives way to open ocean and species ranges shift with a changing climate the opportunities to “cuddle” with closely related species are more common. Consider the case of the polar bear and the grizzly bear, once upon a time these kissing cousins enjoyed an afternoon delight or two but physical separation due to climate and habitat kept the two apart (for the most part). In 2006, evidence of a polar-grizzly courtship came when a pizzly bear (or groaler bear) was shot in Canada’s Northwest Territory during a hunting expedition. Genetic testing done on the funny looking bear proved it to be the love child of a polar bear and a grizzly bear. A few years later another hybrid was shot and proved (again through genetic testing) to actually be a second generation hybrid. Unlike most hybrids the pizzly/grolar bear is not sterile due to the common genetic history of their parents.
Depending on the situation and who you speak to hybridization could be a good thing or a bad thing. For the pizzly/grolar it means a bear that is fatter than the average grizzly due to its new seal diet (grizzly bears are omnivores and polar bears are carnivores) but possibly less adept at swimming. Not a good combination when one is out in Arctic waters. There is also a concern that as the polar bear population thins out and hybrids become more common that the genetic identity of the polar bear will be completely diluted by the grizzly bear.
The pizzly bear is not the only climate hybrid out there. Beluga whale/narwhal and Canadian lynx/bobcat combos are also examples of hybridization due to shifting species ranges as a response to climate change. Hybridization is nothing new but with a rapidly changing climate it will be interesting to see what other climate hybrids pop up in the future. Maybe a Jackalope?
About This Illustration
Watercolor and micron pens-Halloween is around the corner so I thought I would begin the celebrations a bit early with a polar bear in a grizzly bear mask. This image is available via Redbubble.
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