Join Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions! Subscribe Today!

Hybrid “Grolar” Bears Growing In Numbers

A hunter in Churchhill, Manitoba, Canada recently posted pictures to his Facebook account showing off his most recent kill: a grolar bear. Grolar bears, sometimes called “pizzly bears,” are a polar bear/grizzly bear hybrid resulting from inbreeding between the two species. While the existence of this interspecies killing machine was long rumored to exist by denizens of the far north, a DNA test in 2006 confirmed their existence.

A snapshot of the dead grolar bear from the hunter's Facebook account

A snapshot of the dead grolar bear from the hunter’s Facebook account

Grolar bears typically bear the white fur of the polar bear, but have smaller, rounded shoulders like grizzlies. Many of the grolar bears’ physical characteristics fall somewhere in between those of a grizzly and a polar bear, such as their hybrid head shape. Polar bear hair is hollow, while grizzly bear hair is typically solid; grolar bear specimens have been found with semi-hollow hair, or patches of both solid and hollow hair.

The increasing frequency of grolar bear sightings have some environmentalists worried. One theory about the recent occurrences of the hybrid bears argues that due to shrinking polar ice, polar bears are having to range farther inland in search of food. Once the bears reach grizzly territory far from ice caps, interbreeding occurs. Other theories have argued that perhaps the opposite is happening; as global temperatures rise, grizzlies are more able to venture farther north into polar bear habitats. Due to the fact that female bears ovulate only after spending extended time around males, the possibility is slim that these hybrids are the result of mere chance encounters.

A grolar bear in captivity

A grolar bear in captivity

There is some debate over naming the hybrid bears. Based on naming conventions for feline hybrid species, a hybrid bear with a grizzly father would be a “grolar” bear, while a hybrid with a polar bear father would be a “pizzly.” Some Canadian wildlife experts, however, contend that the hybrid should be named “nanulak,” a name produced by combining the Inuit words for polar bear (“nanuk”) and grizzly bear (“aklak”).

The earliest known example of one of these hybrid bears is thought to be “MacFarlane’s Bear,” a yellow-haired cryptid bear shot in Canada’s far north in 1864. While some speculation about MacFarlane’s bear suggests the mysterious bear specimen could be a long-lost ancient species, current theories are that it was an early example of a polar-grizzly hybrid.