Growth and variation in the bacula of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in the Canadian Arctic


* All correspondence to present address: M. G. Dyck, Nanuq Consultants, Box 11016, Iqaluit, NU X0A 0H0, Canada. E-mail: Order of the first two authors was determined by the flip of a coin.


Structure and growth of the baculum (os penis) in arctoid carnivores have been well described for many species. This study presents the first extensive analysis of bacular growth and variation for bears (Ursidae), based on 871 bacula of polar bears Ursus maritimus (858 of known age) that were shot in the Canadian Arctic from 1994 to 1997. Bacular length, maximal diameter and mass increased from 109 mm, 5.93 mm and 2.68 g respectively in 1-year-old bears (n= 34) to 190 (maximum 222) mm, 18.7 (24.4) mm, and 20.4 (31.9) g respectively in bears ≥ 10 years of age (n > 200). Bacular length is ˜8% of body length in adults. Bacula were moderately variable in size: coefficient of variation for length, diameter, and mass1/3 were 5.2, 10.0 and 5.4% respectively (16.3% for mass). No geographic variation in size was apparent. Bacula reached asymptotic size at 8–9 years of age. At physiological sexual maturity (˜6 years of age), bacula were at 89, 73 and 62% of asymptotic length, diameter and mass respectively (compared with body length at ˜95%). Interpretation of these findings must await behavioural and physiological information on courtship and copulation in the polar bear, and comparative data on other ursids.