Family Ursidae

Bears (ursids) are the largest members of the order Carnivora (the land-dwelling carnivores) and the least carnivorous. They have a large, heavily built body with a long, shaggy coat and a very short tail. The head is large, with a pointed muzzle and erect, rounded ears. The eyes are small, set close together and positioned well forward on the face. The legs are short and stout, ending in large paws. The feet are flat and five-toed, with long, slightly curved, non-retractile claws. The front claws are much longer than the hind claws. Bears are plantigrade, meaning the whole foot is placed flat on the ground when traveling. Sense of smell is excellent but hearing and eyesight are merely good. All bears (except the sloth bear of Asia) have 42 teeth. Their teeth are less specialized for meat eating than in most carnivores, reflecting their omnivorous diet. Although the canines are long, the first three premolars are reduced, the molars are broad and flat, and the carnassials are not developed as such.

Bears are intelligent animals and, except for the polar bear, largely herbivorous. They have a characteristic shuffling gait but are surprisingly agile and can run with speed and considerable endurance. They can stand upright and grasp with their front paws and are able to walk on their hind legs for short distances. In colder regions, they den during the winter and become dormant, and during this time the young are born. Some scientists do not feel that this is true hibernation; however, others disagree, having learned that the heart rate of hibernating bears drops to less than half of normal and that other physiological changes take place. Bears do not eat during hibernation but live off their accumulated fat.

Bears in North America range from the Arctic of northern Canada to as far south as northern Mexico and the US state of Florida. North America is home to three species of bears: black bears, polar bears and grizzly/brown bears. Grizzlies and brown bears are the same species. The coastal variety is called brown bear, and it grows larger than interior grizzlies due to access to high protein salmon. Grizzlies are located further inland and are typically smaller than bears living in coastal areas. Polar bears are the largest of all bears worldwide.

See the listings below and follow the links for more information on each subspecies or variety, hunting techniques and what you should expect when pursuing this quarry.

Brown/Grizzly Bear

Ursus arctos

Oso pardo (Sp), Braunbär (G), Ours brun (F). Ursus (Latin) and arktos (Greek) both mean bear. Some populations are locally called brown bears, others are called grizzly bears, but they are the same species worldwide.

The brown or grizzly bear is found in a wide variety of habitats from forests to deserts and from high mountains to seacoasts. It is still the most widely distributed of the world’s bears, occurring in Europe and Asia as well as in North America, but has tended to decline wherever it has come in contact with humans and domestic stock. It is now extinct in North Africa, most parts of western Europe, most parts of the 48 contiguous United States (except in the Yellowstone ecosystem where they have recovered) and probably in Mexico.

Dozens of species of brown or grizzly bears have been named at one time or another from different regions, but most scientists now accept a single species worldwide (Ursus arctos), with a number of subspecies. For record-keeping purposes, we recognize three subspecies in North America, plus a number of others in Europe and Asia. The North American subspecies are Alaska brown bear (U. a. middendorffi), of coastal Alaska; common grizzly bear (U. a. horribilis), from most of the species range in North America; and barren ground grizzly bear (U. a. richardsoni), found north of the tree line in Alaska, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Alaska Brown Bear

Barren Ground Grizzly Bear

Common Grizzly Bear

Polar Bear

American Black Bear