Bears were mysteriously missing toes. These scientists cracked the case.

by | Jan 20, 2023 | Science

Clayton Lamb didn’t think much of the missing toe at first.The Canadian biologist was moving a snoozing bear with conservation officers in Fernie, a ski resort town tucked in the mountains of British Columbia. A tourist from Australia stood on a deck nearby, snapping photos of the hulking grizzly.Subscribe to The Post Most newsletter for the most important and interesting stories from The Washington Post. The team had tranquilized the animal to haul it away from a manicured lawn when Lamb saw it: A piece of its paw was gone.Grizzlies lead rough lives, brawling and biting one another. “So the missing toe of one bear wasn’t necessarily a red flag for us,” Lamb said.But while doing field work for his PhD at the University of Alberta, he later saw another bear without all its digits, in the province’s Elk Valley region. Then another. Then another.The sample size was small – four bears. But the pattern was unmistakable. Why were so many bears missing so many toes?”We had absolutely no idea,” said Lamb, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia. “And we had, at the time, essentially no leads as to what it could be.”The discovery sent Lamb on a half-decade quest to unravel the mystery of the missing bear toes. The …

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