Monday, March 7, 2016

Black Bears vs. Brown Bears...What's the Difference?

One of the frequently asked questions I get on tours is…what is the difference between black bears and brown bears? Let's start off by talking about a bear's fur color. Black bears fur is similar to human hair in that it can can be multiple different colors. The geographic location of the bear and even the season can also make a difference in their fur color. Black bears can be found as far south as Florida and northern portions of Mexico and as far north as Alaska and Canada. Eastern populations of black bears tend to remain black. However, western populations of black bears often range in color from brown, to cinnamon, to blond, in addition to black. At IEAS, our resident black bears vary in shades of brown and black, but black bears found throughout the United States can range anywhere in color, from black, brown, and chocolate, to light brown, and even blond!
Brown bears can be found across much of Europe and North America, including the contiguous United States and Alaska. Similar to black bears, the geographic location of brown bears also creates differences in their fur colors. The coloring of brown bears ranges from dark to reddish brown to cream, which is quite similar to the range in color of the black bear.

Teddy is actually an American Black Bear, even though his fur appears reddish-brown in color!

Well, what about size? Brown bears do tend to be slightly larger than black bears both in weight and in size. Black bears range in weight from 100-900 pounds and stand 2-3’ at the shoulders whereas brown bears can weigh anywhere between 175-975 pounds and stand 3.5’ at the shoulders. However, their body shape is a more accurate way to tell the difference between a brown bear and a black bear. Brown bears are known for their excellent digging skills. Thus, they have a buildup of powerful muscles that creates a pronounced hump on their shoulders. To help them dig, they also have longer and straighter claws than a black bear.

Papa Bear has done lots of digging--just look at the size of that hump on his shoulder!

Papa Bear dug himself a hole to lounge in!

So if brown bears are known for digging, what do black bears specialize in? Black bears are known for being exceptional climbers. They have shorter, curved claws to assist them in their climbing endeavors. Actually, several of our black bears here at the Sanctuary have been known to take long naps in the trees in their habitats!



Teddy and Twinkle, our two youngest American Black Bears, like to show off their excellent climbing skills!

Their demeanors are also slightly different. Brown bears are known to be slightly more aggressive than black bears, especially when protecting their young. However, bear attacks are not nearly as common as people perceive them to be. Bears rarely attack humans. If there is danger, they will stand on their back feet, bare their teeth and growl. Sometimes they might run away themselves, or in the case of a black bear, they might just climb a tree!

So, are you curious to see these differences for yourself? Stop by for a tour today! Tours are everyday at 11 AM with an additional tour at 3 PM on Saturdays. 

George looks forward to seeing you for our next tour!

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