Tuesday, 6 August 2013

NHL Animal Week - Boston

The NHL has a few teams with logos that feature animals, so it became apparent that with Shark Week on Discovery Channel that I should feature an NHL Animal Week where some real biology can be discussed! There are seven teams that distinctively could be featured, and the San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers have been featured on the previous two days. Today, we focus on an omnivore that is routinely seen as one of the most feared as we look at Boston's animal in the bruin on HBIC's NHL Animal Week!

Tuesday - Boston Bruins

Now, many people will say that the Boston Bruins feature a black bear due to their color scheme. The problem with that thought is that the Boston Bruins used to wear brown and yellow, and a bruin refers to a non-specific species of brown bear! The brown bear ranges across North America and Eurasia with a variety of subspecies, making it the most widely-distributed bear on the planet, but we'll focus on North America's most popular brown bear in the grizzly bear or Ursus arctos. The name "grizzly bear" comes from the word "grizzled", meaning golden- or gray-tipped hair. The grizzly bear once ranged from Alaska through to Mexico and as far east as Ontario and Ohio, but their numbers plummeted greatly during the fur trade and human settlement of the prairies. The current range of the grizzly has been reduced to Alaska into Canada through British Columbia and Alberta and into the northern US states. It is estimated that there are approximately 60,000 grizzly bears in the wild today with Alaska having half of that population alone.

Grizzly bear reproduction is slow compared to other animals. Sexual maturity for the grizzly bear doesn't occur until the fifth year, and mothers with cubs will not mate again until her young are sent out on their own. This process to prepare the cubs for life normally takes approximately two years. Gestation periods range between 180 days to 250 days, eliminating yet another year in the reproductive cycle if a female is pregnant As you can see, the reproductive cycle for grizzly bears isn't optimized for populating quickly. Two cubs are normal for a litter, and three cubs are seen on occasion.

Unlike polar bears which have a mostly-carnivorous diet, grizzly bears rely on a combination of meat and vegetation in their diets. Some have estimated that more than 50% of a bear's summer diet consists of plant material such as berries, nuts, leaves, and roots. Of course, grizzly bears have been filmed while attempting to feed on one of their favorite food in salmon. While salmon makes up a large portion of their carnivorous diet, they also hunt moose, deer, sheep, elk, bison, and caribou. They will, if available, feed off large amount of insects or rodents, scavenge if necessary, and will challenge other animals over kills. Most notably, stories of grizzly bears and wolverines in epic battles are told, but grizzly bears normally attempt to steal a kill made by wolves. While the showdown between wolves and bears rarely results in major injuries to either party, the bears usually end up getting their fill of a kill before moving on.

Despite their large size, hunting is accomplished with some impressive weaponry and talent of which most are not aware. Everyone knows about their teeth and claws, but their speed is rather impressive. Grizzly bears have been clocked at 30mph or 50kph when chasing prey! This speed is deceptive, and aids the bear in chasing down slower deer or bison when hunting.

The grizzly bear is truly an apex predator, having no natural predators above them on the food chain. Encounters with man, however, have caused the grizzly bear's numbers to decline and their range to decrease. Conflicts arise for a number of reasons, but the top reason is fairly evident in the list of fatal bear attacks: a mother protecting its young. Female bears have reportedly fought off larger male bears in protecting her young, giving credence to the adage of not coming between a bear and its young. In short, man should be wary of grizzly bears at all times in the wild as they possess great speed, sharp claws, and sharp teeth.

The grizzly bear is listed as a threatened species in North America as the bears continue to see their numbers fluctuate. While the bears are protected in national parks from hunting, grizzly bears are finding themselves at a greater risks of being hit by trains that cut through Glacier National Park in Montana and Banff National Park in Alberta as the bears forage for grain that has leaked from grain cars. Conservation efforts are underway on both sides of the border to try to help the grizzly bear increase its populations through designated bear sanctuaries and protected lands.

There's your look at the bruins that roam North America. While the Boston Bruins have certainly seen their share of successful turnarounds in the recent years after a few low points through the early 2000s, there's hope that the North America bruins can see their own successful return to prominence! Tomorrow, we move to the southern hemisphere as we take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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