Brown Bear

Brown Bear

name = Brown Bear
fossil range = Late Pleistocene - Recent
status = LR/lc | status_system = IUCN2.3
status_ref = [IUCN2006|assessors=Bear Specialist Group|year=1996|id=41688|title=Ursus arctos|downloaded=12 May 2006 ]

image_width = 300px
image_caption =
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Mammalia
ordo = Carnivora
familia = Ursidae
genus = "Ursus"
species = "U. arctos"
binomial = "Ursus arctos"
binomial_authority = Linnaeus, 1758

range_map_width = 240px
range_map_caption = "Ursus arctos" range map.
The Brown Bear ("Ursus arctos") is an omnivorous mammal of the family Ursidae, distributed across much of northern Eurasia and North America. It weighs between 100–700 kg (220-1,500 pounds) and its larger populations such as the Kodiak bear match the Polar bear as the largest extant land carnivores. While the brown bear's range has shrunk, and it has faced local extinctions, it remains listed as a least concern species with a total population of approximately 200,000. Its principal range countries are Russia, the United States (especially Alaska), Canada, and Finland where it is the national animal.

The species primarily feeds on vegetable matter, including roots and fungi. Fish are a primary source of meat, and it will also kill small mammals on land. Larger mammals, such as deer, are taken only occasionally. Adult brown bears face no serious competition from other predators and can match wolf packs and large felines, often driving them off their kills.

It is sometimes referred to as the "bruin", from Middle English, based on the name of the bear in "History of Reynard the Fox", translated by William Caxton, from Middle Dutch "bruun" or "bruyn".


Brown bears have furry coats in shades of blonde, brown, black, or a combination of those colors. The longer outer guard hairs of the brown bear are often tipped with white or silver, giving a "grizzled" appearance. Their tail is 4-5 inches (10-13 cm) long.cite book | author = Brown, Gary | title = Great Bear Almanac | year = 1996 | pages = pp.340 | id = ISBN 1558214747] Like all bears, brown bears are plantigrades and can stand up on their hind legs for extended periods of time. Brown bears have a large hump of muscle over their shoulders which distinguishes them from other species. [ [ Learn to Identify Black Bears and Grizzly (Brown) Bears ] ] Brown bears are very powerful, and can break the backs and necks of large prey. The forearms end in massive paws with claws up to 15 cm (6 inches) in length which are mainly used for digging. Brown bear claws are not retractable, and have relatively blunt points. Their heads are large and round with a facial profile, a characteristic used to distinguish them from other bears. Males are 38-50% larger than females. The normal range of physical dimensions for a brown bear is a head-and-body length of 1.7 to 2.8 m (5.6 to 9.2 feet) and a shoulder height 90 to 150 cm (35 to 60 inches). The smallest subspecies is the Eurasian Brown Bear with mature females weighing as little as 90 kg (200 lb). [Wood, The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. Sterling Pub Co Inc (1983), ISBN 978-0851122359] Barely larger, Grizzly Bears from the Yukon region (which are a third smaller than most grizzlies) can weigh as little as 100 kg (220 lb) in the spring [ [ The Bear Facts - Types of bears in the Yukon ] ] and the Syrian Brown Bear, with mature females weighing as little as 150 kg (331 lb). The largest subspecies of the brown bear are the Kodiak bear, Siberian Brown Bear, and the bears from coastal Russia and Alaska. It is not unusual for large male Kodiak Bears to stand over 3 m (10 feet) while on their hind legs and to weigh about 680 kg (1,500 lb). The largest wild Kodiak bear on record weighed over 1,100 kilograms (2,500 pounds).. Bears raised in zoos are often heavier than wild bears because of regular feeding and limited movement. In zoos, bears may weigh up to 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds), one example being "Goliath" from New Jersey's Space Farms Zoo and Museum. Size seems related to food availability, with subspecies distinctions being more related to nutrition rather than geographical location. cite book | author = Macdonald, David | title = The Encyclopedia of Mammals: 1| year = 1984 | pages = pp.446 | id = ISBN 0-04-500028-x] In spite of their size, some brown bears have been clocked at speeds in excess of 56 km/h (35 mph).

Distribution and habitat

There are about 200,000 brown bears in the world. The largest populations are in Russia, with 120,000, the United States with 32,500, and Canada with 21,750. 95% of the brown bear population in the United States is in Alaska, though in the West they are repopulating slowly but steadily along the Rockies and plains. Although many hold on to the belief that some brown bears may be present in Mexico and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, both are almost certainly extinct. The last Mexican brown bear was shot in 1960. In Europe, there are 14,000 brown bears in ten separate fragmented populations, from Spain in the west, to Russia in the east, and from Scandinavia in the north to Romania, Bulgaria and Greece (with about 200 animals) in the south. They are extinct in the British Isles, extremely threatened in France and Spain, and in trouble over most of Central Europe. The brown bear is Finland's national animal. The Carpathian brown bear population is the largest in Europe outside Russia, estimated at 4,500 to 5,000 bears.

Brown bears were once native to Asia, the Atlas Mountains in Africa, Europe and North America, [cite web |url= |title= |accessdate= |format= |work= ] but are now extinct in some areas and their populations have greatly decreased in other areas. They prefer semi-open country, usually in mountainous areas.

Brown bears live in Alaska, east through the Yukon and Northwest Territories, south through British Columbia and through the western half of Alberta. Small populations exist in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of northwest Wyoming (with about 600 animals), the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem of northwest Montana (with about 400-500 animals), the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem of northwest Montana and northeast Idaho (with about 30-40 animals), the Selkirk Ecosystem of northeast Washington and northwest Idaho (with about 40-50 animals), and the North Cascades Ecosystem of north-central Washington (with about 5-10 animals). These five ecosystems combine for a total of roughly 1,200 wild grizzlies still persisting in the contiguous United States. Unfortunately, these populations are isolated from each other, inhibiting any genetic flow to occur between ecosystems. This poses one of the greatest threats to the future survival of the grizzly bear in the contiguous United States.

The population of brown bears in the Pyrenees mountain range between France and Spain is so low, estimated at fourteen to eighteen with a shortage of females, that bears, mostly female, from Slovenia were released in the spring of 2006 to alleviate the imbalance and preserve the species' presence in the area, despite protests from French farmers.

In Arctic areas, the potential habitat of the brown bear is increasing. The warming of that region has allowed the species to move farther and farther north into what was once exclusively the domain of the polar bear. In non-Arctic areas, habitat loss is blamed as the leading cause of endangerment, followed by hunting.

North American brown bears seem to prefer open landscapes, whereas in Eurasia they inhabit mostly dense forests. It is thought that the Eurasian bears which colonized America were tundra adapted, something indicated by brown bears in the Chukotka Peninsula on the Asian side of Bering Strait, which are the only Asian brown bears to live year-round in lowland tundra like their American cousins. [ [ Brown Bear Hunting in Russia ] ]

Brown bear in prehistory

North America

The brown bear has existed in North America since at least the most recent ice age, though it is thought that the larger, taller, and stronger giant short-faced bear or bulldog bear was the dominant carnivore at the time. The giant short-faced bear was a tall, thin animal adapted to eating large mammals, whereas the grizzly or brown bear has teeth appropriate for its omnivorous diet. The brown bear also shared North America with the American lion and Smilodon, carnivorous competitors. The modern grizzly can eat plants, insects, carrion, and small and large animals. The American lion, Smilodon, and giant short-faced bear had a more limited range of food, making them vulnerable to starvation as the supply of available large mammals decreased, possibly due to hunting by humans.

The time of the "Arctodus" extinction is about the same as that of the long-horned Bison and other megafauna. Both of these animals were replaced by Eurasian immigrants, specifically the Brown Bear and American Bison. Since this was also about the same time as the Clovis tool kit hunting culture appeared in North America, with culturally advanced humans entering the Americas from Asia, the implication is that the brown bear was better adapted to human competition than the megafauna, presumably due to a long term coexistence in the Old World with people.

The extinction of ice-age herbivorous megafauna resulted in the extinction of the sabertooth, American lion, and giant short-faced bear, leaving the brown bear as the major large predator in North America, with the gray wolf, the jaguar in the south, the American black bear, and cougar also competing for large prey. The origin of human presence in America is widely accepted to have occurred across the Bering Land Bridge with the largest known immigration being that of the Paleo Indians at about the last ice age, bringing with them the Clovis point and advanced hunting techniques (see: Migration to the New World). When the last ice age ended about 10,000 years ago, brown bears from farther south in North America slowly expanded their range northward and back up into Alaska. Today there are three genetically distinct grizzly bear clades in North America: the Alaskan-Yukon Grizzly, the Alberta-Saskatchewan lineage, and those found in the Colorado-Washington-Idaho-Montana-Wyoming area.


In Europe, the brown bear shared its habitat with other predators such as the Cave lion, Cave hyena and the larger, closely related Cave bear, which the brown bear ultimately outlasted. The cave bear was hunted by Neanderthals who may have had a religion relating to this bear, the Cave Bear Cult, but the Neanderthal population was too small for their consumption of cave bear to result in the species' extinction, and the cave bear outlasted the Neanderthals by 18,000 years, becoming extinct about 10,000 years ago. The cave bear and brown bear diets were similar, and the two species probably lived in the same area at the same time. Why the cave bear died out is not known.The Caledonian bear was said to be so fierce that it was favoured by the Romans who used them in their amphitheatres.


The brown bear is primarily nocturnal and, in the summer, puts on up to 180 kg (400 pounds) of fat, on which it relies to make it through winter, when it becomes very lethargic. Although they are not full hibernators, and can be woken easily, both sexes like to den in a protected spot such as a cave, crevice, or hollow log during the winter months. Brown bear are mostly solitary, although they may gather in large numbers at major food sources and form social hierarchies based on age and size. [ [ Animal Diversity Web - "Ursus arctos"] ]

Dietary habits

They are omnivores and feed on a variety of plant products, including berries, roots, and sprouts, fungi as well as meat products such as fish, insects, and small mammals. Despite their reputation, most brown bears are not particularly carnivorous as they derive up to 90% of their dietary food energy from vegetable matter. [ [ Alaska Office of Economic Development ] ] Their jaw structure has evolved to fit their dietary habits. Their diet varies enormously throughout their differing ranges. For example, bears in Yellowstone eat an enormous number of moths during the summer, sometimes as many as 40,000 in a day, and may derive up to half of their annual food energy from these insects. [ [ Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Eat 40,000 Moths a Day In August ] ] Locally, in areas of Russia and Alaska, brown bears feed mostly on spawning salmon, and the nutrition and abundance of this food accounts for the enormous size of the bears from these areas. Brown bears also occasionally prey on deer, elk, moose, caribou, and bison. When brown bears attack these animals, they tend to choose the young ones since they are much easier to catch. When hunting, the brown bear uses its sharp canine teeth for neck-biting its prey. On rare occasions, bears kill by hitting their prey with their powerful forearms which can break the necks and backs of large prey. They also feed on carrion and will use their size to intimidate other predators such as wolves, cougars, black bears and tigers from their kills.

Interspecific predatory relationships

Brown bears will often use their large size to intimidate wolves from their kills. In Yellowstone National Park, brown bears pirate wolf kills so often that Yellowstone’s Wolf Project Director Doug Smith once wrote: "It’s not a matter of if the bears will come calling after a kill, but when." Though conflict over carcasses is common, the two predators will on some rare occasions tolerate each other on the same kill. Both species will prey on each others cubs, given the opportunity. [] Adults bears are generally immune from predatory attacks from anything other than another bear. Some bears emerging from hibernation will seek out tigers in order to steal their kills. cite book | last = Matthiessen | first = Peter | coauthors = Hornocker, Maurice | date= 2001 | title = Tigers In The Snow | publisher = North Point Press | id = ISBN 0865475962 ] However, in the Russian Far East brown bears, along with smaller Asiatic black bears constitute 5-8% of the diet of Siberian tigers.Vratislav Mazak: "Der Tiger". Nachdruck der 3. Auflage von 1983. Westarp Wissenschaften Hohenwarsleben, 2004 ISBN 3 894327596http] In particular, the brown bear's input is estimated as 1-1,5%.cite web |url= |title= The ecology, behavior, management and conservation status of brown bears in Sikhote-Alin (in Russian) |author= Seryodkin, Ivan |date=2006 |publisher= Far Eastern National University, Vladivostok, Russia|pages=pp.1-252] However, for the tiger, even bears of the same size are a force to be reckoned with when confronted head on. Adult Brown Bears are known for killing and driving off Adult Male Tigers. cite web |url= |title= The ecology, behavior, management and conservation status of brown bears in Sikhote-Alin (in Russian) |author= Seryodkin, Ivan |date=2006 |publisher= Far Eastern National University, Vladivostok, Russia|pages=pp.1-252] There is an opinion that the brown bear/tiger conflict can eliminate the weakest animals from both populations.

Brown bears usually dominate other bear species in areas where they coexist. Due to their smaller size, American black bears are at a competitive disadvantage over brown bears in open, non-forested areas. Although displacement of black bears by brown bears has been documented, actual interspecific killing of black bears by brown bears has only occasionally been reported. The diurnal black bear's habit of living in heavily forested areas as opposed to the largely nocturnal brown bear's preference for open spaces usually ensures that the two species avoid confrontations in areas where they are sympatric. [ [ Notes ] ] There has been a recent increase in interactions between brown bears and polar bears, theorized to be caused by global warming. Brown bears have been seen moving increasingly northward into territories formerly claimed by polar bears. Brown bears tend to dominate polar bears in disputes over carcasses [ [ | front : Polar bears, grizzlies increasingly gather on North Slope ] ] , and dead polar bear cubs have been found in brown bear dens. [ [ ABC News: Grizzlies Encroaching on Polar Bear Country ] ] Giant Panda cubs have also been reportedly eaten by brown bears.cite book | author = Brown, Gary | title = Great Bear Almanac | year = 1996 | pages = pp.340 | id = ISBN 1558214747]

Habituation to human areas

Bears become attracted to human created food sources such as garbage dumps, litter bins, and dumpsters; and venture into human dwellings or barns in search of food as humans encroach into bear habitat. In the U.S., bears sometimes kill and eat farm animals. When bears come to associate human activity with a "food reward", a bear is likely to continue to become emboldened and the likeliness of human-bear encounters increases, as they may return to the same location despite relocation. The saying, "a fed bear is a dead bear," has come into use to popularize the idea that allowing bears to scavenge human garbage, such as trash cans and campers' backpacks, pet food, or other food sources that draw the bear into contact with humans can result in a bear's death.

Relocation has been used to separate the bear from the human environment, but it does not address the problem bear's newly learned humans-as-food-source behavior. Nor does it address the environmental situations which created the human habituated bear. "Placing a bear in habitat used by other bears may lead to competition and social conflict, and result in the injury or death of the less dominant bear." [cite web |url= |title= |accessdate= |format= |work= ]

Yellowstone National Park, an enormous reserve located in the Western United States, contains prime habitat for the Grizzly Bear ("Ursus arctos horribilis"), but due to the enormous number of visitors, human-bear encounters are common. The scenic beauty of the area has led to an influx of people moving into the area. In addition, because there are so many bear relocations to the same remote areas of Yellowstone, and because male bears tend to dominate the center of the relocation zone, female bears tend to be pushed to the boundaries of the region and beyond. The result is that a large proportion of repeat offenders, bears that are killed for public safety, are females. This creates a further depressive effect on an already endangered species. The grizzly bear is officially described as "threatened" in the U.S. Though the problem is most significant with regard to grizzlies, these issues affect the other types of brown bear as well.

In Europe, part of the problem lies with shepherds; over the past two centuries, many sheep and goat herders have gradually abandoned the more traditional practice of using dogs to guard flocks, which have concurrently grown larger. Typically they allow the herds to graze freely over sizeable tracts of land. As bears reclaim parts of their range, they may eat livestock. In some cases, the shepherd will shoot the bear thinking that his livelihood is under threat. Many are now better informed about the ample compensation available and will make a claim when a loss to his livestock due to a bear takes place.

There is little agreement on classification of brown bears. Some systems have proposed as many as 90 sub-species while recent DNA analysis has identified as few as five clades. [cite web |url= |title= Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designating the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Population of Grizzly Bears as a Distinct Population Segment; Removing the Yellowstone Distinct Population Segment of Grizzly Bears From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife |accessmonthday= August 1 |accessyear= 2006 |author= U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service |date= 2006-11-17 |publisher= Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 221 |pages=69854-69884] DNA analysis has recently revealed that the identified subspecies of brown bears, both Eurasian and North American, are genetically quite homogeneous, and that their genetic phylogeography does not correspond to their traditional taxonomy.cite web |url=|title= Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeography of the North American Brown Bear and Implications for Conservation |accessmonthday= August 1 |accessyear= 2006 |author= Lisette P. Waits, Sandra L. Talbot, R.H. Ward and G. F. Shields |year= 1998 |month= April |publisher= Conservation Biology|pages= 408-417] The subspecies of brown bears have been listed as follows: one of which (called clade I by Waits, et al., part of the subspecies identified as "U. a. sitkensis", by Hall and "U. a. dalli" by Kurtén) appears to be more closely related to the polar bear than to other brown bears.
* "Ursus arctos arctos" – Eurasian Brown Bear
* "Ursus arctos ognevi" – East from Kolyma River
* "Ursus arctos beringianus" – Kamchatka Brown Bear; Kamchatka Peninsula and Paramushir Island
* "Ursus arctos californicus – California golden bear (extinct)
* "Ursus arctos crowtheri" – Atlas Bear (extinct)
* "Ursus arctos gobiensis" – Gobi bear; Mongolia
* "Ursus arctos horribilis" – Grizzly Bear; Canada and United States
* "Ursus arctos isabellinus" – Himalayan Brown Bear; Nepal, Pakistan and Northern India
* "Ursus arctos formicarius" – Carpathian Bear;
* "Ursus arctos lasiotus" – Amur brown bear ( or "Ussuri brown bear", "black grizzly" or "horse bear"), Russia: Southern Kuril Islands, Sakhalin, Maritime Territory, and the Ussuri/Amur river region south of the Stanovoy Range. China: Northeastern Heilongjiang. Japan: Hokkaidō
* "Ursus arctos marsicanus" – Marsican Brown Bear; Central Italy (critically endangered)
* "Ursus arctos meridionalis" – Northern Caucasus
* "Ursus arctos middendorffi" – Kodiak Bear; Kodiak, Afognak, Shuyak Islands (Alaska)
* "Ursus arctos nelsoni" – Mexican Grizzly Bear; (extinct?)
* "Ursus arctos collaris" – Siberian Brown Bear; Siberia (except for the habitat of the Kamchatka and Amur brown bears.) Also in northern Mongolia, far northern Xinjiang, and extreme eastern Kazakhstan.
* "Ursus arctos pruinosus" – Tibetan Blue Bear; Western China
* "Ursus arctos syriacus" – Syrian Brown Bear; Middle East
* "Ursus arctos yesoensis" – Hokkaido Brown Bear; Japan
* "Ursus arctos piscator" – Bergman's Bear (extinct?)


A grizzly–polar bear hybrid is a rare ursid hybrid resulting from a union of a brown bear and a polar bear. It has occurred both in captivity and in the wild. In 2006, the occurrence of this hybrid in nature was confirmed by testing the DNA of a strange-looking bear that had been shot in the Canadian arctic.cite news |url = |title = Wild find: Half grizzly, half polar bear: Hunter bags what expert 'never thought would happen' in wild |publisher = |date = May 11, 2006 |accessdate = 2006-05-14] Previously, the hybrid had been produced in zoos and was considered a "cryptid" (a hypothesized animal for which there is no scientific proof of existence in the wild).

Legal status

*The grizzly bear, sometimes called the "silvertip bear", is listed as threatened in the Continental United States. It is currently slowly repopulating in areas where it was previously extirpated, though it is still vulnerable.
*The California golden bear ("Ursus arctos californicus" [cite web |url= |title= Ursus arctos californicus|accessmonthday= April 1 |accessyear= 2008 |author= Wilson, Don E., and DeeAnn M. Reeder, eds. |publisher= Johns Hopkins University Press] ) disappeared from the state of California in 1922 when the last one was shot in Tulare County, but it is still on the state flag of California. The bear is alluded to in the names of the sports teams of the University of California, Berkeley (the California Golden Bears), and of the University of California, Los Angeles (the UCLA Bruins) and in the mascot of University of California, Riverside (Scottie the Bear, dressed in a Highland kilt).
*The Mexican grizzly bear is listed as an endangered species, but it may be extinct.
*In Canada, it is listed as vulnerable in Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, and Yukon Territory. Prairie populations of grizzly bear are listed as extirpated in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.
*The brown bear is a European Protected Species, given protection throughout the European Union.
*The brown bear is also the national animal of Finland and Slovenia.

Bear encounters

There are an average of two fatal attacks a year in North America. ["Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance", Stephen Herrero, revised edition, 2002.] In Scandinavia, there are only four known cases since 1902 of bear encounters which have resulted in death. The two most common causes for bear attack are surprise and curiosity.cite web |url=|title= Ursus arctos californicus|accessmonthday= April 12 |accessyear= 2008 |author= WTom S. Smith, Ph.D. and Steven Herrero, Ph.D. |publisher= Alaska Science Center - Biological Science Office] Some types of bears, such as polar bears, are more likely to attack humans when searching for food, while American black bears are much less likely to attack.

The Alaska Science Center ranks the following as the most likely reasons for bear attacks:cite web |url=|title= Ursus arctos californicus|accessmonthday= April 12 |accessyear= 2008 |author= WTom S. Smith, Ph.D. and Steven Herrero, Ph.D. |publisher= Alaska Science Center - Biological Science Office]

* 1) Surprise
* 2) Curiosity
* 3) Invaded personal space (this includes a mother bear protecting her young)
* 4) Predatory
* 5) Hunting wounded
* 6) Carcass defense
* 7) Provoked charge

History of bear defense

Because of the unreliability of pepper spray, guns have been the preferred method of defense from bears.cite web
title=Brown Bear Projects at the Alaska Science Center
publisher=Alaska Science Center - Biological Science Office
first=Tom S.
] Too often people do not carry a proper caliber weapon to neutralize the bear. According to the Alaska Science Center, a 12 gauge shotgun with slugs has been the most effective weapon. There have been fewer injuries as a result of only carrying lethal loads in the shotgun, as opposed to deterrent rounds. State of Alaska Defense of Life or Property (DLP) laws require you to report the kill to authorities, and salvage the hide, skull and claws.cite web
title=Alaska State Troopers Press Release of Monday, November 19, 2007
publisher=Alaska Department of Public Safety
format=Case Number: 07-96958

If a bear is killed near camp the bear’s carcass must be adequately disposed of, including entrails and blood if possible. Failure to move the carcass has often resulted in it attracting other bears and further exacerbating a bad situation.

ee also

*Cantabrian brown bear
*Environmental Centre ARCTUROS
*List of fatal bear attacks in North America by decade
*Sankebetsu brown bear incident

External links

* [ Brown Bear profile] from National Geographic
* [ Brown Bear images] from British Columbia, Alaska and Yellowstone.
* [ The Bears Project] information, reports and images of European brown bears
* [ Brown Bear facts and photography] at free online encyclopedia
* [ IFAW] Rebuilding the European Brown Bear Population
* [ Bear Hunting Altered Genetics More Than Ice Age Isolation]
* [ Ancient Fossil Offers New Clues To Brown Bears Past]


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