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Grizzly Bear

Scientific Name: Ursus arctos horribilus

a subspecies of brown bear (Ursus arctos)


Bears of the species Ursus arctos that are found along the coast are called brown bears, and those found inland are called grizzlies. The names grizzly bear and brown bear are often used synonymously. Their fur ranges from white to black but most often is some shade of brown. The tips are lighter, giving a grizzled effect, hence the name. Their long front claws, ranging from three to six inches, and the large muscle mass located between their shoulders gives tremendous power and strength. Grizzlies have been known to move several tons of dirt while excavating a winter den site. The hump on brown bears is also a good means of identification because the black bear shoulder muscle is hardly visible. Grizzlies are most active in the morning and early evening with long rests in the middle of the day.

Adult females range from 270 to 770 pounds. Males can weigh 330 to 1,150 pounds, and can grow to 10 feet.

Grizzlies are omnivorous. Food staples in the wild include berries, nuts, roots, rodents, fish, goats, elk and sheep. Zoos feed a specially prepared diet to meet all their nutritional needs, including fruit, vegetables and fish.

The sense of smell is the best tool grizzlies possess. They use their powerful nose to detect prey, sense danger, find suitable foods, locate mates, find their cubs and avoid people. They can smell carrion miles away without any wind and will travel over mountains, across rivers or through a dense forest to find it. A bear standing up on its hind legs is often trying to get a better smell or a better view of something.

Grizzly bears have very few offspring over the course of a lifetime. Female bears do not have their first cubs until they are about 7 years old. They then have a litter of less than 2 cubs every 4 years. Average life span is about 30 years.


Grizzly bears thrive in the wild in most of Western Canada, Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The healthiest, stable populations of grizzlies live in Canada and Alaska. In the lower forty-eight states, approximately 1,200 grizzlies live in the wild. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Glacier National Park are the homes to the majority of those bears. Smaller populations live in isolated areas of Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Washington.

Status in the Wild

Grizzlies in the lower 48 states are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species. The current proposal to de-list the grizzly is a very controversial subject. The most critical aspect to protect this species is to preserve enough undisturbed wilderness for them to survive.