Polar Bear Taxonomy

    People living in the Arctic rarely call polar bears polar bears. They will call polar bears with many different names. Prominent among the names are white bear, nanook, eisbar, nanuq, sea bear, and ice bear. Not only do the Arctic people call white bears with several names scientists also could not agree on a single scientific name.

    Polar bear taxonomy

    Constantine J. Phipps in 1774 was the first one to give polar bears a scientific name Ursus maritimus. Two years later Pallas came up with his scientific name Ursus marinus. Similarly Knotterus-Meyer (1908) suggested Thallassarctos eogroenlandicus; Shaw proposed Ursus Polaris, and Erdbrink together with Thenius described the polar bears in 1953 Ursus (Thalarctos) maritimus. This is probably due to the inbreeding that occurred between grizzlies and white bears.

    Björn Olof Lennartson Kurtén, a Finnish vertebrate paleontologist, analyzed the bear fossils in 1964 which suggested that white bears likely to have originated from brown bears. It goes back to the mid-Pleistocene period in Siberia. Kurten concluded that the overall population of polar bears represents a single species and it doesn’t matter how far they live from one another. That is to say there seems to be no subspecies of white bears. However in his later explanations and examinations of fossil evidences Kurte believed that polar bear had one subspecies that might have lived in the Pleistocene period. He suggested a name Ursus maritimus tyrannus for the subspecies and said that it was far bigger than the present-day polar bear.

    Scientists followed Kurte didn’t seem to agree with his new findings of a subspecies. Thus they promoted the name Ursus maritimus. Wilson, Manning, and Harington were amongst the chief scientists. The most recent fossils belonged to 130,000 to 110,000-year-old. It was discovered in 2004 in Charles Foreland. This was a remarkable discovery because it helped scientists to understand that polar bear molar teeth underwent major change from brown bear teeth around 10,000 – 10,000 years ago.

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