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Desert Diary


One of the most magnificent large mammals of North America is the Grizzly Bear—or is it grizzly bears? Early mammalogists, contemplating bear skulls flooding in from collectors in the mountainous West, saw notable differences from locality to locality. These variations so impressed the workers that, before they were done, some 77 different species had been named. But could there actually be that many kinds of large bears? That question will never be answered except by the application of general biological principles, for most of the populations are long gone, unavailable for study by modern techniques.

By the mid-20th century, the decision had been made: one highly variable species was represented, and the earliest name, Ursus horribilis, was apropos for such a fearsome creature. Alas, even this doesn't work, for today we recognize the formidable Grizzly as merely the North American version of the Eurasian Ursus arctos.

Long ago eradicated from Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the Grizzly hung on in the Sierra del Nido of northern Chihuahua until at least 1957—and some believe even until today.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.