Types of North American Bears

This map illustrates the geographic ranges of three types of bears that populate North America – black bears, polar bears, and grizzly bears. Keep in mind that bears of the same species might look alike, everything from their size, fur color, diet, and sleeping patterns, but everything depends on the bear’s location. The two most common bears in the United States are black bears, and grizzly bears (also known as brown bears). In this article, I will only be explaining how to identify black bears and grizzly bears.


What most black bears look like

Black Bears: The American black bear is the most common bear in North America and it has the largest geographic range.In addition to being the most common, they are also the timidest and least dangerous. They will avoid you as much as you should avoid them.  But, that doesn’t mean that they will invade your surrounding locations. Like any animal, if there is food around they will go after it. Black bears generally travel at night to avoid being detected.
  • Color varies from blond to black.
  • No distinctive shoulder hump.
  • Rump is higher than front shoulders.
  • Face profile is straight.
  • Ears are taller and less rounded than grizzly bear ears.

  • Front claws are 1-2 inches long and curved to help with climbing.

Distinct grizzly bear feature: Shoulder blade hump

Grizzly Bears (Brown Bears): Some distinct features that a grizzly has, are they have a concave face, a hump on their shoulders, and long claws about two to four inches long. The distinct hump and claws give it great digging ability. Grizzly bears are often dark brown color, but as stated early it all depends on the location, thus some grizzlies can vary from very light tan color to black. The long guard hairs on their backs and shoulders frequently have white tips and give the bears a “grizzled” appearance, hence the name “grizzly.”

  • Color varies from blond to black.
  • Distinctive shoulder hump.
  • Rump is lower than shoulder hump.
  • Face profile appears dished in.
  • Ears are short and rounded.
  • Front claws are 2-4 inches long, depending on the amount of digging the bear does, and are slightly curved. Claw marks are usually visible in tracks.
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