Black Bear or Grizzly Bear - Bonus Feature Transcript
Yellowstone is prime habitat for both grizzly bears and black bears. With a little luck, you might spot one on a visit to the park. But it’s not as easy as you might think to tell them apart. Here are some clues to help distinguish between grizzly bears and black bears:
Due to their name, you might think that black bears are black, and grizzly bears are …well… some other color. But all of Yellowstone’s bears – both black bears and grizzlies – can be black, brown, or even blonde. Because of their reputations, you might also think that all black bears are much smaller than grizzlies. Grizzlies are generally bigger, but a big black bear can easily outweigh a female grizzly or a young grizzly. Without color or size as a guide, you have to look at other features.
The best way to tell grizzlies and black bears apart at a distance is by their body shape.
Grizzlies have a distinct hump on their shoulders that is higher than their rump. This hump is a mass of muscle that makes their front legs powerful digging tools. Black bears have only a slight shoulder hump if any at all, and their rump is higher than their shoulders.
Another way you can tell the two bears apart is by the shape of their face. Grizzly bears have a clear depression between their eyes and snout – a dished-in profile. Black bears have a straight profile between their eyes and snout. Grizzly bears also have relatively smaller, more rounded ears, whereas black bears have more prominent, oval shaped ears.
You can also tell grizzly and black bears apart from the tracks they leave. The toes of a grizzly bear are in fairly straight line, not too dissimilar from those of a human’s. And, because grizzlies have long, straight claws, the claw marks show up quite a distance from the bear’s toes. The toes of a black bear, in contrast, are arranged in an arc. Their shorter claws leave marks closer to the toes.
So other clues are much more reliable than color or size to differentiate black bears and grizzlies. But why, then, are they named the way they are? Black bears got their common name because, in many other parts of the country besides Yellowstone, most of them are black. Grizzlies are so named because the tips of their fur are often silver, lending them a “grizzled” appearance. In Yellowstone, many grizzlies do indeed have grizzled fur. But if you’re close enough to see those silver tips, you’re probably far too close to the bear.
For your own safety and for that of the bear, park regulations require that you stay at least 100 yards from bears– that’s the length of a football field. You can find more information about staying safe in bear country on the park’s website.
By watching bears from distance, you can help ensure all bears – be they black or grizzly – will stay wild and survive to thrill the next park visitor lucky enough to spot a bear.