January 30, 2004

The great blanched beast...

Natalie Angier has a fascinating article on Polar Bears in the NYT:

....Yet as a handful of hardy researchers continue to study the biology and behavior of the polar bear, they are unearthing ever more impressive and sometimes mystifying details about the great blanched beast. They have discovered that full-grown male bears play with each other for hours on end, an extremely rare behavior among adult animals. Moreover, they play at the most improbable time of year: after the long summer fast, when they are gaunt and famished and by any ordinary calculation should be conserving calories rather than frittering them away on sports.

Researchers have also learned that the bears can switch back and forth rapidly between a normal physiological state and one akin to hibernation. During the summer months, when the Arctic ice retreats and polar bears have no base for hunting seals, they migrate onto land, eat almost nothing, and lapse into a state of what is called "walking hibernation": the heart rate slows, the body temperature falls, they cease urinating or defecating, and they recycle nitrogen...

I followed a link (thanks to John Ellis) because Natalie Angier wrote one of my favorite books on science, Natural Obsessions : Striving to Unlock the Deepest Secrets of the Cancer Cell, which I highly recommend. It's a rare combination, digging seriously into biology and at the same time showing us the most fascinating personalities.

Posted by John Weidner at January 30, 2004 9:07 AM
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