MacFarlane's bear

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MacFarlane's bear
Conservation status
Unknown
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus
Species: U. inopinatus (disputed)
Binomial name
Ursus inopinatus
(Merriam, 1918)
Synonyms

Vetularctos inopinatus Merriam, 1918

MacFarlane's bear is a proposed extinct species of bear that was found in Canada's Northwest Territories. In 1864, Inuit hunters shot and killed an enormous yellow-furred bear and gave the skin and skull to the Fort Anderson post manager and amateur naturalist Roderick MacFarlane (sometimes given as Robert MacFarlane) of the Hudson's Bay Company.[1][2][3][4] MacFarlane shipped the skin and skull to the Smithsonian Institution where they were placed in storage and soon forgotten. Eventually, Dr. Clinton Hart Merriam uncovered the remains, which he thought[clarification needed] had been shot very far outside the brown bear's normal range, and concluded that it wasn't a brown bear at all. In 1918, he described the specimen as a new species and genus, Vetularctos inopinatus, calling it the "ancient unexpected bear."[4]

With the exception of unconfirmed sightings, MacFarlane's bear is sometimes thought to have become extinct since the specimen was obtained in 1864. There have been many theories concerning the origin of MacFarlane's bear, which include suggestions that it may have been a grizzly–polar bear hybrid, or even a surviving representative of a Pleistocene species.[5]

Today, it is known that grizzly-polar bear hybrids do occur on occasion and that they match the specimen's description very well, notably the pale tan fur, and apparently also the oddly shaped skull which led Merriam to propose his new genus. While this seems to be a satisfying explanation, it was not tested thoroughly because the hybridization theory was for long just a hypothesis. Now that more than circumstantial data from such hybrids exists, ancient DNA analysis and/or a morphological study of the skull may well resolve the case of McFarlane's specimen. If it turns out to be a hybrid the scientific names Vetularctos and Ursus inopinatus would become invalid under the ICZN.

In episode #215 of the History Channel program Monster Quest, "Giant Bear Attack", paleontologist Dr. Blaine W. Schubert (of East Tennessee State University) was allowed to examine the skull (although the Institute did not allow the examination to be filmed). Schubert stated that he was "100% sure" that it was the skull of a young, female brown bear and "actually, not a particularly large individual."

In a 1984 publication intended to correct Merriam's 1929 taxonomy proposing 96 distinct species names for varieties of brown bear,[6] E. Raymond Hall synonymized all 96 of Merriam's names with merely nine subspecies of U. arctos. Hall synonymized Velarctos inopinatus with U. arctos horribilis, the normal grizzly bear.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Two Nest Searches for the Eskimo Curlew -- A Century Apart
  2. ^ The Inuvialuit Smithsonian Project: Winter 2009-Spring 2011
  3. ^ Roderick MacFarlane at Inuvialuit Living History
  4. ^ a b Mystery Bears. Reprinted with permission from Rumors of Existence, Matthew A. Bille at Strange Ark. Retrieved on February 5, 2008
  5. ^ Karl Shuker. From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings. Llewellyn: St Paul (1997). ISBN 1-56718-673-4
  6. ^ E. Raymond Hall. "Geographic Variation Among Brown and Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos) in North America." University of Kansas Publications, Museum of Natural History: Lawrence (August 10, 1984).

External links[edit]