Ancient Arctic bears may have had a sweet tooth, sscientists say
Ancient fossil evidence recently discovered in the Arctic indicates that certain primitive bears may have had a sweet tooth.
The fossil was discovered on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut by Natalia Rybczynski, a research scientist at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa who states that these findings lend great insight into what a bear’s diet consisted of years ago.
Xiaoming Wang, lead author of the overall study which was published on Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, and head of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum says that this is an amazing discovery because it provides a missing link between the modern bear and its primitive ancestors.
The fossil indicates that the bear would have weighed up to 100 kilos, not quite as big as black bears of today and was most likely male due to the size of the canine teeth that were also discovered.
Teeth Showed Evidence Of Cavities
“These individuals actually suffered from a condition that well, humans also experience,” Rybczynski says.
She is referring to cavities, that were discovered in the fossil teeth that would indicate that ancient bears liked their sweets.
Also found at the fossil sight was more evidence to suggest that ancient bears had a sweet tooth, as remains of various types of sugary plants such as blueberry and croberry plants were also discovered.
“I’m fascinated … because these are giving you insight into what these animals were actually doing,” she added.
Also found at the fossil site was more evidence pertaining to the fact that bears, along with other types of animals lived in a plush forest environment.
“The wood that we found there — you can burn it. You would have thought I just took it out of Gatineau Park.
“We have pieces of tree, we have cones, we have hundreds of different plants, so it’s a very diverse forest environment.” They also have a “structure” of wood and bite marks that match ancient beaver teeth found in the area. There’s a giant camel fossil nearby.
“It’s an amazing, amazing beaver site.”
The area where the fossil was discovered, looks much different now than it did three million years ago, when according to scientists it would have been approximately 20 degrees warmer and plush with forest.
Now, the land is simply frozen polar desert, and according to Rybczynski you have to get your hands dirty if you have any hope of finding anything interesting.
“You have to pick up chunks of peat, and you sort of like peel it apart, and sometimes there’s a bone in there,” she says.
She found much more than a bone in there, as she unvailed most of a skull, a large part of a skelaton and most of a lower jaw.
Previous to this discovery, the only other evidence that this bear, dubbed Protarctos abstrusus existed was the discovery of a fossil tooth in Idaho.
Commenting on the fact that the teeth discovered had cavities, Rybczynski says that bears should not have such damage to their teeth due to them adapting to their environment and the type of food that is available to them.
She states that even today, bears develop cavities.
“We have not (studied) that, but it’s something that has definitely crossed my mind,” Rybczynski said. “I thought: You guys have been doing this for a long time! And that will kill you if you get infections in your teeth and your jaw.
“Dental cavities are actually rare in wild animals,” she said. “For example, a previous researcher had looked at over 3,000 specimens of carnivorous mammals from North America. He found none of the carnivores had cavities, except for some of the bears.
“We certainly see cavities in modern bears, so they haven’t solved the problem.”
Brad is a former Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, is an award-winning travel, culture, and parenting writer. His writing has appeared in many of the Canada’s most respected and credible publications, including the Toronto Star, CBC News and on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine. A meticulous researcher who’s not afraid to be controversial, he is nationally known as a journalist who opens people’s eyes to the realities behind accepted practices in the care of children. Brad is a contributing journalist to Advocator.ca