Coastal Brown Bears

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Photographs 24 to 35 used courtesy of Marc Matremouille

Coastal Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)

There is a lot of confusion between Grizzly Bears and Brown Bears. But the reality is all Grizzly Bears are Brown Bears, but not all Brown Bears are Grizzly Bears. The Brown Bear comes under the scientific name of Ursus arctos. There are number of subspecies of Brown Bear of which Grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis) and Kodiak Bears (Ursus arctos middendorffi) are included.

Walking on all fours, brown bears have a height of about 3.5 feet (just over 1 meter). They can reach heights of 6-7 feet (1.5-2.5 meters) when standing on their hind legs. There are regional size differences among bears; brown bears are generally larger in the north—likely due to the colder climates.

Brown bears exhibit sexual dimorphism, with males being significantly larger than females. This size difference is a result of larger males having better mating success than smaller males.

Male bears are close to 2 times heavier than females. A typical adult male weighs between 300-850 pounds (130-390 kilograms), while the adult female weighs between 200-450 pounds (90-200 kilograms). Kodiak bears, the largest of the species, can weigh over 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms), as can those brown bears on the Alaska.

Brown bears are very adaptable and like humans, they consume a wide variety of foods. Common foods include salmon, berries, grasses, sedges, cow parsnip, ground squirrels, carrion, and roots. In many parts of Alaska, brown bears are capable predators of moose and caribou, especially newborns. Bears may also be attracted to human camps and homes by improperly stored food and garbage as well as domestic animals.

Although generally solitary in nature, brown bears often occur in large groups in concentrated feeding areas such as salmon spawning streams, sedge flats, open garbage dumps or on whale carcasses. Because of this, they have developed a complex language and social structure to express their feelings and minimize serious fights These feeding concentration areas also provide opportunities for people to get amazing Coastal Brown Bear pictures.
The coloring of brown bears differs according to environmental conditions, such as diet and temperature, which are specific to the geographical area in which they live. Their fur can be whitish, blond, red, or black, in addition to the typical dark brown.

Cubs are born in the den during January and February. Twins are most common, but litter sizes can range from 1 to 4. When the cubs emerge in June, they may weigh up to 15 lbs (7 kg) and they actively explore their world under the constant supervision of their mothers. Mothers can be furiously protective of cubs, however less than half of the cubs survive. Families typically stay together for 2 or 3 years and after separation female cubs tend to stay near where they were raised while males go farther afield. Most brown bears are sexually mature at 5 years old; however females often do not successfully produce a litter until later. The mating season is in the spring (May to July) and they are serial monogamous (have one mate at a time, but several each year). The oldest brown bear in Alaska was a 39 year old female, while the oldest male was 38.

In the winter when food is unavailable or scarce, most brown bears enter dens and sleep through the winter. Although this is not true hibernation, their body temperatures, heart rate, and other metabolic rates are drastically reduced. While in the den they do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate. Pregnant females are usually the first to enter dens in the fall. These females, with their newborn cubs, are the last to exit dens. Adult males, on the other hand, enter dens later and emerge earlier than most other bears. In northern areas, bears may spend up to 8 months in dens, while in areas with relatively mild winters, such as Kodiak, some male bears stay active all winter.

Brown bears have an exceptionally acute sense of smell, exceeding that of dogs. Contrary to popular belief, bears are not nearsighted. Their eyesight and hearing are comparable to humans. They can run in short bursts up to 40 mph (64 kph) and are excellent swimmers. By all indications, bears are extremely intelligent and most have individual personalities.

References: Wikipedia, Nature (www.pbs.org) Brown Bear, www.adfg.alaska.gov