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This Primitive 3.5-Million-Year-Old Bear From Canada's High Arctic Had A Sweet Tooth

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A team of researchers has found the remains of a bear that lived 3.5 million years ago, which shows that it was not just closely related to the forefathers of modern bears but it also had a sweet tooth.

Scientists from the Los Angeles County’s Natural History Museum and Canadian Museum of Nature identified the remains of the animal from Canada’s High Arctic region, which is a site rich in fossils.

They were able to study recovered bones from the teeth, jaws, and skull as skeleton parts from two individuals. The team could trace the ancestry of the fossil to extinct bears, which prevailed during the same time in East Asia.

The Protarctos Abstrusus

The bear, identified as Protarctos abstrusus, was previously known to scientists only on the basis of a tooth discovered in Idaho. The ancient bear was a bit smaller as compared to the modern black variant. It also had a head that was flatter and an advanced and primitive combination of dental characters, which showed the bear’s transitional nature.

"This is evidence of the most northerly record for primitive bears, and provides an idea of what the ancestor of modern bears may have looked like," said Dr. Xiaoming Wang, study lead author of the paper published in the journal Scientific Reports on Dec. 18. "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.”

Wang also added that it is the earliest-known occurrence that has been documented for basal bears with high-calorie diets, which indicated fat storage to prepare for the severe winters in the Arctic. The researchers' analysis indicates that the bear flourished in a northern Taiga kind of forest habitat, which would be dark throughout the day during winters and have six months of snow and ice.

The find is significant because all other fossils of ancient ursine bears as well as a few modern species of the animal like the sun bear and the sloth bear are linked to milder habitats in lower-latitude. The Protarctos abstrusus, therefore, shows that surviving the harshest environments of northern forests is not unique to modern black bears and grizzlies, and may have been a character of the ursine line from its evolutionary beginning.

The Ancient Bear With A Sweet Tooth

The fossil’s teeth were found to have cavities, indicating the bear ate sugary food like berries as a survival strategy in preparation for winter hibernation. Preserved berry plants were found in the same fossil site as the remains of the Protarctos abstrusus.

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