Grizzlies are a sub-species of brown bears and one of the largest animals in North America. They are the relatives of black bears, and polar bears which are also found in North America. The next closest relatives are European brown bears found in Europe and Asia and the Alaska brown bear.
They are only found in North American. A few used to live in northern Mexico, but because of hunting, poaching and people taking away their habitat to build roads and houses they aren’t there anymore. Most of them are in north-western USA, western Canada, and Alaska. The type of environment or habitat that they prefer are open meadows or river valleys, forests at the bottom of mountains and coastal areas near mountains. Some may wander into the arctic tundra in the north.
Description and Adaptations
All grizzlies have tips of fur that are silver and this is sometimes called a “grizzled” look. Their name might also come from being fierce because something horrible or threatening is called “grisly”. Even though a grizzly bear is really large it looks bigger than what it is because of its thick long fur. Because of the long fur on its neck is longer it looks like it has a cape when it runs. These bears are not just one colour. They can be creamy yellow, shades of brown, and nearly black. If you want to tell a grizzly bear apart from a black bear which may be brown too look for the famous hump on its shoulders. The muzzle of a grizzly bear is also shorter than a black bear’s.
Grizzlies walk flat on their feet. The grizzly walks and runs on its whole foot just as we do. Because it is flat-footed the grizzly can stand upright and even take a few steps on its hind legs. A grizzly is slightly pigeon-toed which means its feet are turned in. It looks clumsy and slow when it walks because its head is held low and it swings back and forth. It can be as fast as a horse for short distances and can go as fast in field as a car can go on a city street.
A male bear is called a boar and female bear is called a sow. The boar is bigger than the sow. Most grizzlies weigh as much as weigh 320 kg or 700 lbs. Some may weigh the same as 7 grown men.
Grizzlies have abilities and body parts that help it survive. These are called adaptations. Click on the Prezi below to learn more about these.
In each bear’s territory, there are many other animals that live there too. A healthy grizzly bear is the sign of a well-balanced community because it needs a water source, lots of different plants and animals, and big shelters to survive. Because it is at the top of the food chain most of the animals it meets become prey. A grizzly bear will eat almost anything. It doesn’t really have any predators except human hunters, nature, and other bears.
Did you know that grizzly bears are expert fishermen? Their favourite food is salmon and when it is spawning time they are heaven. At the river where the salmon return the strongest bears make sure they get the best spots. They will defend their spot from other bears by growling and making fierce head swings. Bear cubs are often left out and end up with leftovers to eat.
The way we learn to cross the road, is the way grizzlies catch salmon: Stop, look and listen. First they stop, and then they look in the water and listen for swimming objects. Then, they have two choices for catching it. They could go in the water and catch the salmon with their claws or they could wait on the riverbank and jump on the salmon when they see it.
To see a grizzly bear take down a caribou watch the video below.
Grizzly bears need water so they always live near a fresh water source like a river, stream, pond or lake. They have two types of the teeth because they are omnivores like us which means they eat meat and plants. They have sharp teeth to rip apart meat and flat teeth in order to chew plants. Their food cycle changes during the different seasons. In the Spring, they eat animals killed by the cold winter, cow parsnips, ants, and green plants. During the Summer, they eat grubs, thistle, mushrooms, fireweed, newborn deer and elk fawns and bison calves, roots and their favourite food berries. When it is Fall, they eat tubers, pine nuts, insect nests, more berries and spawning salmon. The fat in salmon and tubers is really important because it helps the bear store up fat for its winter sleep. In all seasons they will hunt small and large mammals too. Whatever they can’t eat they drag off and hide from other animals. They’ll come back and eat it later even if it’s rotten.
Bears are very kind and only attack people in certain circumstances. A mother bear protects her cubs and will fight to the death before she lets her cubs be harmed. Any bear will fight with great courage and strength when it feels it needs to protect itself especially if it’s startled or cornered. Most grizzlies do not look for trouble.
Bears eat food left behind from people camping. This teaches bears to come back to campgrounds to look for food which means they are around people more. When a bear gets used to people food the conservation might shoot it before someone gets hurt. They visit dumps a lot because they smell leftover food in the trash.
Did you know if grizzlies eat too much of our food they get cavities? Bears with cavities are grumpy.
Grizzly bears are in danger of poachers. Poachers are people who hunt animals when it’s against the law. They take the parts of the bear that are worth lots of money like the gall bladder or claws and leave the rest of the bear to rot where they shot it. The meat, fur, bones and everything else that could be useful to other people are wasted.
Mating season is in the Fall, but the baby doesn’t start growing until the Winter just before the sow’s winter sleep. The cubs are born during winter sleep and they begin to nurse from the mother until the early Spring when the sow wakes up. Only 1, 2 or 3 cubs are usually born.
Did you know that a grizzly grows an extra thick coat when it gets colder? That actually means it grows two coats in one! Thick short fur traps body heat next to the skin so it’s like a blanket to keep it warm. Longer guard hairs are like a jacket and keep rain and snow away from the body. They eat as much as they can find to get fat for winter. The fatter it is equals a better chance of surviving a long cold winter with little food.
When winter is very near it starts to search for a den. Because food is scarce the bear sleeps until winter is over. A good den is a cave, hollow log or shelter under fallen trees. If it can’t find a den it has to dig one under a rock or into a steep hill. It puts down dead leaves, branches and grass to make its den cozy. Then it climbs into the den and waits for snow to cover the entrance to hide it.
All grizzly bears sleep in the winter and do not hibernate. This helps them deal with a shortage of food. The bear may wake up. If the weather is warmer it may go outside or if the den floods it tries to find another spot. If it really hibernated, it wouldn’t wake up until the Spring.
Grizzlies are spectacular creatures. I got the chance to see one a couple of summmers ago. He wasn’t in the wild anymore because his mother got shot and a conservation officer rescued him and his twin brother. Because I got to see one in real life and they’re awesome it made me want to learn more about this animal.
image: Grizzly Bear Smile by Douglas Brown released under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial – Share Alike license