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14 Furry Facts About Bears

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You can find bears all over the world, in many colors and sizes. You may think you're a bear expert, but here are some facts you might have missed.

1. Winnie the Pooh is based on a real bear.

Pooh might be squishy and yellow, but the original Winnie was a black bear. During World War I, a Canadian soldier named Harry Colebourn purchased a baby bear for $20. He named her Winnipeg, or Winnie for short. After a brief stint as the troops' mascot, Winnie found a home at the London Zoological Gardens. All the children loved her, including Christopher Robin Milne, who named his teddy bear after her. His father, Alan Alexander Milne, went on to base the honey-loving bear off Winnie.

2. Smokey the Bear also has real-world origins.

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Smokey the Bear (whose actual name is just Smokey Bear) is based off an orphan bear rescued from a wildfire. In 1950, the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico were aflame. As firefighters worked to contain the fire, they noticed a lone bear cub lost in the woods. After getting caught in the path of the flames, he climbed a tree to safety. Although charred, he was rescued by the firefighters and brought to Santa Fe for veterinary care.

Soon the media picked up the story and concerned citizens began to call in to check on the little bear’s progress. The state game warden wrote an official letter declaring the bear the new face of fire prevention and conservation. His popularity grew so much that, by the 1960s, Smokey was given his own zip code (20252) to accommodate his huge amount of fan mail (only he and the president have this honor). Smokey lived the rest of his days at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.

3. No one knows the original word for bear.

People in Northern Europe were once so scared of bears that they refused to refer to them by their actual name. It was suspected that uttering the word would summon a bear to come and wreak havoc. As a workaround, they simply called them bruin, or “the brown one.” The moniker later became bear and the original word was lost to history.

4. Grizzly bears and polar bears have been getting together.

Thanks to global warming, polar bears and grizzly bears have been inching closer and closer together. Since they are the most closely related of the bear species, the bears are able to successfully produce offspring. The result is a sandy colored bear, sometimes called a grolar or pizzly bear.

5. One bear recently saved a man’s life.

In 2012, Californian Robert Biggs was hiking near Whiskey Flats when he came across a mother bear and her cubs. After continuing his hike, he was suddenly attacked by a mountain lion. The man fought for his life, but was ultimately saved when the mother bear stepped in and ripped the lion off the man.

"I think the lion was stalking the bear's cub and I got in the way," the hiker told ABC. "The bear walked calmly back to her cub after, and I wrapped my arm up with a T-shirt and went gold panning before I went home."

He also refused to see a doctor despite his wife’s urging. "I poured some hydrogen peroxide on my arm, and it feels fine," Biggs said.

6. Africa used to have their owns bears.

Up until the 1870s, Africa was home to the Atlas bear. This species was similar to the black bear, but it was hunted to extinction. The bear had a reddish underbelly and ate mostly plants. Roman mosaics suggest the bears were used in gladiatorial arenas to fight experienced hunters or maul convicted criminals.

7. Lord Byron had one as a pet

When poet Lord Byron entered Trinity College, he was annoyed by the school’s strict no dog policy. In protest, he brought a tame bear instead.

It’s unclear where Lord Byron found a bear (possibly a traveling circus), but the school had no rules against the pet, so it was reluctantly allowed. The poet would stroll through campus with the bear on a chain leash and delight in the shocked expressions from fellow students.

8. Even bears have their vices.

Winnie the Pooh hit the honey pretty hard, but real-life bears have even worse addictions. Russian brown bears living on the Kronotsky Nature Reserve have been known to huff old barrels of jet fuel until they pass out. Bears jonesing for another hit will even go as far as to follow helicopters and inhale any fuel that hits the ground.

Bears are also known to have a taste for beer. In 2012, a family of bears ransacked a cabin in northern Norway and guzzled 100 cans of beer. In a similar event in 2004, a bear drank 36 cans of Rainier, but completely ignored the Busch beer (he sampled one and decided it wasn’t to his liking).

9. A Polish bear was made corporal in WWII.

Winnipeg wasn’t the only bear adopted into the army. During World War II, Polish soldiers came across an abandoned cub. They named him Wojtek and raised him as part of the platoon. The bear got along with the other soldiers famously and stopped a thief who tried to break into the ammunition supply. During the war, the animal helped transport supplies. He was even promoted to corporal by the end of the war.

10. Bears can delay giving birth.

Female bears will carry offspring for about nine months after mating and usually give birth in their winter den in January or February. Despite the long pregnancy, the babies will come out small and blind because they only had about six or eight weeks to develop.

After an egg gets fertilized, the egg will start to develop and travel toward the uterus. Once it arrives, the mother halts all development and lets the egg sit in her uterus while she fattens herself up. The egg is then reactivated in late fall when it can finally implant in the uterus.

This process allows for the mother to gain weight and prepare for the winter without the extra stress of pregnancy. When the baby is finally born in late winter, it has time to drink its mother’s milk and grow strong before heading out in the spring. The baby then has three seasons to get stronger before the next winter.

11. Bears are smart.

Bears have the largest relative brain size of any carnivore. One study showed that black bears could count just as well as primates. Using a computer touch screen, scientists had the bears choose between two images of dots. The color and number of dots would change each time. If the bear chose the correct number (whether it be the higher or lower of the two) it got a treat. With some trial and error, the bears could correctly pick the images each time.

Bears are also very resourceful and known for rolling rocks into traps to set them off.

12. Bears beat humans at our own competitions.

Besides hockey, bears have also found themselves in a number of other games. In 1949, boxer Gus Waldorf fought a bear that was equipped with boxing gloves and a muzzle. Despite having the disadvantage, the bear still won the fight (don't worry, everyone came out alive). More recently, Nathan's hot dog eating champion Kobayashi took on a bear in an eating competition. The bear didn’t know he was competing, but still managed to beat the champion at his own game.

13. The story of the Teddy Bear isn’t that cute.

Most Americans know the origin story of the teddy bear: Theodore Roosevelt was on a hunting trip and spared a bear’s life by refusing to shoot it. The act of compassion was so moving that it was immortalized in a comic strip and then later in the form of a plush toy. Unfortunately, the real story was a little more gruesome.

The old bear was discovered by a pair of hunting dogs, and after killing one of the hounds, the bear was knocked unconscious by the butt of the hunting guide’s rifle. The bear was tied to a tree and Roosevelt was invited to shoot the bear. Seeing the gory sight—a dead dog and a bloody, wheezing bear tied to a tree—Roosevelt was repulsed and refused to shoot. Despite this small "mercy," the bear was still killed and slung over a horse to bring back to camp.

14. They have a great sense of smell.

It’s no mystery that bears have excellent noses. The black bear can smell seven times better than a bloodhound and 100 times better than a human. They can smell food up to two miles away.

BONUS: Bear cubs are darn cute.

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IKEA
IKEA Is Recalling Its New Dog Water Fountain Due to Suffocation Risk
IKEA
IKEA

In late 2017, IKEA released LURVIG, its first-ever line for pets, a collection that included beds, leashes, food bowls, and other staple products for dogs and cats. Unfortunately, one of those products is now being recalled over safety issues, according to Fast Company. If you own the LURVIG water dispenser, you should take it away from your pet immediately.

The automatic water fountain poses a suffocation hazard, the company announced in a recent statement. The retailer has received two reports of pets dying after getting their head stuck in it.

A water fountain for pets sits next to a bowl full of dog food.
IKEA

The $8 water dispenser debuted in U.S. stores in October 2017 with the rest of its LURVIG line. Awkwardly enough, the product description included assurances of the product’s safety standards. It explained that “the LURVIG range was developed with the assistance of trained veterinarian Dr. Barbara Schäfer, who also works with product risk assessment at IKEA,” and went on to say that “the first thing to consider was safety: ‘Dogs will definitely chew on their toys and bring in dirt from their daily walks. Cats will definitely scratch on most surfaces and are sensitive to smell and texture. So safe, durable materials are very important.’”

It seems that smaller dogs are able to get their faces stuck in the dome-shaped plastic reservoir, which only appears to have one hole in it, at the bottom. As a result, dogs can suffocate if they can’t get out of it.

The product has been removed from IKEA’s website, and the retailer recommends that anyone who bought it stop using it and return it to the nearest IKEA store for a refund.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Alamy
10 Facts About the Portuguese Man O' War
Alamy
Alamy

Something a lot scarier than any Jersey Devil has been washing up on beaches in the Garden State lately: This month, the dangerous Portuguese Man O’ War—which has a potentially deadly sting—has been sighted in Cape May and Wildwood, New Jersey, which could lead to problems for beachgoers. Read on to learn more about these unusual creatures.

1. IT'S NOT A JELLYFISH.

The Portuguese Man o’ War may look like a bloated jellyfish, but it’s actually a siphonophore—a bizarre group of animals that consist of colonies made up of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of genetically-identical individual creatures. A siphonophore starts out as a fertilized egg. But as it develops, it starts "budding" into distinct structures and organisms. These tiny organisms—called polyps or zooids—can’t survive on their own, so they merge together into a tentacled mass. They must cooperate as one in order to do things like travel and catch food.

Though the zooids within a Man O’ War are basically clones, they come in different shapes and serve different purposes [PDF]. Dactylozooids are long hunting tentacles built to ensnare prey; gastrozooids are smaller tentacles which digest the food; and gonozooids are dangling entities whose job is to facilitate reproduction. Every Man O’ War also has a pneumatophore, or “float”—an overgrown, bag-like polyp which acts as a giant gas bladder and sits at the top of the colony. Capable of expanding or contracting at will, it provides the Man O’ War with some buoyancy control. An expanded float also enables the colony to harness winds to move around.

2. A CLOSE RELATIVE IS THE INDO-PACIFIC “BLUEBOTTLE.”

A view of a bluebottle under water.
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When we say “Portuguese Man O’ War,” we’re talking about Physalia physalis, the bizarre siphonophore that’s scaring New Jerseyans right now. Also known as the Atlantic Portuguese Man O’ War, it can be found in warmer parts of the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and of course, the Atlantic.

Another kind of siphonophore which regularly stings beachgoers is the so-called bluebottle, Physalia utriculus. It’s sometimes called the Indo-Pacific “Portuguese” Man O’ War and is restricted to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It’s smaller than the Atlantic species and unlike its bigger counterpart—which has multiple hunting tentacles—it hunts with a single, elongated tentacle.

3. THE NAME “PORTUGUESE MAN O’ WAR” IS PROBABLY A NAVAL REFERENCE.

In the age of sailing, many European navies used tall warships loaded with cannons and propelled by three masts. British sailors took to calling this kind of vessel a “Man of War.”

What does that have to do with Physalia physalias? These colonies spend a lot of time floating at the water’s surface, and when the gas bladder is expanded, it looks—and acts—a bit like a sailboat, hence the “Man O’ War.” As for the Portuguese part, 19th century scientists proposed that sailors encountered it near the Portuguese island of Madeira, while modern etymologists tend to think that it looked like the Portuguese version of the ship.

Or at least that’s one explanation for the creature’s peculiar name. It’s also been suggested that Renaissance-era sailors thought the pneumatophores resembled the helmets worn by Portugal’s soldiers during the 16th century.

4. MAN O’ WAR TENTACLES CAN BE UP TO 165 FEET LONG.

Two Portuguese Man o' War washed up on the beach with their tentacles stretched out.
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At least, that’s the maximum length for the dactylozooids—which are normally around 30 feet long and use venom-spewing cells to deliver painful, neurotoxic stings. When a tentacle is detached from the rest of the colony, it might wash ashore somewhere or drift around for days on end until it decomposes. Be warned: Even a severed tentacle can sting you.

5. ON RARE OCCASIONS, STINGS CAN BE FATAL TO HUMANS.

The odds of being killed by a Portuguese Man O’ War are slim. But just because deaths are rare doesn't mean you should touch one: On February 11, 2018, 204 people in Hollywood, Florida were treated for stings, which can lead to red welts on the skin, muscle cramps, elevated heart rates, and vomiting.

Still, the creatures can kill: One unlucky victim suffered a full cardiovascular collapse and died after getting too close to a Man O’ War in eastern Florida back in 1987. More recently, a woman swimming off Sardinia was stung by one and died of what was believed to be anaphylactic shock.

6. SOME FISH LIVE IN THEM.

Given that tiny fish make up about 70 to 90 percent of the Man O’ War’s diet (it also eats shrimp and other crustaceans), Nomeus gronovii, a.k.a. the Portuguese Man O’ War Fish, is playing a dangerous game: It lives among the siphonophore's tentacles even though it's not immune to its stings, swimming nimbly between the stingers. Young fish eat planktons which wander under their hosts and, as they get older, will sometimes steal the Man O’ War’s prey—or nibble on its tentacles.

7. SEA SLUGS LIKE TO STEAL THEIR TOXINS.

The Man O’ War has a long list of enemies. Loggerhead sea turtles and the bizarre-looking ocean sunfish are thick-skinned enough to eat them. There are also “blue dragon” sea slugs, which not only devour the Man O’ War but actively harvest and appropriate its toxins. After storing Man O’ War stinging cells in their own skins, the blue dragons can use it as a predator deterrent.

8. MAN O’ WAR COME IN PRETTY COLORS.

A pink-tinted Portuguese Man O' War with blue tentacles in the surf at a beach.
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Although it’s translucent, the float is usually tinted with blue, pink, and/or purple hues. Beaches along the American Gulf Coast raise purple flags in order to let visitors know when groups of Man O’ War (or other potentially deadly sea creatures) are at large.

9. EVERY COLONY HAS A SPECIFIC SEX.

The Man O' War's gonozooids have sacs that house ovaries or testes—so each colony can therefore be considered “male” or “female.” Though marine biologists aren’t completely sure how the Man O’ War procreates, one theory is that the gonozooids release eggs and sperm into the open ocean, which become fertilized when they cross paths with floating eggs or sperm from other Man O’ War colonies. This “broadcast spawning” method of reproduction is also used by many species of coral, fan worms, sea anemone, and jellyfish.

10. LOOK OUT FOR MAN O’ WAR LEGIONS.

The Man O’ War isn't always seen in isolation. Legions consisting of over 1000 colonies have been observed floating around together. Because they drift along on (somewhat) predictable winds and ocean currents, it’s possible to anticipate where and when a lot of the creatures will show up. For example, the Gulf Coast’s Man O’ War season arrives in the winter months.

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