Brown Bear Facts: Animals of North America

Two brown bears staring each other down in a show of dominance. A fight is likely to result from such a confrontation.
Two brown bears staring each other down in a show of dominance. A fight is likely to result from such a confrontation.

5. Physical Description

The brown bear, or Ursus arctos, is not always brown, despite what its name implies. Brown bears can be black, dark brown, cream-colored, or yellow-tinged, depending on their subspecies and the climatic conditions they live in. Their fur becomes thick and long in the wintertime, so as to trap heat and insulate their bodies. Possibly the most imposing feature of these bears are the appearance of their claws, which can reach four inches in some brown bears. Their average weight in spring is between 500 and 900 pounds for males and 250 and 450 pounds for females. Boars often reach a standing height of nearly 10 feet. These bears can run as fast as roughly 35 miles per hour, and they may live to be as old as 34 years.

4. Diet

As their massive sizes attest to, Brown Bears love to eat, and they can eat just about anything. Despite their ferocious reputations as bloodthirsty killers, the lion’s share of their meals are comprised by plants and fungi, especially berries, grasses, flowers, nuts, and mushrooms. Meanwhile, the meat components of their diets may consist of moose, salmon, caribou, crabs, mussels, deer, insects, larvae, grubs, and more, a testament to their versatility and proficiencies as hunters and fishers.

3. Habitat and Range

Though generally living in Northern climes, these bears show no preference for altitude conditions, and their range covers a larger area of the globe than that of any other bear species. Little known to many, Brown Bears habitats have in times past stretched into Iran, Pakistan, Spain, Italy, Japan, and many other places normally not associated with them. In fact, Brown Bear populations continue to live in many of these areas today, and some reports, though largely unsubstantiated, claim that they live in North Africa, and that remnants remain in Mexico as well. Unfortunately, evidence backing these assertions is next to none. The primary reason for this alienation of a species that once roamed much of the world is habitat loss. For example, the brown bear lost 98% of its undisturbed natural habitat in the 48 states in the contiguous US. Currently, Alaska hosts about 95% of all the brown bears in the United States, translating to about 32,000 bears. Canada hosts about 20,000 bears in British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. The Mexican Grizzly, meanwhile, is extinct. Reports indicate that a hunter shot the last one in 1976. Brown bears rarely attack people unless they feel threatened. In fact, most of the attacks happen in July, August, and September, when warm-weather leads more hikers and hunters to purposely invade their homes or set up camp near their habitats. Though Brown Bears are a protected species in much of the world, poaching and habitat degradation continue to threaten them.

2. Behavior

Brown bears are normally nocturnal, though some walk around in the morning or early evening. They do not hibernate completely like other bears, but they do exhibit very lethargic behaviors during the winter months to conserve energy. They take advantage of summer and autumn to stock up their body fat by eating as much as they can. Sometimes, they can even manage to double their body weight during these two seasons alone. Across the entire genus, Bears’ abilities to gather, hunt, fish, tenderly take care of their young, run on two legs or four, crawl, swim, and climb have left them considered to be sacred creatures within many cultures, and a close mirror of humanness within “the wild”.

1. Reproduction

Male bears (boars) do not offer much help when it comes to raising their offspring. Instead, females (sows) are left to do all of the work. The mothers give birth while they sleep during the winter. When born, the cubs do not have hair or teeth. Additionally, they cannot see. They feed on their mother’s milk through the winter. Some mothers do not make it through winter, and some researchers have recorded cases where females adopt stray cubs.


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