Did you know that the grizzly bear is scientifically called the North American brown bear? Can you recognize a grizzly? Do you know where to find them? Whether your a bear savvy or not, it might be the time for some grizzly bear facts.
Let’s start with the meaning of the name “grizzly”. The term seemed to have been coined by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who described these bears as “grisley” and by this name they may have meant “grisly” = fear-inspiring or “grizzled” = with grey and golden tips of hair. Given that these bears are for many people fear-inspiring, it is tempting to believe that they meant “grisly”, but, of course, you never know.
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 the black bears. There are also other features that help differentiate a grizzly from other types of bears but let’s not overload the memory and 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 the readers might be surprised to know that grizzly bears come in somewhat different shapes (or in other words, multiple morphological forms). For this reason, some recognize several subspecies, including the mainland grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis; do you call a bear horribilis, seriously?), 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 tends to weight around 1.1 pounds (50 grams). Some may believe grizzlies are the cutest when they are born and may wish to see the birth of a species of grizzly bears that would remain at a small size and be playful. When they grow, grizzly bears have an average length of 6.50 feet (198 cm). The adult weight rages significantly, with an average around 600 pounds (272 kg) for males and 350 pounds (159 kg) for females.
Do you think you know how a grizzly spends most of the days? Maybe you do. As some might suspect, they hibernate 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 the hibernation period of females tends to end later; males “wake up” in March while females tend to wait until April or May. It is worth mentioning 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.
So where can you find them? If you live in North America, 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. In the recent past, humans were, unfortunately, less friendly 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.
Do grizzly bears eat humans? Well, that would be highly unusual. Grizzlies commonly eat salmon and other fishes but sometimes also young deer, marmots, elk, moose, volents, and rodents, among others. They even eat bees, ants, and other insects. Of course, bears are omnivores and also eat knotgrasses, blueberries, blackberries, salmon berries, 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.
Are grizzly bears really that aggressive?
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.
Are grizzly bears protected? Today there are efforts to protect them, but for many places it is too late, as they have already disappeared (e.g., California). The grizzly bear is regarded as a threatened species in the contiguous United States and as 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.
Where should you see them? 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 relevant experience. Traveling in groups of six or more is believed to reduce the chance of bear attacks (but you still have to keep a proper distance). Alaska is arguably one of the best places to see grizzly bears, as there are plenty of them and they are located in places that are fairly attractive.
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.
There are many things that can be discussed about grizzly bears, the same being true about other species. In the future, I am planning to talk more about the history of human-grizzly bear interactions and how this history has impacted the ecosystem. As you might already know, the decline of the grizzly bear has also affected other elements of the ecosystem in many parts of North America.
For now, I would like to know… did you knew everything I said before reading this? What other things do you believe it would have been interesting to mention? What else would you like to know about the grizzly bears? Have you encounter them? If yes, we want details! Let’s hear it all.