An international team of paleontologists discovered the remains of a primitive bear in Canada’s High Arctic that dates back 3.5 million years ago. After taking a closer look at the fossils, they found a number of cavities in the bear’s teeth, which likely suggests the animal had a sweet tooth.
The bear species is called Protarctos abstrusus a close relative of the ancestor of modern bears. They were smaller than an American black bear but were roughly the same size of an Asian black bear.
Dr. Xiaoming Wang, the lead author of the study and Head of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, says the discovery provides valuable insight into what the ancestor of modern day bears may have looked like. In addition, Wang notes the bear’s dental state and how it helped the team to pinpoint the diet of the primitive animal.
“Just as interesting is the presence of dental caries, showing that oral infections have a long evolutionary history in the animals, which can tell us about their sugary diet, presumably from berries,” states Wang.
According to the researcher, this discovery marks the first and earliest documented occurrence of high-calorie diets in basal bears. He believes the diet is related to fat storage which helped the primitive bear survive the harsh Arctic winters.
The team of researchers found the bear remains at the Beaver Pond site on Ellesmere Island, Canada, a site where mammal fossil discoveries have been a regular occurrence.
The ancient bear discovery happened in the 1990’s after paleontologists stumbled upon several pieces of bear skulls. It took 14 years for the team to recover more fragments including the skull, a jaw, and other skeleton fragments. After piecing together the fragments, the paleontologists discovered the pieces belonged to two bears. One bear was five to seven years old and the other was older.
Along with the fossils, the scientists found remains of several types of berry plants such as raspberry, blueberry, lingonberry, and crowberry plants. As Dr. Wang noted, these sweet berries most likely helped the primitive bears to hibernate through the polar winter. The findings were published in the journal, Scientific Reports.
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