The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) is the most well-known subspecies of brown bear.
- 1 Appearance
- 2 Range and population
- 3 Biology
- 4 Diet
Most adult female grizzlies weigh 130–180 kg (290–400 lb), while adult males weigh on average 180–360 kg (400–790 lb). Average total length in this subspecies is 198 cm (6.50 ft), with an average shoulder height of 102 cm (3.35 ft) and hindfoot length of 28 cm (11 in). Newborn bears may weigh less than 500 grams (1.1 lb). In the Yukon River area, mature female grizzlies can weigh as little as 100 kg (220 lb). For a female, these average weights would be 136 kg (300 lb) inland and 227 kg (500 lb) coastal, respectively. One study found that the average weight for an inland male grizzly was around 272 kilograms (600 pounds), and the average weight for a coastal male was around 408 kg (899 lb).
Although variable in color from blond to nearly black, grizzly bear fur is typically brown with darker legs and commonly white or blond tipped fur on the flank and back.
- A pronounced muscular hump appears on adult grizzlies' shoulders; black bears do not have this hump.
- Aside from the distinguishing hump a grizzly bear can be identified by a "dished in" profile of their face with short, rounded ears, whereas a black bear has a straight face profile and longer ears.
- A grizzly bear can also be identified by its rump, which is lower than its shoulders; a black bear's rump is higher than its shoulders.
- A grizzly bear's front claws measure about 2–4 inches in length; a black bear's claws measure about 1–2 inches in length.
Range and population
Grizzly bears are found in Asia, Europe, and North America, giving them the widest range of any bear species. They also previously inhabited North Africa. In North America, grizzly bears previously ranged from Alaska down to Mexico and as far east as the western shores of Hudson Bay; the species is now found in Alaska, south through much of western Canada, and into portions of the northwestern United States (including Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming), extending as far south as Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. In Canada, there are approximately 25,000 grizzly bears occupying British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the northern part of Manitoba.
An article published in 1954 suggested they may be present in the tundra areas of the Ungava Peninsula and the northern tip of Labrador-Quebec. In British Columbia, grizzly bears inhabit approximately 90% of their original territory. There were approximately 25,000 grizzly bears in British Columbia when the European settlers arrived. However, population size has since significantly decreased due to hunting and habitat loss. In 2008, it was estimated there were 16,014 grizzly bears. A revised Grizzly bear count in 2012 for British Columbia was 15,075. Population estimates for British Columbia are based on hair-snagging, DNA-based inventories, mark-and-recapture, and a refined multiple regression model. In 2003, researchers from the University of Alberta spotted a grizzly on Melville Island in the high Arctic, which is the most northerly sighting ever documented.
The Alaskan population of 30,000 individuals is the highest population of any province / state in North America. Populations in Alaska are densest along the coast, where food supplies such as salmon are more abundant. The Admiralty Island National Monument protects the densest population: 1,600 bears on a 1,600 square-mile island.
There are about 55,000 wild grizzly bears located throughout North America, 30,000 of which are found in Alaska. Only around 1,500 grizzlies remain in the lower 48 United States. Of these, around 1,000 are found in the Northern Continental Divide in northwestern Montana. About 600 more live in Wyoming, in the Yellowstone-Teton area. There are an estimated 70–100 grizzly bears living in northern and eastern Idaho. Its original range included much of the Great Plains and the southwestern states, but it has been extirpated in most of those areas. Combining Canada and the United States, grizzly bears inhabit approximately half the area of their historical range.
Although the once-abundant California grizzly bear appears prominently on the state flag of California and was the symbol of the Bear Flag Republic before California's admission to the Union in 1850, the subspecies or population is currently extinct. The last known grizzlies in California were killed in the Sierra foothills east of Fresno in the early 1920s.
The killing of the last grizzly bear in Arizona in 1936 at Escudilla Mountain is included in Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac.
In September 2007, a hunter produced evidence of one bear in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness ecosystem, by killing a male grizzly bear there. In the North Cascades ecosystem of northern Washington, grizzly bear populations are estimated to be fewer than 20 bears. One sighting of a grizzly bear in 2010 has been recorded. There has been no confirmed sighting of a grizzly in Colorado since 1979.
Other provinces and the United States may use a combination of methods for population estimates. Therefore, it is difficult to say precisely what methods were used to produce total population estimates for Canada and North America, as they were likely developed from a variety of studies. The grizzly bear currently has legal protection in Mexico, European countries, some areas of Canada, and in all of the United States. However, it is expected that repopulating its former range will be a slow process, due to various reasons, including the bear's slow reproductive habits and the effects of reintroducing such a large animal to areas prized for agriculture and livestock. Competition with other predators and predation on cubs are other possible limiting factors for grizzly bear recovery, though grizzly bears also benefit from scavenged carcasses from predators as an easy food source when other food sources decline.
Grizzly bears hibernate for 5 to 7 months each year (except where the climate is warm, as the California grizzly did not hibernate). During this time, female grizzly bears give birth to their offspring, who then consume milk from their mother and gain strength for the remainder of the hibernation period. To prepare for hibernation, grizzlies must prepare a den, and consume an immense amount of food as they do not eat during hibernation. Grizzly bears do not defecate or urinate throughout the entire hibernation period. The male grizzly bear's hibernation ends in early to mid-March, while females emerge in April or early May.
In preparation for winter, bears can gain approximately 180 kg (400 lb), during a period of hyperphagia, before going into hibernation. The bear often waits for a substantial snowstorm before it enters its den: such behavior lessens the chances predators will find the den. The dens are typically at elevations above 1,800 m (5,900 ft) on north-facing slopes. There is some debate amongst professionals as to whether grizzly bears technically hibernate: much of this debate revolves around body temperature and the ability of the bears to move around during hibernation on occasion. Grizzly bears can "partially" recycle their body wastes during this period. Although inland or Rocky Mountain grizzlies spend nearly half of their life in dens, coastal grizzlies with better access to food sources spend less time in dens. In some areas where food is very plentiful year round, grizzly bears skip hibernation altogether.
Except for females with cubs, grizzlies are normally solitary, active animals, but in coastal areas, grizzlies gather around streams, lakes, rivers, and ponds during the salmon spawn. Females (sows) produce one to four young (usually two) that are small and weigh only about 450 grams (1 lb) at birth. A sow is protective of her offspring and will attack if she thinks she or her cubs are threatened.
Grizzly bears have one of the lowest reproductive rates of all terrestrial mammals in North America. This is due to numerous ecological factors. Grizzly bears do not reach sexual maturity until they are at least five years old. Once mated with a male in the summer, the female delays embryo implantation until hibernation, during which miscarriage can occur if the female does not receive the proper nutrients and caloric intake. On average, females produce two cubs in a litter and the mother cares for the cubs for up to two years, during which the mother will not mate.
Once the young leave or are killed, females may not produce another litter for three or more years, depending on environmental conditions. Male grizzly bears have large territories, up to 4,000 km2 (1,500 sq mi), making finding a female scent difficult in such low population densities. Population fragmentation of grizzlies may destabilize the population from inbreeding depression. The gestation period for grizzly bears is approximately 180–250 days.
Litter size varies between one and four cubs, typically comprising twins or triplets. Cubs are always born in the mother's winter den while she is in hibernation. Female grizzlies are fiercely protective of their cubs, being able to fend off predators including larger male bears. Cubs feed entirely on their mother's milk until summer comes, after which they still drink milk but begin to eat solid foods. Cubs gain weight rapidly during their time with the mother—their weight will have increased from 4.5 to 45 kg (10 to 99 lb) in the two years spent with the mother. Mothers may see their cubs in later years but both avoid each other.
The average lifespan for a male is estimated at 22 years, with that of a female being slightly longer at 26. Females live longer than males due to their less dangerous life; they do not engage in seasonal breeding fights as males do. The oldest known wild inland grizzly was about 34 years old in Alaska; the oldest known coastal bear was 39, but most grizzlies die in their first year of life. Captive grizzlies have lived as long as 44 years.
They have a tendency to chase fleeing animals, and although it has been said anecdotally that grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) can run at 56 km/h, the maximum speed reliably recorded at Yellowstone is 48 km/h (30 mph). In addition, they can climb trees.
Although grizzlies are of the order Carnivora and have the digestive system of carnivores, they are normally omnivores: their diets consist of both plants and animals. They have been known to prey on large mammals, when available, such as moose, elk, caribou, white-tailed deer, mule deer, bighorn sheep, bison, and even black bears, though they are more likely to take calves and injured individuals rather than healthy adults. Grizzly bears feed on fish such as salmon, trout, and bass, and those with access to a more protein-enriched diet in coastal areas potentially grow larger than inland individuals. Grizzly bears also readily scavenge food or carrion left behind by other animals. Grizzly bears will also eat birds and their eggs, and gather in large numbers at fishing sites to feed on spawning salmon. They frequently prey on baby deer left in the grass, and occasionally they raid the nests of raptors such as bald eagles.
Coastal Canadian and Alaskan grizzlies are larger than those that reside in the Rocky Mountains. This is due, in part, to the richness of their diets. In Yellowstone National Park in the United States, the grizzly bear's diet consists mostly of whitebark pine nuts, tubers, grasses, various rodents, army cutworm moths, and scavenged carcasses. None of these, however, match the fat content of the salmon available in Alaska and British Columbia. With the high fat content of salmon, it is not uncommon to encounter grizzlies in Alaska weighing 540 kg (1,200 lb). Grizzlies in Alaska supplement their diet of salmon and clams with sedge grass and berries. In areas where salmon are forced to leap waterfalls, grizzlies gather at the base of the falls to feed on and catch the fish. Salmon are at a disadvantage when they leap waterfalls because they cluster together at their bases and are therefore easier targets for the grizzlies. Grizzly bears are well-documented catching leaping salmon in their mouths at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. They are also very experienced in chasing the fish around and pinning them with their claws. At such sites such as Brooks Falls and McNeil Falls in Alaska, big male grizzlies fight regularly for the best fishing spots. Grizzly bears along the coast also forage for razor clams, and frequently dig into the sand to seek them. During the spring and fall, directly before and after the salmon runs, berries and grass make up the mainstay of the diets of coastal grizzlies.
Inland grizzlies may eat fish too, most notably in Yellowstone grizzlies eating Yellowstone cutthroat trout. The relationship with cutthroat trout and grizzlies is unique because it is the only example where Rocky Mountain grizzlies feed on spawning salmonid fish. However, grizzly bears themselves and invasive lake trout threaten the survival of the trout population and there is a slight chance that the trout will be eliminated.
Meat, as already described, is an important part of a grizzly's diet. Grizzly bears occasionally prey on small mammals, such as marmots, ground squirrels, lemmings, and voles. The most famous example of such predation is in Denali National Park and Preserve, where grizzlies chase, pounce on, and dig up Arctic ground squirrels to eat. In some areas, grizzly bears prey on hoary marmots, overturning rocks to reach them, and in some cases preying on them when they are in hibernation. Larger prey includes bison and moose, which are sometimes taken by bears in Yellowstone National Park. Because bison and moose are dangerous prey, grizzlies usually use cover to stalk them and/or pick off weak individuals or calves. Grizzlies in Alaska also regularly prey on moose calves, which in Denali National Park may be their main source of meat. In fact, grizzly bears are such important predators of moose and elk calves in Alaska and Yellowstone that they may kill as many as 51 percent of elk or moose calves born that year. Grizzly bears have also been blamed in the decline of elk in Yellowstone National Park when the actual predators were thought to be gray wolves. In northern Alaska, grizzlies are a significant predator of caribou, mostly taking sick or old individuals or calves. Several studies show that grizzly bears may follow the caribou herds year-round in order to maintain their food supply. In northern Alaska, grizzly bears often encounter muskox. Despite the fact that muskox do not usually occur in grizzly habitat and that they are bigger and more powerful than caribou, predation on muskox by grizzlies has been recorded.
Grizzlies along the Alaskan coast also scavenge on dead or washed up whales. Usually such incidents involve only one or two grizzlies at a carcass, but up to ten large males have been seen at a time eating a dead humpback whale. Dead seals and sea lions are also consumed.
Although the diets of grizzly bears vary extensively based on seasonal and regional changes, plants make up a large portion of them, with some estimates as high as 80–90%. Various berries constitute an important food source when they are available. These can include blueberries, blackberries (Rubus fruticosus), salmon berries (Rubus spectabilis), cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccos), buffalo berries (Shepherdia argentea), soapberries (Shepherdia canadensis), and huckleberries (Vaccinium parvifolium), depending on the environment. Insects such as ladybugs, ants, and bees are eaten if they are available in large quantities. In Yellowstone National Park, grizzly bears may obtain half of their yearly caloric needs by feeding on miller moths that congregate on mountain slopes. When food is abundant, grizzly bears will feed in groups. For example, many grizzly bears will visit meadows right after an avalanche or glacier slide. This is due to an influx of legumes, such as Hedysarum, which the grizzlies consume in massive amounts. When food sources become scarcer, however, they separate once again.
The relationship between grizzly bears and other predators is mostly one-sided; grizzly bears will approach feeding predators to steal their kill. In general, the other species will leave the carcasses for the bear to avoid competition or predation. Any parts of the carcass left uneaten are scavenged by smaller animals.
Grizzlies and wolves
With the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone, many visitors have witnessed a once common struggle between a keystone species, the grizzly bear, and its historic rival, the gray wolf. The interactions of grizzly bears with the wolves of Yellowstone have been under considerable study. Typically, the conflict will be in the defence of young or over a carcass, which is commonly an elk killed by wolves.
The grizzly bear uses its keen sense of smell to locate the kill. As the wolves and grizzly compete for the kill, one wolf may try to distract the bear while the others feed. The bear then may retaliate by chasing the wolves. If the wolves become aggressive with the bear, it is normally in the form of quick nips at its hind legs. Thus, the bear will sit down and use its ability to protect itself in a full circle. Rarely do interactions such as these end in death or serious injury to either animal. One carcass simply is not usually worth the risk to the wolves (if the bear has the upper hand due to strength and size) or to the bear (if the wolves are too numerous or persistent).
While wolves usually dominate grizzly bears during interactions at wolf dens, both grizzly and black bears have been reported killing wolves and their cubs at wolf dens even when the wolves were acting in defence.
Grizzlies and big cats
Cougars generally give the bears a wide berth. Grizzlies have less competition with cougars than with other predators, such as coyotes, wolves, and other bears. When a grizzly descends on a cougar feeding on its kill, the cougar usually gives way to the bear. When a cougar does stand its ground, it will use its superior agility and its claws to harass the bear, yet stay out of its reach until one of them gives up. Grizzly bears occasionally kill cougars in disputes over kills. There have been several anecdotes, primarily from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, of cougars and grizzly bears killing each other in fights to the death.
The other big cat present in the United States which might pose a threat to bears is the jaguar; however, both species have been extirpated in the regions of the Southwest where their former habitats overlapped, and grizzlies remain so far absent from the regions along the U.S.-Mexico border, where jaguars appear to be returning.
Grizzlies and black bears
Black bears generally stay out of grizzly territory, but grizzlies may occasionally enter black bear terrain to obtain food sources both bears enjoy, such as pine nuts, acorns, mushrooms, and berries. When a black bear sees a grizzly coming, it either turns tail and runs or climbs a tree.
Black bears are not strong competition for prey because they have a more herbivorous diet. Confrontations are rare because of the differences in size, habitats, and diets of the bear species. When this happens, it is usually with the grizzly being the aggressor. The black bear will only fight when it is a smaller grizzly such as a yearling or when the black bear has no other choice but to defend itself. There is at least one confirmed observation of a grizzly bear digging out, killing, and eating a black bear when the latter was in hibernation.
The segregation of black bear and grizzly bear populations is possibly due to competitive exclusion. In certain areas, grizzly bears outcompete black bears for the same resources. For example, many Pacific coastal islands off British Columbia and Alaska support either the black bear or the grizzly, but rarely both.
In regions where both species coexist, they are divided by landscape gradients such as the age of forest, elevation, and land openness. Grizzly bears tend to favor old forests with high productivity, higher elevations and more open habitats compared with black bears. However, a bear shot in autumn 1986 in Michigan was thought by some to be a grizzly×black bear hybrid, due to its unusually large size and its proportionately larger braincase and skull, but DNA testing was unable to determine whether it was a large American black bear or a grizzly bear.
Grizzlies and various small predators
Coyotes, foxes, and wolverines are generally regarded merely as pests to grizzlies rather than competition, though they may compete for smaller prey, such as ground squirrels and rabbits. All three will try to scavenge whatever they can from the bears. Wolverines are aggressive enough to occasionally persist until the bear finishes eating, leaving more scraps than normal for the smaller animal. Packs of coyotes have also displaced grizzly bears in disputes over kills.
The removal of wolves and grizzlies in California may have greatly reduced the abundance of the endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox.
The grizzly bear has several relationships with its ecosystem. One such relationship is a mutualistic relationship with fleshy-fruit bearing plants. After the grizzly consumes the fruit, the seeds are excreted and thereby dispersed in a germinable condition. Some studies have shown germination success is indeed increased as a result of seeds being deposited along with nutrients in feces. This makes grizzly bears important seed distributors in their habitats.
While foraging for tree roots, plant bulbs, or ground squirrels, bears stir up the soil. This process not only helps grizzlies access their food, but also increases species richness in alpine ecosystems. An area that contains both bear digs and undisturbed land has greater plant diversity than an area that contains just undisturbed land. Along with increasing species richness, soil disturbance causes nitrogen to be dug up from lower soil layers, and makes nitrogen more readily available in the environment. An area that has been dug by the grizzly bear has significantly more nitrogen than an undisturbed area.
Nitrogen cycling is not only facilitated by grizzlies digging for food, it is also accomplished via their habit of carrying salmon carcasses into surrounding forests. It has been found that spruce tree (Picea glauca) foliage within 500 m (1,600 ft) of the stream where the salmon have been obtained contains nitrogen originating from salmon on which the bears preyed. These nitrogen influxes to the forest are directly related to the presence of grizzly bears and salmon.
Grizzlies directly regulate prey populations and also help prevent overgrazing in forests by controlling the populations of other species in the food chain. An experiment in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming in the United States showed removal of wolves and grizzly bears caused populations of their herbivorous prey to increase. This, in turn, changed the structure and density of plants in the area, which decreased the population sizes of migratory birds. This provides evidence grizzly bears represent a keystone predator, having a major influence on the entire ecosystem they inhabit.
When grizzly bears fish for salmon along the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia, they often only eat the skin, brain and roe of the fish. In doing so, they provide a food source for gulls, ravens, and foxes, all of which eat salmon as well; this benefits both the bear and the smaller predators.