Kermode Bear

The Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), also known as the “spirit bear” (particularly in British Columbia), is a rare subspecies of the American black bear living in the Central and North Coast regions of British Columbia, Canada. It is the official provincial mammal of British Columbia. While most Kermode bears are black, there are between 100 and 500 fully white individuals. The white variant is most common on three islands in British Columbia (Gribbell, Princess Royal, and Roderick), where 10–20% of bears are white. Kermode bears hold a prominent place in the oral traditions of the indigenous peoples of the area. They have also been featured in a National Geographic documentary.

The Kermode bear was named after Frank Kermode, former director of the Royal B.C. Museum, who researched the subspecies and was a colleague of William Hornaday, the zoologist who described it. A common mispronunciation of Kermode as /kərˈmd/ kər-MOH-dee differs from the actual pronunciation of the Kermode surname, which originates on the Isle of Man and is properly pronounced /ˈkɜːrmd/ KUR-mohd, which is the usual way to pronounce Kermode bear. In the Isle of Man the name is pronounced /kərˈmd/ kur-MOHD.

White Kermode bears are not albinos as they still have pigmented skin and eyes. 

Rather, a single, non-synonymous nucleotide substitution in the MC1R gene causes melanin to not be produced. This mutant gene is recessive, so Kermode bears with two copies of this mutant, nonfunctional gene appear white, while bears with one copy or no copies appear black. It is possible for two black bears to mate and produce a white cub if both of these black bears are heterozygous, carrying one copy of the mutant MC1R gene, and both mutant genes are inherited by the cub. Additional genetic studies found that white Kermode bears breed more with white Kermode bears, and black Kermode bears breed more with black Kermode bears, in a phenomenon known as positive assortative mating. One hypothesis is that this happens because young bears imprint on their mother’s fur color.

Kermode bears are omnivorous for most of the year, subsisting mainly on herbage and berries except during autumn salmon migrations, when they become obligate predators. During the day, white bears are 35% more successful than black bears in capturing salmon. Scientists have also found that salmon evade large, black models about twice as frequently as they evade large white models, giving white bears an advantage in salmon hunting. On some islands, white Kermode bears have more marine derived nutrients in their fur, indicating that white Kermode bears eat more salmon than the black Kermode bears. 


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  2. Viking Life Blog · July 20, 2020

    “We were playing spikeball and someone yelled ‘bear!’ so we got our phones to record and next thing you know, he’s walking over to our stuff. We forgot that we had Clif bars inside the backpack and the bear started to eat them, so we tried to scare him away safely.”


  3. Viking Life Blog · July 2

    All 8 Species of Bear (+7 Subspecies You Haven’t Heard Of)


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