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This entry is a precursor for a future post regarding the black bear and grizzly population. With various ongoing issues across the country, knowledge continues to be powerful. Above allI want to clarify how to distinguish a black bear from a grizzly!

Most people are aware that there are differences between black bears and grizzly bears. However, apart from the assumed variation in color, few people can specify the differences. Good Binoculars make a huge difference here!

In fact, color is not a reliable way to distinguish one from another, as you can find each of these bear subspecies in a range of colors. Remember “Black bears” are not always black. In fact, they can also be brown or even blond. And grizzly bears are not necessarily a swarthy brown. They can be close to black, or light brown.

Here are five better ways to distinguish between black bears and grizzly bears.

  1. Grizzly bears have a noticeable hump between the shoulders, which is absent in the black bear. A related difference is that the grizzly bear’s rump is lower than its shoulders, while the black bear’s rear end is higher than its shoulders.
  1. Black bears have a prominent (Roman) nose, and their profile traces a straight line from the tip of the nose to the top of the head. In contrast, grizzly bears have a smaller nose, and there is an indentation between the nose and the forehead.
  1. Grizzly bears have extra-long front claws, 2 to 4 inches long and slightly curved, which they use to dig for plants (roots, bulbs) and small burrowing animals. Black bears’ claws are shorter and more rounded, to facilitate climbing.
  1. Black bears have taller, more pointed ears. Grizzly bears have shorter, less prominent, and more rounded ears.
  1. The most significant difference is size: grizzly bears usually are much larger and heavier. They are the second-largest bear found in North America (after the polar bear): the male ranges from 400 to 600 pounds, the female between 250 and 300 pounds. In contrast, the male black bear ranges from 250 to 300 pounds while the female weighs between 140 and 175 pounds.

Knowing these five differences should help you to determine what bear subspecies you’re looking at. However, unless you’re at a zoo, it’s probably not a good idea to get close enough to a bear to see some of these characteristics.

 
 
 
 

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