Did you know that the grizzly bear is scientifically called the North American brown bear? Do you know the weight and height of an average grizzly bear? Have you wondered where the name “grizzly” comes from? If you like random animal facts, it might be the time to learn some interesting things about grizzly bears.
A Bit of Etymology
Let’s start with the meaning of the name “grizzly”. The term seems to have been coined by the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who described these bears as “grisley” when they may have meant “grisly” (meaning fear-inspiring) or “grizzled” (meaning with grey and golden tips of hair).
Grizzly Bears Don’t All Look the Same
Do you really want to see a grizzly bear? Those of you who are excited about the idea of seeing a grizzly (and please don’t get significantly close to one) may wonder how to identify one. Besides looking like a bear and generally having brown fur with some blond and/or white on the black or flank, grizzly bears have a hump on their shoulders, something which helps curious humans to distinguish them from black bears. There are also other features that help differentiate a grizzly from other types of bears but let’s keep it to fundamentals – if it has a hump it should be a grizzly and not a black bear.
Do they all look the same? Some of you might be surprised to know that grizzly bears come in somewhat different shapes (or in other words, multiple morphological forms). For this reason, one can recognize several subspecies, including the mainland grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis ( Who calls a bear horribilis?!)), peninsular grizzly (Ursus arctos gyas), Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorfii), and the two extinct subspecies, Mexican grizzly bear (Ursus arctos nelsonit) and California grizzly (Ursus arctos nelsoni). According to modern genetics, the grizzly bear is a subspecies of the brown bear (Ursus arctos).
When a baby grizzly is born, it usually weighs around 1.1 lbs (50 grams). It is tempting to hope for the emergence of a subspecies that doesn’t grow a lot and could live with humans. At present time, all grizzly bears do grow a lot, reaching an average length of 6.50 ft (198 cm). The adult weight rages significantly, with the average being around 600 lbs (272 kg) for males and 350 lbs (159 kg) for females.
Here’s a Reality-Shacking Fact: Grizzly Bears May Not Hibernate at All!
As you might have heard, bears engage in something that at least resembles hibernation quite a lot, sometimes for as much as 7 months each year. As you also might know, hibernation occurs during the coldest months of the year. What might be less known is that for females the hibernation period tends to end later. Males “wake up” in March while females tend to wait until April or May.
I assume it is also not common knowledge that not everyone agrees that grizzly bears hibernate, as their body temperature and ability to move during hibernation do not correspond with the definition of hibernation – this is referred to as a state or torpor. You might be even more surprised to know that grizzly bears give a lot of autonomy to their youth right from the start as they actually give birth during torpor!
No, in Most Circumstances, a Grizzly Bear Will Not Want to Eat You
In case you wonder, grizzly bears do not usually eat humans and attacks will typically be motivated by them feeling threatened. Grizzlies commonly eat salmon and other fishes but sometimes also young deer, marmots, elk, moose, and rodents, among others. They even eat bees, ants, and other insects. Of course, bears are omnivores and also eat knotgrasses, blueberries, blackberries, salmonberries, soapberries, cranberries, and other plants. The diet of grizzlies will vary according to the ecosystem in which they live. For instance, some may be surprised to know that some grizzly bears actually prey bison in the Yellowstone National Park.
Grizzlies are indeed considered to be more aggressive compared to black bears, with mother grizzlies being the most aggressive and responsible for as much as 70% of humans killed by grizzlies. However, it is worth noticing that as a rule, grizzly bears avoid humans and do not usually seek to hunt them but rather attack due to what they perceive to be the need to defend themselves.
Grizzly Bears Are Protected but Also Endangered
Today there are efforts to protect them, but for many places, it is too late, as they have already disappeared. In the recent past, humans were, unfortunately, even less sophisticated in their interaction with the environment, and there was little effort to protect the grizzlies. As a result, even if California has a grizzly bear in its flag, the last one was killed in August 1922.
The grizzly bear is regarded as a threatened species in the contiguous United States and as an endangered one in some parts of Canada. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attempts to restore grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak (Montana and Idaho), Yellowstone (Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming), Northern Continental Divide (Montana), North Cascades (Washington), Selkirk (Washington and Idaho), and Selway-Bitterroot (Montana and Idaho). Grizzlies are also protected in American and Canadian national parks.
The establishment of parks and protected areas is one of the most important strategies to avoid the decline of the grizzly bear population in other areas. Protected areas can include places where public access is limited and hunting is limited. However, increasing public awareness about grizzlies and planning human development (e.g., roads) with consideration of its impact on the ecosystem can also play a role in protecting these bears and other endangered species.
Finding a Grizzly Bear
You may find grizzly bears in some parts of the northwestern U.S., Alaska, and many places in Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, northern Manitoba, Nunavut, and the Yukon. It is estimated that around 55,000 grizzlies exist in North America and the large majority of them are located in Alaska.
Once again, it is important to remember that grizzly bears can be quite dangerous, and engaging in bear-watching must always be done with plenty of caution and not without the assistance of those who have the relevant experience. Traveling in groups of six or more is believed to reduce the chance of bear attacks but you still keep a proper distance).
If these bear facts have motivated you to find a grizzly bear, then make sure you find a guided tour that can help you do so. Don’t search for a grizzly bear by yourself or with just any group – go for licensed guided tours and both you and any bear you might encounter should be fine.
Alaska is arguably one of the best places to see these bears because it has a large grizzly population. Places in Alaska where people often go to spot grizzly bears include Katmai National Park and Preserve, The McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and Admiralty Island, among others. Of course, grizzly bears can also be spotted in many national parks located in the Rockies, including Banff and Yellowstone; however, spotting them in these places is more of a challenge. Happy search.