Darwin and the bears ‘as monstrous as whales’

Museum Manager Jack Ashby writes:

‘As this week is Bear Awareness week it’s a good chance to share a story from the history of science involving Charles Darwin’s interpretations of what some bears’ behaviour might mean for the evolution of future bear species.

‘He had become aware of observations of a black bear catching insects in the water by swimming for hours with its mouth wide open. In 1859, in the first edition the book in which Darwin outlined his revolutionary evolutionary theories, he hypothesised that a new species could emerge from these swimming insect-eating bears, if no other animals were in that habitat competing with them. He suggested that they could evolve into large mouthed creatures, which were “as monstrous as whales”.

‘Darwin was ridiculed for this theory until he reluctantly removed it from later editions of his book, not without first complaining to his fellow biologists.

‘The whole story, including our currently understanding of bear evolution, is explored in this video I made with the Linnean Society as part of the Linnean Learning Video Series.’

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