“Pizzly bears” may be on the rise | Polarjournal
Experts believe polar bears are migrating south to escape the effects of global warming, while grizzly bears are moving north, leading to the creation of a new species: the grizzly-polar bear hybrid. (Photo: McGill University)

If rising temperatures drive animal species out of their natural habitats, pizzly bears are likely to become more common. Climate change has caused polar bears to migrate further south and grizzly bears to migrate further north in search of food, increasing the amount of shared territory and thus the likelihood of contact. When polar bears and grizzly bears mate, the hybrid is called a pizzly bear or a grolar bear, depending on which animal is the male and which is the female. In recent years there has been an increase in mating between the two bear species. “We’ve known about pizzlyes for some time, but their occurrence may become more common as the Arctic continues to warm,” said Larisa DeSantis, a biology professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.

In 2016, hunter Didji Ishalook had killed a white bear in the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut, which initially caused a press furore as a polar bear-grizzly hybrid, but then turned out to be a “blond” grizzly (pictured). Still, experts say any increase in such interbreeding could be a worrying sign of the polar bear’s inevitable demise. (Photo: Didji Ishalook)

A pizzly was first discovered in the wild in 2006, when a hunter in Canada’s far north shot a bear with white fur and brown spots, as well as the humped back and long claws characteristic of a grizzly bear. DNA tests confirmed the bear was a hybrid, ‘The Associated Press’ reported at the time. Since then, pizzlys have been frequently spotted in the wild.

According to DeSantis, grizzly bears continue to move north as temperatures rise. “In the meantime, polar bears will increasingly have to look for other food sources if hunting seals on the sea ice becomes impossible,” she said.

Polar bears are perhaps the most visible victim of climate change and could be all but extinct by 2100. A 2016 study in the journal ‘Biology Letters’ said polar bear populations could decline by more than 30 percent over the next 30 years.

The ice is running out! Polar bears will increasingly be found on land in the future and will have to look for new food sources. (Image: Heiner Kubny)

“Typically, hybrid bears are no better suited to their environment than their parents, but there is a possibility that these hybrids are able to forage for a wider range of food sources,” Larisa DeSantis told ‘Live Science’.

Since the two bear species only separated biologically about half a million years ago, they are still able to conceive and produce offspring together. Even pizzlies themselves seem fertile.

Larisa DeSantis told ‘Live Science’, “Presumably, pizzlies are better equipped than polar bears to survive in the modern Arctic because of their diverse characteristics.”

The hybrid bear looks similar to its parents. It’s smaller than a polar bear, but bigger than a grizzly bear. In addition, the hair and feet of the hybrids are a mixture of both.

One of the reasons for the polar bears’ extreme vulnerability is that they are designed to hunt and consume fat-rich animals such as seals. “For example, their molars are smaller than typical for their body size because they just eat blubber all day. Grizzlies, on the other hand, can eat whatever they want,” DeSantis said. “We don’t know for sure yet, but maybe the Pizzly’s intermediate skull could provide a biomechanical advantage.”

While the extinction of purebred polar bears is a tragic prospect, the existence of pizzlies may allow them to persist in some form.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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