The brown bear (Ursus arctos) is a large bear distributed across much of northern Eurasia and North America and is the largest terrestrial carnivoran.
The awe-inspiring brown bear lives in the forests and mountains of northern North America, Europe, and Asia. It is the most widely distributed bear in the world.
Brown and grizzly bears are classified as the same species even though there are notable differences between them. Kodiak bears (brown bears from the Kodiak Archipelago) are classified as a distinct subspecies (U. a. middendorffi) from those on the mainland (U. a. horribilis) because they have been isolated from other bears since the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. “Brown bears” typically live along the southern coast of the state where they have access to seasonally abundant spawning salmon. The coastal areas also provide a rich array of vegetation they can use as food as well as a milder climate. This allows them to grow larger and live in higher densities than their “grizzly” cousins in the northern and interior parts of the state. To minimize confusion, this report uses the term “brown bear” to refer to all members of Ursus arctos.
The brown bear resembles its close relatives the black bear (U. americanus) and the polar bear (U. maritimus). Brown bears are usually larger than black bears, have a more prominent shoulder hump, less prominent ears, and longer, straighter claws. Polar bears are similar in size to coastal brown bears, but are more streamlined, lacking the hump. The varying shapes of these bears are adaptations to their particular life styles. Long claws are useful in digging roots or excavating small mammals, but are not efficient for climbing trees. The musculature and bone structure of the hump are adaptations for digging and for attaining bursts of speed necessary for capture of moose or caribou. Color is not a reliable key in differentiating these bears because black and brown bears have many color phases and polar bears may have stained fur. For example, black bear fur may be black, brown, reddish or even shades of grey and white, while brown bear colors range from dark brown through very light blond.
These omnivorous giants tend to be solitary animals, except for females and their cubs, but at times they do congregate. Dramatic gatherings can be seen at prime Alaskan fishing spots when the salmon swim upstream for summer spawning. In this season dozens of bears may gather to feast on the fish, craving fats that will sustain them through the long winter ahead. In fall a brown bear may eat as much as 90 pounds (40 kilograms) of food each day, and it may weigh twice as much before hibernation as it will in spring.
Brown bears dig dens for winter hibernation, often holing up in a suitable hillside. Females, or she-bears, den while pregnant and give birth during this winter rest, usually to a pair of cubs. Brown bear cubs nurse on their mother’s milk until spring and stay with her for some two and a half years—so females only reproduce once every three years.
Adult brown bears are powerful, top-of-the-food chain predators, but much of their diet consists of nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, and roots. Bears also eat other animals, from rodents to moose.
Despite their enormous size, brown bears are extremely fast, having been clocked at speeds of 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour). They can be dangerous to humans, particularly if surprised or if a person gets between a mother bear and her cubs.
The Brown Bear is one of the most omnivorous animals in the world and has been recorded as consuming the greatest variety of foods of any bear. Throughout life, this species is regularly curious about the potential of eating virtually any organism or object that they encounter. Food that is both abundant and easily accessed or caught is preferred. Their jaw structure has evolved to fit their dietary habits. Their diet varies enormously throughout their differing areas based on opportunity.
Native American tribes sympatric with brown bears often view them with a mixture of awe and fear. North American brown bears have at times been so feared by the natives, that they were rarely hunted, especially alone. At traditional grizzly hunts, the expedition was conducted with the same preparation and ceremoniality as intertribal warfare, and was never done except with a company of 4–10 warriors.[clarification needed] The tribe members who dealt the killing blow were highly esteemed among their compatriots. Californian natives actively avoided prime bear habitat, and would not allow their young men to hunt alone, for fear of bear attacks. During the Spanish colonial period, some tribes, instead of hunting grizzlies themselves, would seek aid from European colonists to deal with problem bears. Many authors in the American west wrote of natives or voyageurs with lacerated faces and missing noses or eyes due to attacks from grizzlies.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is named after a Native American legend, where a female bear and her cub swam across Lake Michigan. Exhausted from their journey, the bears rested on the shoreline and fell sound asleep. Over the years, the sand covered them up, creating a huge sand dune.
Many Native American tribes both respect and fear the brown bear, even thinking of it as a god. One tale tells of how the black bear was a creation of the Great Spirit, while the grizzly was created by the Evil Spirit. In Kwakiutl mythology, black and brown bears became enemies when Grizzly Bear Woman killed Black Bear Woman for being lazy. Black Bear Woman’s children, in turn, killed Grizzly Bear Woman’s own cubs.
In Russia associations with the image of the bear have received relatively mixed reactions. On one hand, Russians themselves appreciate the bear for its raw power and cunning, and bears are very often used as mascots or as a part of a design on a logo. On the other hand, the overuse of the image of the bear by foreigners visiting Russia prior to 20th century led to the image of bear being a sort of insider joke, postulating that “Russian streets are full of bears” as an example of factually inaccurate information about Russia.