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by Kay Davis and Buddy Davis on August 12, 2014
Grizzly Bear

No animal in North America is more respected, feared, or more dangerous than the grizzly bear. Ranging in color from near black and brown to blond and almost white, grizzlies may appear clumsy. Despite their huge mass of bone, muscle, and teeth, they can outrun a horse for short distances. When angry, they are nearly unstoppable.

The grizzly can survive quite well on the treeless tundra, but prefers woodlands and forests with open grassy patches. While omnivorous, the grizzly is essentially a vegetarian. It uses its long claws to dig for bulbs, roots, and rodents, and is also fond of grass and honey. Grizzlies usually eat wounded or weak animals, although they have been known to kill large animals such as caribou, moose, and sometimes livestock.

In the fall, they gorge themselves and settle in a den until the following spring, falling into a deep sleep called torpor. This is not a true hibernation.

Grizzlies mark their territory by clawing trees. One bear’s range can be up to ten square miles. Grizzlies are solitary but will tolerate one another. Too big to risk injury, they stare each other down, growl, snap their teeth, and use strong body language as a warning. During salmon runs, great numbers of bears will gather and share fishing spots. If a large dominant bear appears, the smaller bears move. When startled, wounded, feeding, or with its cubs, the grizzly bear can explode in fury and attack with unbelievable speed and power. No other animal is so unpredictable in temperament.

The female grizzly usually gives birth to two cubs inside her winter den. The babies are only eight inches (20 cm) long, blind, with little hair and no teeth. The cubs stay with their mother one or two winters before they are on their own. Male grizzlies will sometimes kill cubs, but the mother grizzly will fight fiercely, willing to give her life for her cubs.

The grizzly has no enemies other than man. Indians used the claws and teeth of the grizzly for necklaces, grizzly hide for blankets, the meat for food, the bones for tools, and the skull as a trophy. Early settlers in America found the grizzly as far east as Ohio, and grizzlies on the Plains once followed the thousands of buffalo herds across America. Regulated bear hunting has helped increase the bear population in Alaska. Since male bears sometimes kill cubs, hunters harvesting the adult male allows more young to survive to adulthood.

Grizzly Bear

Carnivora • Ursidae • Ursus arctos horribilis

Height: 6 feet (1.8 m) (standing)
Weight: 500–1,200 pounds (227–545 kg)
Length: 6 to 10 feet (1.8–3 m)
Life Span: 30 years
Special Design Feature: The grizzly bear has an excellent sense of smell. They can smell carrion up to 18 miles (29 km) away.
Did You Know? The grizzly bear is mainly a vegetarian.