Friday, May 25, 2012


Having grown up with parents who let me read as I wished, and in a home packed with books of all sorts, I have always been horrified by people who believe in mythical origins of life. Evolution has never--to put it mildly--been a problem for me.

One thing that I have wondered about over the years is the European brown bear. It is, in just about every way, the same bear that we have here in the North American west; the animal we know as the Grizzly bear or North American brown bear. Eurasia and North America share many of the same basic species that roamed the northern hemisphere, crossing and recrossing the Bering Land Bridge when it existed.

However, the brown bears of Europe are not widely known for their ferocity. The Grizzly bear is, though, famed for its demeanor. Its scientific name is, after all, Ursus arctos horribilis (the "horrible bear"). It got the name for its reputation for being a bad-ass. The European brown bear, with the same physical appearance of our Grizzly bear, is not known for tearing people asunder.

So, I have wondered about this. There are always slight differences in bears based on geographic locations and their general habitat. For instance, a Brown bear in Montana would be considered huge if it weighed 800 pounds. The same bear on Kodiak Island in Alaska would be no more than average sized and a wimp when stacked against a really large male bear who might weigh in at 1500 pounds (or more). Similarly, the Brown bears in Kamchatka (in Russia) are on a par in size and demeanor with Alaskan brown bears (both living in similar habitats and eating similar diets).

But the bears in places like Austria, Finland, Yugoslavia, etc. are the same basic animal but are not widely considered to be particularly ornery, nor have the reputation for mauling humans when encountered. Indeed, they're said to be rather shy creatures.

So, is this because humans have selected the survivors? That is, have the brown bears of western Europe been pacified on an evolutionary basis because humans went out of their ways to kill off the more aggressive bears? Leaving only bears of a relatively mild temperament?

I wonder if any scholarly studies on this subject have been done? I'd be surprised if such had not been conducted.

A European brown bear in western Europe. Pretty much indistinguishable physically from a North American grizzly bear.


MarkGelbart said...

When I have time I'll research this a bit for you.

Bears in the Kamchatka Penninsula are behaving far more aggressively than any American grizzly has been known to act.

They ate 2 scientists and trapped a whole group of people in a cabin recently.

HemlockMan said...

Yep. I've read of a number of Kamchatka area brown bear attacks in recent years. Most notorious of those was a Japanese photographer who was apparently dragged out of his tent to be killed.

I doubt there's a whit of difference, genetically and behaviorally, between the brown bears of Kodiak and the brown bears of Kamchatka. Same animal, pretty much, with even the same diet.

What puzzles me is the difference in behavior of the brown bears of western Europe with those of North America. Man-caused selection, I would figure, but I could be wrong.